A Disability Justice Response from SURJ to Covid-19

The desperation of this virus is nothing new to marginalized people. The realization that our bodies are seen as disposable is not new to those who struggle every day to get something to eat, or get up in the morning; those of us who are poor, disabled, elderly, BIPOC (Black/Indigenous People of color), Trans, queer, deaf, blind, ill and mad folks, and those who have HIV status.

During this pandemic, jails and prisons are filled with many mentally ill and disabled people, when they can and should be supported with dignity at home in their communities. The system is stacked against those who are BIPOC and disabled and we must hear those voices and their concerns for an already broken system. In a typical day, people who identify as BIPOC receive less or no access to life saving medical care, let alone in a crisis such as this. If our institutions would’ve focused on people instead of profit when it comes to healthcare, we would not be putting our healthcare providers in the position that they are being faced with now — having to choose who does and doesn’t get treatment based on the severity of their condition due to a lack of supplies.

In this moment, perhaps more than ever before, the voices of those of us on the margins are called to help everyone through this crisis. We know how to survive in ways that those with more privilege do not. Sick and disabled people — especially the most marginalized — are some of our most experienced leaders in this time. We know how to build our own social networks of care because the Medicaid system has failed us. We know how to share medical equipment with our communities because of the slowness and cost gauging of the medical equipment that we rely on to live every day. Finally, and most importantly, we know how to love from a distance because of the lack of transportation services that are out there for us, and the amount of people that live in semi-institutional settings that make it almost impossible to show intimacy. Being reliant on others, and interdependence is our everyday life.

We at SURJ wanted to say that in this time of our history we are reminded of our common humanity, and the interdependence of us all for our survival. These are all lessons that people in the margins already knew, and this is what the virus is teaching us. This pandemic is shining a light on a broken system. We must understand that the system that we were in months ago hurt all of us. We are inviting all of you to learn with us and to survive with us. As Fat Rose reminds us — no body is disposable. We reject any approach to this pandemic that decides who lives and dies based on who we are.

Pictured in the above photo are Sebastian Margaret with the Transgender Law Center and the Disability Project, Michael Godwin and Susan Brown, members of the Independence Seekers Project and Louisville SURJ and Amanda Stahl, the director of the Independence Seekers Project, LSURJ and SURJ National.

SURJ is a national network that moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice.

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