Disability rights activists Alice Wong and Keah Brown urge you to celebrate women activists while they're living
When Carrie Ann Lucas, a lawyer and disability rights activist, died at the age of 47 last month, the disability community was in mourning. Many of the mourners were her friends and fellow activists—others were people who had learned about Lucas for the first time during the news coverage of her death. This underscores why it’s so important to celebrate and honor living activists during Women’s History Month and beyond.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent death of Carrie Ann Lucas, and [I’m] frustrated by the fact that most people only know her from media coverage about her death,” says Alice Wong, a media maker, disability activist, and research consultant. Wong founded the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to disability media and culture. “I want us to express our love for one another and our communities openly.”
There are so many activists—particularly those who are multiply marginalized—who are doing the work with little recognition. Keah Brown, a journalist and activist who writes through the lenses of Blackness, womanhood, and disability, agrees. She says that focusing too much on activists of the past also reinforces the idea that there’s no longer work to be done, that as a society we’ve solved racism, sexism, ableism, and other oppressions.
“There’s still so much work to be done. That’s why we have to celebrate the people who are living and doing it now,” Keah says. “We can’t erase this part of history even if somebody else tries to do it for us.”
Activism involves a lot of exhausting, unpaid labor, and as two living activists, Alice and Keah are familiar with those difficulties.
A lot of Alice’s work is unpaid or supported by her Patreon. She’s constantly fielding emails and requests for her time and knowledge. Alice has worked on a variety of projects, including the anthology Resistance and Hope, the #CripTheVote initiative, and a new project called Access Is Love that was co-founded by Mia Mingus and Sandy Ho.
Access Is Love, an initiative that encourages people to incorporate access in their everyday practices and lives, is based on a keynote that Mia gave at the 2018 Disability Intersectionality Summit in October 2018, “Disability Justice is Simply Another Word for Love.” They started the campaign this February with a resource page and a list of actions people can take as well as an online store. Sales from the online store will benefit a different activist group every two months.
When it comes to activism, Keah believes that a huge part of it is just “getting up every day and living.” “We live in a society that isn’t built for us,” she says of her experience as a Black disabled woman. To her, activism is about using her voice to make sure that people don’t forget her and that other marginalized people are heard, whether it’s through fiction or nonfiction.
In addition to her work as a journalist and the creator of #DisabledAndCute, Keah is publishing her first book, The Pretty One, on August 6th, 2019. The Pretty One is a collection of essays exploring what it means to be Black and disabled in America—and for Keah, it was also a chance to go deeper. She was able to write about music, friendship, and other facets of her life that often get ignored when the media solely focuses on her identity as a Black disabled woman. “We operate under this assumption that marginalized people only know about their own experiences,” says Keah. “I have so much more that I want to say that has nothing to do with disability rights.”
A lot of Keah’s attention this year is on the book launch and promotion. “I really care about the way that we as marginalized people, in particular, see ourselves. I want people to be able to see that there’s so much more to the disability community than we see in the mainstream media.”
Both Keah and Alice know how important self-care is for sustainable activism. It’s incredibly easy to get burnt out when you’re engaged in activism work, particularly for marginalized people. “My self-care involves taking time off from social media, saying no to people, maintaining boundaries, sleeping in, and forgiving myself when I can’t stay on schedule,” explains Alice. She also has a core group of friends who she can message at all hours of the night.
Keah leans on her friends when she needs to put a situation into perspective, which happens a lot when you’re an activist—you become a public figure, and you often become a target for harassment and violence, especially if you’re a woman of color or disabled. “At the end of the day, you’re not doing it alone,” she says about her community.
The power of community is a thread that runs through both Alice and Keah’s work. As a writer, Keah also connects deeply with the idea of happy endings. “I love happy endings because people like me don’t often get them,” she says. It’s a privilege, she explains, to be able to engage with stories where people like you live at the end. “For so many of us, living in the real world dehumanizes us and kills us. Happy endings make us feel hope in so many hopeless scenarios.”
And by supporting the work of living activists like Alice and Keah who are fighting for change right now, we can help make more happy endings for all of us.