Category Archives: Healthcare

Thoughts on “Politics of the Disability Rights Movement”

This will hopefully be the first of a two-part discussion on disability, the next to follow in several months, and to focus on mental ill-health/”psychological disability”, race, and class.  This is meant to be a broad overview of themes, ideas, and movements, through comments on Ravi Malhotra’s article, “The Politics of the Disability Rights Movement.”

The Two Dominant of Models of Understanding Disability

The 2 dominant models for thinking about disability in the US and Western European contexts are the “medical model” promoted by a capitalist medical system that sees disability as physical limitations that need to be cured, either through eugenics (the idea of eradication of people with disabilities, also used to argue for the elimination of people of color), treatment, assistive devices (such as wheelchairs, brail, or sign language) without a broader analysis of the physical and social barriers that make these devices necessary.  The medical model has also had clear racist components, by pathologizing people of color as “crazy”, and therefore mentally ill and in need of hospitalization or aggressive and often violent medical treatment.  The medical model fundamentally treats people with disability as if they are a second-class, homogenous group of people, while individualizing disability and preventing collective struggle against both ablism and unequal health and safety.  The “social model” was developed primarily by disabled peoples movements and serves as a counter to the medical model, and makes a distinction between impairments, or physical or emotional situations, and disability, which are the social conditions created by an ablest society that manifest as barriers for people with impairments.  In what follows, I argue that what’s missing from both these models is a way of simultaneously valuing the capabilities of folks who are disabled by a capitalist, patriarchal, and ablest system and value the caring work necessary for people whose state of health, mobility, or emotional difference and distress mean that they are not going to participate in work in any sense; this necessitates the recognition and encouragement by revolutionary movements of the simultaneous autonomy and interdependence of folks engaged in caring work and folks being cared for.

The Politics of the Disability Rights Movement”

Using Ravi Malhotra’s 2001 article (link above) in New Politics I hope to make an intervention calling for a critical rethinking of disability, and struggles of disabled folks. This article makes a couple of key interventions

+A critique of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other “disability rights” legislation for being individualized legislation that was based on the idea of disabled people as consumers.  The ADA serves a similar role to that of labor contracts typically negotiated by trade unions: making the world a safe place for disabled people to consume and work.  The ADA relies on individual disabled folks or class action groups to sue companies or businesses that break the ADA, but does not call for a restructuring of society to make it lest ablest.

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Thoughts on a Health Care Forum

Written with Khalil, Afrose and Tyler Zimmerman.

AustinHealthCare2At the end of August, a Health Care Forum was organized in Austin, TX, by the Democratic Party and a number of liberal organizations including With the forum the Democrats sought to “honor their commitment to grassroots organization” by bringing out Obama supporters and the media to hear “real voices for change” like Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who has been perceived as progressive for supporting a public option in the health care plan. This forum was a response to a town hall meeting with Doggett that was shut down by anti-reform protestors earlier in the month (the terms pro- and anti-“reform” are being used loosely here, as they are somewhat misleading about the character of the actual health care proposals on the table).

Close to 2,000 people attended the forum, filling to capacity the First United Methodist Church where the panelists spoke and a nearby AFL-CIO hall that was open for additional seating. There was a small union presence, mostly from the Texas State Employee Union (TSEU) which has been involved in some important health care battles among graduate students at the University of Texas. Unfortunately, the union’s organizing has centered around lobbying at the Capitol, a strategy which doesn’t stray far from how the AFL-CIO, with which TSEU is affiliated, has intervened in the health care debate. The Democrats brought in supporters from nearby cities like San Antonio and tightly controlled the forum, prohibiting Q&A or any disruptions.

A majority of people who came out supported some type of health care reform, with a general consensus that the current state of affairs was untenable and a clear failure. There was also a very visible and vocal minority of rightwing protestors against reform. The latter arrived more prepared with chants and placards. The protestors consisted of a mixed bag of “astro-turf” groups – associated with and/or receiving funding from inside the Republican Party – as well as rightwing libertarian types and unaffiliated individuals. It wasn’t clear whether larger organizations that have attended town hall meetings elsewhere – such as Dick Armey’s Freedom Works, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, or Americans for Prosperity – were actually present in Austin, but their influence could be felt. There was a lot of rhetoric about Obama’s secret socialist agenda, Obama = Hitler, “Show me the birth certificate,” and images of Obama dressed as the Joker from Batman, as well as other slogans like “My Body, My Choice” (ironic how the right takes a slogan usually reserved to the pro-choice left and animates it with an anti-choice politics).
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Obama and Health Care “Reform”

imagesTwo days ago senator Max Baucus revealed the Senate Finance committee’s health care bill. Baucus had delayed this bill for months in an attempt to get what he had promised as moderate Republican support. Baucus, who is heavily funded by the health care industry, has strong links with industry lobbyists, many of whom are former staffers in his office. His attempt to get Republican support for a centrist bill have collapsed in his face. In the end, Baucus’ plan has failed to build consensus among the political elites.

This is significant because Obama embraced a strategy that hoped to avoid the mistakes of the Clinton administration’s health care disaster by hitching his ride to Baucus and the finance committee to come up with a centrist plan. This contradicted his earlier positions as both a Senator, when he backed a universal single-payer system, and as a presidential candidate, when he retreated to a commitment to a public option. As support for Obama fades quickly there is no better contrast between the hopes of millions of people who were key to his election victory and the realities his actual politics expose about bourgeois democracy.

But Obama also has a problem with the House Democrats who, along with liberal talking heads, columnists and the “netroots”, pushed back against him at the end of August after he said he was willing to drop support for a public option. House Democrats and the liberal section of the Senate have staked out their own position around the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s bill that emerged in July. This bill is similar to one in the House.

The main difference between the two Senate bills is the public option. Where the HELP committee’s bill contains it, Baucus has purged it from the Finance committee’s plan. If the public option is apparently a source of tension between centrists and liberal wing of the Democratic Party, then what is the public option composed of?
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