Tag Archives: disability rights movement

“Hillary Clinton sees me:” The primaries, “identity politics,” and disability

anastasia_somozaAt the Democratic National Convention, disability activist Anastasia Somoza told enthusiastic audience members that “in a country where 56 million people so often feel invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me. She sees me as a strong woman, a young professional, a hard worker, and the proud daughter of immigrants.”

Media personalities, political insiders, and the candidates themselves have talked about the 2016 presidential primaries as a departure from what we normally expect from presidential primaries. The difference is often attributed to how Donald Trump “doesn’t play by the rules” – something we are frequently reminded of by pundits on both the left and right. Continue reading

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Legal Mobilization and Policy Enforcement: A Tale of Two Policies and Two Movements?

Scholars have long debated the role of social movements in changing policy outcomes – whether and how do they matter. Policies can also create political opportunities for social movements. Policies empower historically disadvantaged groups and provide them with the tools and resources to mobilize their rights. Indeed, as David Meyer put it, scholars often grapple with the “chicken-and-egg” problem of policy and mobilization; that is, which comes first? Thinking about this alleged paradox raises questions about the role of social movements following legislative “victories.”

cloud_discrimination_MobilizingIdeas Continue reading

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Social Movements, Institutions and Policy Outcomes

In light of the recent proliferation of mass mobilization events like Occupy/99%, immigrant rights, the Arab Spring, and the Ukrainian protests, many interested in social movements have turned their attention to protest participation. No doubt, this new wave of protest research has provided important theoretical insights on mobilization as well as methodological advancements.

However, scholars have also recently pointed to important organizational and institutional aspects of social movements and social change that should not be overlooked. In fact, the two recent Charles Tilly Book Award winners, Drew Halfmann and Kathleen Blee, address these very aspects of mobilization.

When I began studying the disability rights movement, it became apparent that understanding mobilization, social change and policy outcomes required looking beyond grassroots protest and other forms of direct action to understand America’s disability rights revolution. Indeed, the disability rights movement shines light on several important themes in political sociology, which my work seeks to address, including a current book project I am developing. Continue reading

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The tortoise and the hare: institutions, policy and social change

I have been working on a project about policy innovation in the U.S. (even though it’s often considered “reluctant” or a “laggard” especially in social policy).  The case I focus on is disability rights. The idea that the U.S. is a policy leader has become difficult to sell in light of the countless articles and media reports about the 113th Congress being the most unproductive in decades and the partisan conflicts and gridlock characterizing Congress.  Not to mention the fact that about a year ago, the Senate failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (see my December 2012 post “Is anyone really against persons with disabilities?”). Ironically, the language of the Convention was based on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act – thought of by many as the most important piece of civil rights legislation enacted since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The rights language of the ADA also subsequently informed similar laws in Australia and the U.K.

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But it is not the only policy area in which the U.S. is a leader rather than a laggard. I’d like to thank Maureen Eger for pointing me to a recent New York Times article by economics professor Tyler Cowen (Dec 21, 2013). Cowen argues that despite the emphasis on congressional gridlock which either leads to policies nobody wants or no policies at all, the U.S. is better characterized as having periods of “creative ferment” followed by periods of controversy, conflict and retrenchment more akin to a lunging and lurching than political immobility or gridlock. When it comes to handling the financial crisis, environmental policy, intellectual property, and national security/defense, the U.S. has acted rather swiftly. Conflict that may prohibit effective policy implementation typically occurs after bursts of attention and initial legislative output. Continue reading

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“Is anyone really against persons with disabilities?”

On Wednesday, Dec. 5th, I defended my dissertation which asked the following question: “Why is the U.S. an innovator in disability rights?” Although I could not help but rethink my answer to this question in light of the Senate voting against ratifying the U.N. disability treaty the day before, I still posit that the U.S. was an innovator on disability rights compared to other western industrialized countries.

Without getting into the history of disability and disability rights in America, it is important to note that political entrepreneurs played a critical role in the late 1960s and early 1970s in reframing disability as a minority group entitled to rights. Continue reading

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The Road to Wigan Pier Runs Through Nicaragua

Since I have been conducting research on local, grassroots disability organizations in the midst of a growing international disability movement, I often find myself thinking about George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (1938). For those who haven’t read it, Orwell put his finger on a pretty fundamental issue: movement leaders often diagnose the needs of their members or intended beneficiaries very differently than those members/beneficiaries diagnose their needs themselves. This seems especially true in movements that emphasize a “change in consciousness” as a first step. Continue reading

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What WE Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement

By David Pettinicchio

What WE Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement, by Fred Pelka. Amherst and Boston: UMass Press, 2002.

Fred Pelka’s recent book, What WE Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement, is not a traditional scholarly text which analyzes the dynamics of the disability rights movement. The book is based on in-depth interviews mostly with key activists from three sources: Pelka’s own interviews, interviews recorded by the group Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and oral histories from the Oral History Office of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. The book is structured around key events and places in the disability rights struggle, predominantly focusing on the politics of the Americans with Disabilities Act (although the interviews and accounts capture a lengthy historical period as many of those interviewed provide recollections of the past going back as far as the 1950s). Admittedly in his preface, Pelka claims that the chapters and interviews are not always presented in chronological order but rather tend to move back and forth through time in order to capture the thoughts of activists about a specific event, organization or policy. Pelka’s voice is mostly present in his preface and to a lesser extent, in his introductory chapter where there is a blend of analysis and interviews. His first chapter provides a fairly straightforward and traditional historical background of the disability struggle which is found in other texts that trace the history of disability rights and the disability rights movement. The rest of the book is largely structured around the oral history he presents. Continue reading

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