Forum on struggle led by people with disabilities

In his 1875 “Critique of the Gotha Program,” Karl Marx wrote: “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.’ ”

A Workers World Party forum will raise this slogan again on Saturday, July 28, at 3 p.m. at the Solidarity Center, 55 W. 17 St., 5th floor, New York City, to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA. Like the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act, which was achieved only after centuries of struggle against slavery, racism, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, the ADA came about only after fierce battles by people with disabilities to gain some legal protections against discrimination in areas including employment, public accommodations and transportation. “Reasonable accommodation” has now become a tool to force the authorities to make facilities accessible.

The ADA defines a covered disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” The panel will include talks by a courageous veteran leader of the disabled civil rights movement; an Autistic Self-Advocacy Network leader will speak on Marxism and disability oppression; and a leader of a city workers union’s committee for people with disabilities and member of the learning, intellectual, psychiatric, mental and emotionally disabled community will address the problem of overcoming discrimination, including in the prisons and military. Also on the agenda will be Parents to Improve School Transportation founders and advocates for better school bus routes for children with and without disabilities; and an eyewitness reporter on progress and challenges for the disabled in socialist Cuba.

A Workers World Party subcommittee of predominantly members who have identified as people with disabilities is organizing this forum and striving to broaden both consciousness and the struggle around the disabled question. All people with disabilities should have the unconditional right, authority and opportunity to be a spokesperson for their own individual condition and disability. As some disabilities are not visible, a person has the right to both identify their disability and to conceal it.

In October 1981, this reporter first identified as a person with a disability and participated with Workers World Party member and Disabled in Action secretary, Betsy Gimbel, in the disabled workshop at the All-Peoples Congress in Detroit. Gimbel, who died in 2004, led the fight for access to mass transit for the disabled, including wheelchair lifts for New York City buses. This struggle ­included the disabled blocking buses with their wheelchairs demanding that these public vehicles be made accessible — a demand which was won.

Using capitalism’s economic crisis as an excuse, the government is now slashing or threatening to eliminate Access-A-Ride for those who cannot use mass transit, Social Security disability, comprehensive bus and postal service, and equal minimum wage rights for the disabled.

As Gimbel used to say, the important thing about people with disabilities is “our abilities.”

These abilities include the determination to not tolerate these attacks on the disabled and to build a movement to defend the rights of all workers and oppressed people and a socialist society whose compass will be Marx’s universal slogan for all humankind: “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.”

Anyone needing special accommodations and arrangements for the July 28 meeting, including childcare, should call 212-627-2994 Monday through Friday between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.