Ramping up the Occupation: A survey of the #occupy movement and disability.

 By Mike Reynolds

 (written right before the Zuccotti Park crackdown, 11/13/11)

            There has been much written about the Occupy Wall Street movement and what it may or may not stand for or what it's goals may be; but the movement, which started on September 17, at the urging of the Canadian Magazine Adbusters. While tents are not allowed at the park where the original protests began, the occupy encampments have multiplied to over 900 globally including Occupy protests in Maine currently happening in Augusta, Bangor, and Portland. While the Occupy protests have been largely focused on corporate money in the political system, it would be easy  to look at how large nursing home corporations, Pharma and other entities totally work against the needs of folks with severe disabilities.

                    Several people with disabilities have been involved with the Occupy Wall Street protests in NYC. T. K. Small, a Brooklyn based civil rights attorney has been posting stuff on his Facebook page and at his personal website, tksmall.com. Small is also a producer for the Pacifica Radio station, WBAI, and hosts “The Largest Minority” radio show.

            A disability focused mini protest in New York has been set up via Facebook and is hoping to be a disability focused protest that will be recurring every Sunday from 12-4 This event is organized by Akemi Nishida and is being heavily promoted on Facebook. People are being asked to meet at 140 Broadway, between Liberty & Cedar. Folks will go to the park from this site.

            John Hockenberry, a paraplegic journalist, has been covering the protest for the PRI Radio show “The Takeaway”, which is based out of NYC. Several prominent disability activists have been working at local occupy events throughout the nation, and there have been other disabled bloggers, like Martina Robinson, who have been attending occupy protests locally to her, as well as in NYC.

            One really frustrating issue that many disabled organizers are pushing for is a disability focus group within the occupy structure.  Many of the local occupy protests may not even be accessible, but unless people with disabilities are out talking to folks who are organizing local occupy protests and letting people know what is needed to make them accessible, as folks may have different needs or issues.

Additionally, other movements have sprung up and are springing up almost daily. One of the more promising and inclusive is the Occupy at home blog @ http://occupyathome.wordpress.com as well as the “Occupy on wheels” Group which has their flyers in NYC and can be found by putting the term in quotes on Facebook. My awesome friend Alejandra Ospina lives near the NYC Occupy site and got a bunch of photos of some of the disability based protests at Occupy in NYC.

            The occupy movement  has been noted as one of the “first movements born online.” As such, there is an impressive infrastucture of webcasts from occupy wall street and other occupy protests (including Portland, ME's occupy protest!) Theoretically it may make the protests more accessible for people who can't make it to an occupation. With teach-ins with folks like Lawrence Lessig and Judith Butler (which was “about five minutes long.” from a friend who was there) and acoustic concerts by Pete Seeger, the media that could be produced should be riveting. While I'm sure there is some really great content being broadcast, when I tuned into a General Assembly meeting in late October, the overall process of the meeting made it kind of dull to watch. Being able to access what is going on at the protest without any media filters is incredible; it'd be better if there were media archives and I'm sure the media is being uploaded, just not linked from the official site.

With the Occupy movement gaining and changing momentum so quickly, it will be interesting to see what further actions will bring and whether the concerns of people with disabilities will be included more extensively. Below is a short (but incredible!) interview with T.K. Small, from a media producer in Canada.