Connecting Disablity, March on Washington and Climate Crisis

Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Peer Support | 6 comments

David Oaks and Debra Nunez

David and Debra pose on our new deck from Habitat for Humanity in our backyard summer August 2013: I am Home.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Here are my top 5 ways that the disability movement intersects with the civil rights movement and the environmental movement, especially the climate crisis.

1. The Movement

When I began my activist career in the 1970’s we called ourselves The Movement, meaning we were all in one movement. I visited the civil rights museum in Atlanta near the Martin Luther King memorial. There is a clear connection in that museum from the civil rights movement to the the launch of the modern disability movement. I was glad to hear that today’s March on Washington commemoration included many other issues including voting rights, l/g/b/t marriage equality, and even climate crisis. Of course. MLK summed up his work as a creating the Beloved Community, which now means all people and the environment.

2. Creative Maladjustment.

If and when we really have a non-violent revolution that includes the climate crisis, however it looks, it will not look normal. If you are not familiar with MLK talking about Creative Maladjustment for more than a decade, repeatedly, then use your favorite search engine to explore that phrase. The disability movement, particularly the psychiatric survivors movement, is about marginalized people thinking outside the box we call normal. Normal isn’t.

3. From Despair to Delight.

It is a stereotype of those of us with what are called major disabilities that we face despair. Well, I have news for you. All of humanity, 100%, confronts despair. To find delight despite overwhelming odds is a human task. As humanity faces its common threat of environmental catastrophe, then our universal humanity will become more clear. Perhaps we should all turn to our disability leaders for tips such as using mutual peer support to overcome despair and find delight. Here is a photo of my amazing wife Debra and me in our back yard on our new deck. Thank you Debra for welcoming me home and transforming our living space into something more accessible.

4. Bridging to the 1%.

The environmental movement is the common ground, literally, that bridges class differences. We must face economic imbalance for us to have real change. For instance, jobs are very important, but what good are jobs if our world looks like Venus?

5. Interdependence.

Disablism says we are either independent or dependent. As any environmental problem like a hurricane quickly shows, we are actually all interdependent. We are in a way all disabled to some extent or another. So far we have had the luxury to pretend that we are divided into normal and not normal. But the climate crisis shows that we are all, 100%, facing a new normal.

I’d like to know about your own thoughts about the links between today’s celebration of the March on Washington, Disability and the Climate Crisis.


  1. Wonderful thoughts about interdependency. The ways of Native peoples have always centered around interdependency and our respect for all things. At this point in time, as you point out, David, our attention to interdependency is critical. In fact, given the environmental trajectory set in motion now, interdependency seems to be of equal importance for both good stewardship and reversing our rapidly progressing destructive course.

    Despair is a likely trap we can fall into as we face the obstacles to reducing the divide between the haves and have-nots. Under such disparity, we can become focused on differences and lose our compassion for those who might be blocked by privilege from an awareness of the disparity’s effects.

    A Recovery principle that to me is essential as we work to join ourselves all together for a common good is our attention to individual strengths. There is no difference of any human importance among us in terms of individual strengths and vulnerabilities. We all have our vulnerabilities, only needing a match with just the right stressor(s) to cause us to malfunction. But each of us also have strengths which can be bolstered in an environment of recognition and inclusion. Our ability to model an attention to strengths and similarities will be challenged as economic strains beget suspicion and mistrust. Preaching this will not be sufficient. Maintaining our compassion for each other and for those who initially appear to be our enemies can make the difference.

    Thank you for your wonderful commentary, and I look forward to the many ways you will continue to keep us alert, focused, and together.


  2. You’re an inspiration David. David Hilton was a mentor and friend of mine, and his commitment to the cause still inspires me everyday. I agree with what President Obama said today about being the masters of our fate. We are NOT trapped. We must choose to work together, with courage, in a coalition of consciousness to change the status quo.
    I also agree with what he said about the dignity of work and having a measure of financial security. So many people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness do not have this, and live in poverty with little hope of advancing their station in life.
    I hope to see another civil rights movement in my lifetime- one that includes those who have been diagnosed with mental illness. We suffer the same legal discrimination today that black people did before 1963.
    Social media is an important tool for peaceful revolution, but I believe change will only occur when thousands of people take to the streets in protest as they did in the 60s.
    Please let me know if there’s anything I can do in
    New Hampshire. I live below the poverty level and do not have a car, but I have been a strong advocate for change in the past and believe the time will come for me to be involved again.

  3. So good to hear from you David. My heart has been with you and please let me know if my experience with losing my mobility can help you. One of the reasons I didn’t go to the March today was because of my lack of mobility. I noticed that some on the program were really struggling with the steps and marveled that Jimmy Carter go do them all the way to the top. At least Joseph Lowery was able to make it in his wheelchair.

    You can look in the WaPo every special day for a complete explanation of how to reach the many events, protests, and demonstrations we have in DC. They tell you how to get there, what roads are open and closed, the weather forecast, how many people will be expected, what the best metro stops are and everything an abled person would want to know.

    But, guess what, in our nation’s capital, they don’t tell you what is accessible and what is not and how you might get close enough to the event site to get there with limited mobility, a cane, a walker or a wheelchair. Its very discouraging and I’m not sure how to complain. But I think I will look into it. Of course, I also think What would Justin do? We have for too long not been included in the overall civil rights movement. We are an afterthought like including FDR’s wheelchair only upon our protest. The events of progressives rarely include whether the event is accessible and how we are included. This has to change.

  4. The American Disability Bill is based on President John Kennedy Civil Rights bill signed by President LBJ. The bill protected the rights of woman, people of color and religion. Our bill went farther by protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

  5. It is great to hear from you David especially today! I was just writing a new song a while ago. Hope you like it. When you hear the tune it will be better.
    I Have A Dream
    Lyrics of a new song for today. Hopefully I will be able to share the song soon.

    I have a dream
    No one will be
    defined solely by their brains

    I have a dream
    They’ll be no force
    for anyone
    to change their minds.

    I have a dream
    We have a dream

    Give us our dreams
    Give us our dreams
    Give us our dreams today.
    Give us our dreams
    Give us our dreams
    Give us our dreams today.

    Equality, human rights, truth and freedom
    Peace of mind, compassion, truth and freedom.
    I have a dream
    We have a dream.

    Lots of love,


  6. WE are living the dream of MLK. As Martin said war, poverty and crime are results of our economic principles therefore they are preventable. Peer Support is liberating our mental health systems and changing our state hospital environments to peer run support centers.