After the polls closed for the 2016 presidential election, my husband and I strapped our soon-to-be-one-year-old daughter into her high chair and turned her towards the television, which was streaming CNN. It was early morning in India, where we lived, and in the thin light of dawn, I explained to her that for centuries, in the US—where I was born and where she would have the right to become a citizen—immigrant families like ours have been using our collective power to make history. Electing the first female president of the United States, I told her, was a stunning illustration of a community’s ability to create change.
It seemed like a great idea—that is, until the example I was counting on did not quite pan out.
The next few months were, for me, one long stretch of unmitigated panic. On social media, I watched a slew of hard won civil rights—many of which I had marched for in my teens and twenties—disintegrate, while I was trapped an ocean away. Meanwhile, in real life, my adopted daughter and I struggled to transition from strangers into family. Every day was an epic battle for her trust, a battle complicated by the fact that in this new, dystopian world, I no longer trusted anything or anyone, including myself: never, in my life, have I felt so out of control.
Had this election occurred five years ago, I would have regained my footing by diving into activism, most likely through organizing protests, knocking on doors, and marching in the streets. Through this resistance, I would have found hope.
But in for me, 2016, the rules were different. I was raising a child who was, technically, still under the care of the Indian government. We had social worker check-ins every few months, and we couldn’t apply for her citizenship for two years. I was married to a man who had a green card, but was not yet an American citizen. I was living in a country where I wasn’t a citizen, and although it wasn’t likely that anything would happen to me if I spoke my mind, I didn’t have the same security that I used to have in the country where I was born.
It was one thing to put myself at risk. It was another thing entirely to risk to the futures of the people I loved–especially when one of those people was still gauging whether or not I, unlike the slew of other adults she’d met in her short life, would stick around forever.
And so, for the first time, I watched American politics happen from the sidelines, reacting to decisions about immigration policy, reproductive rights, and public education through nothing more than a few clandestine phone calls to my elected officials. I didn’t post on social media, since I didn’t know who was watching me, and what they could do to my family.
Resistance had been the way I manufactured hope. Without it, I was lost.
In the introduction to Resistance and Hope, editor Alice Wong offers up the anthology as a collection of “crip wisdom” for navigating the aftermath of the 2016 election. An accomplished disability rights activist, Wong reminds us that even during sympathetic administrations, disabled people have always had to fight to survive: as contributor Mari Karisato points out, popular opinion dictates that “the disabled should cease to exist, if only to end our suffering…As a disabled woman my instinct is to say, ‘Screw that!’ I will resist disappearing” (27).
Like the other writers in this truly intersectional anthology, Karisato, who is Ojibwe, experiences her disability through the lens of her multiple identities. She says that she finds strength in the fact that indigenous people have successfully resisted erasure for centuries. Demanding the right to survival, she says, feels like a continuation of the work of her ancestors.
While the authors frequently write about the power they find in their identities, they also do not shy away from the ways in which these identities contribute to their marginalization. Vilissa K. Thompson, for example, writes, “What is taking place in our country will impact us differently depending on the identities we have OUTSIDE of being disabled” (64). As a Black woman, Thompson says, “Nothing I achieve (education, career, economic status) will shield me from experiencing discrimination and bigotry” (63). Coupled with her disability, Thompson says, her racial and gender identities make her particularly vulnerable to overlapping oppressions.
Disability is, itself, a term that encompasses a wide variety of identities, some of which lead to exclusion from communities that are wedded to specific types of resistance. As contributor Lydia X.Z. Brown writes, “Struggling with disability justice means asking at every point: Who has access and who does not?…There is no one way to do activism right” (8). Brown delivers one of the most powerful messages of the book: there are a wide variety of ways to create change, and each is vitally important.
It is a piece of “crip-wisdom” that I, an abled person, find particularly comforting—and one that was the result of a slew of hard-fought disability justice battles that never reached the public eye.
Anita Cameron writes, “We must have hope in the face of all that is going on, because without it, we will die” (12). In the case of disability rights, this truth is a visceral one: for the disabled, accepting the status quo means accepting a lack of treatment, services, or accommodations that can make survival literally impossible.
While most contributors to the anthology agree on the necessity of hope, they are also refreshingly honest about how difficult hope can be to find. Lev Mirov, who lives with a disability that will shorten his life, must constantly remind himself that, “hope is a choice we make that someone will have a future if we give them one” (51). His words are particularly poignant because he is not making a choice about granting a future to a stranger, but to himself–a choice that, he admits, can feel overwhelming and, at times, impossible.
Throughout the anthology, the contributors remind us that while it is natural to feel bereft of hope, it is imperative that each of us summons the strength to regain it. Naomi Ortiz, for example, says that she constantly asks herself, “Where do I grow my hope?” (57).
When I read these words, I immediately pictured my daughter, and my partner, and the ways in which, together, we break patterns of patriarchy, violence, inequality, and abuse. My family, I realized, is the place where I grow my hope.
But in order for hope to grow, the soil must be adequately prepared.
In a time of intense political polarization, it is not enough to be indignant about the oppressive attitudes held by others, or to fixate on the systems of oppression that affect us alone. Additionally, we must interrogate our own biases, examine the power we hold, and use that power to create change. We must educate ourselves, and we must do so thoroughly and quickly.
Resistance and Hope is a compassionate call to action, a lyrical reminder of our interdependence, and a staunch refusal to deny anyone their full humanity. For me, it is also a crash course in everything that I, and all other abled people, owe to the tireless work of disability rights activists who struggle against systematized oppression while waging a daily battle for their lives.
In the book’s introduction, Wong reminds us, “We are linked to one another for survival” (4). Resistance and Hope reminds us that we better start acting like it.
M. Subramanian is an award winning author and educator who writes about feminism, immigration, and motherhood. Her middle grade novel Dear Mrs. Naiduwon the 2016 South Asia book award for grades 6+. Her first work of literary fiction, entitled A People’s History of Heaven, will be published by Algonquin in the spring of 2019. She currently lives in New Delhi, India, with her family.