Official explanations of major events would have us believe that bad things happen to people at random — tragic incidents of bad luck.
When 22-year-old mother Malaysia Goodson fell to her death down subway stairs in January while carrying her stroller and her baby (the baby survived), the city medical examiner and the New York Police Department claimed that the fall was due to some unexplained “pre-existing medical condition.” That was on Jan. 30, two days after the fatal fall. Since then, neither agency has given any details to support this claim.
That explanation was meant to dismiss the fact that the Metropolitan Transit Authority subway station at 53rd Street and 7th Avenue, where Goodson fell to her death, has no elevators. And that the entire New York subway system lacks universal accessibility, with fewer than a quarter of the stations having elevators, which are constantly breaking down.
This dire situation has been highlighted by accessibility advocates for years. In fact, two days after Goodson’s fall, wheelchair users and organized advocacy groups protested at the subway station where the death occurred. Media coverage of the protest, however, was dominated by headlines claiming Goodson had a “pre-existing condition.”
People with pre-existing conditions of all kinds use public transportation. They should be able to do so without having to navigate dangerous stairs. The use of this phrase also falsely paints the demand for elevators as coming only from people who are mobility impaired. It keeps the issue isolated politically — because it seems like it’s coming from just one group, people with disabilities, who face daily oppression and social marginalization.
Since Goodson’s death, parents have acted to overcome that false divide. Mothers like Christine Coleman and Christine Yearwood have joined accessibility advocates at MTA board meetings and at courthouse rallies in order to express solidarity with Goodson’s family and break the demand for elevators out of political isolation.
On March 27, at the monthly MTA board meeting, Dontaysia Turner — the cousin of Malaysia Goodson and herself a mother — gave testimony that continued that trend in the most powerful way.
“I’m a mother of two,” Turner told the board, “so I know the struggle of walking up and down the stairs with a baby and bags and strollers. … It’s not fair. I feel like you guys are raising the price and nothing is being done. I want to know, where is all this money going?
“We need elevators, if not at every station, at least at every other station. You have people with strollers, babies, pregnant, walkers, wheelchairs, anything you can think of struggling up and down these stairs. It’s not right, it’s not fair. I feel like you all have to do something fast, quick, before something like this happens again. … I don’t want anyone else’s family to feel the pain my family feels.”
Turner concluded: “We talk about my cousin every day. She should still be here with us. I shouldn’t be here talking on her behalf.”
Turner’s testimony caused a flurry of local media attention, including the revelation that the MTA has never reached out to the family with any apology or condolences after Goodson’s death. Acting MTA chair Frank Ferrer’s response — “I’m sorry that it didn’t happen. That’s regrettable” — rang hollow. Surely MTA lawyers forbid officials from contacting the family because that would imply responsibility and make a justifiable lawsuit easier for the family.
Before Turner spoke at the board meeting, a sidewalk protest gathered outside MTA headquarters. It was called to honor Goodson for International Working Women’s Month.
Showing the increasing solidarity among different class forces calling for elevators, the majority of protesters were from the accessibility movement. Mary Kaessinger, a wheelchair user and leader of The People’s MTA, opened with: “This is a rally to honor Malaysia Goodson, a woman who fell to her death down the subway stairs. Had there been an elevator, that wouldn’t have happened.”
International Action Center leader Teresa Gutierrez called attention to the more than $1 trillion Trump had just approved for the U.S. military: “Let’s take the money that exists in this country and use it for elevators. It’s a basic human right!”
March 8, International Women’s Day, inspired by a march in 1908 and a three-month strike by women immigrant garment workers from 1909 to 1910 in New York City, was officially recognized in August 1910 by European socialists. Lack of safety measures in garment shops was a key issue for these workers. Seven months after IWD was recognized, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred in NYC, in which 146 garment workers, mostly women, were killed, due to treacherous working conditions and the bosses’ blatant disregard for their safety.
IWD takes on heightened meaning today as women workers, especially women of color, and all oppressed people intensify the fight against a society that values profits over people. Over a hundred years later, preventable deaths still occur. On March 28, 25 people were killed in Bangladesh in a high-rise office building with locked emergency exits. Many jumped to their death. This is a recurring problem in areas relying on super-exploitative working conditions to boost capitalist profits, with no provisions for workers’ safety.
In the case of the MTA, so much of its money goes to repaying loans from Goldman Sachs and other banks that it never has enough left to actually maintain the system. A December 2017 New York Times article reported that the MTA pays debt service at the rate of $83 a second.
Most of that money is interest — money banks get for doing nothing. None of it is taxed. The pre-existing condition that may have ultimately killed Malaysia Goodson is capitalism.