Refusing Ableism In The End Times

Estelle Ellison
8 min readJul 21, 2023

Who profits from ableism?

Capitalism’s inability to be life-sustaining has been most recently made apparent in its implementation and premature abandonment of Covid relief efforts and precautions. The state, of course, made these investments only to keep its workforce alive long enough to resume its exploitative normalcy. It wasn’t too long before the state decided the risk of mass death and disablement were outweighed by all that could be extracted from our labor.

Companies entrusted with funds (Paycheck Protection Program) for their workers outright refused to comply. Instead, they used this money to offset their diminished profit margins. To the management/owning class, this was just another opportunity to exploit workers. Parallels to this dynamic can be found when class-privileged people invest in and are able to exclusively set the terms of redistribution in some mutual aid efforts.

Similar to the way that workers are dependent on the whims of their employers, we see those without reliable income and/or homes surviving by the mercy of those with stronger relationships to the funding class. While marginalized people without these relationships do coordinate efforts to make ends meet via donations from those who have money to spare, meeting those goals still primarily lies in the hands of those who have a fundamentally different relationship to class. Where the relationship between bosses and workers is fundamentally exploitative, overreliance on those with class privilege is also a situation ripe for exploitation.

As is the case with many pillars of capitalism that remain standing, american individualism continues to ensure that the vectors of oppression are far-reaching and protected from the potential insurrectionary actions of everyone who stands to gain from abolition. American leftists want the privileges of individualism without sacrificing whatever cultural recognition they have as a “progressive” force. In many ways, fascism is able to bring more individuals into its thrall by reassuring people that marginalized folks couldn’t possibly make them change their lifestyle under capitalism. And with that peace comes the erasure and dismissals of valid pressing concerns from those of us who struggle to survive in the margins of society.

The pressure to assimilate into today’s eugenicist normalcy mounts with every unmasked event leftists organize, every concert people compromise their precautions for, and every restaurant and bar people decide they must enter. Why should anyone compromise their piece of the american lifestyle when it seems that no one else is? It doesn’t matter that it only seems that way because so many of us continue to stay inside and leave only for essential errands where we are still masked and cautious of the droves of unmasked people we’ll be exposed to.

This current culmination of reactionary tendencies is best exemplified by the notion that it is a privilege to be covid-safe. Putting aside the fact that much of society and most movement-organizing methods rarely if ever were inclusive of disabled people before the pandemic, it remains painfully clear that these arguments are just another instance of ableism contorting itself to appear progressive. In a typical fashion, there is a glorification of wage labor that is removed from the realities of those who must work to survive. This attitude erases workers who wish their jobs took covid precautions but must risk getting sick in order to eat.

It conveniently ignores the role that capitalism and the state play in compelling people to shoulder greater risks to their lives to make the rich wealthier, contradicting the supposed pro-working class values of many leftists. The myth of covid-safe privilege incorrectly assumes that disabled people who cannot shoulder greater health risks to themselves, including but not limited to immunocompromised people, cancer patients, or people who have become disabled from multiple covid infections, are not living in financial precarity as the march of neoliberal fascist normalcy continues to make their lives more difficult than ever.

The state and capitalist media are relentlessly ushering in a new normalcy that comes on the backs of millions dead, providing those same organizations who tolerated abuse and ableism with momentum and opportunity to go back to the lower standards of pre-pandemic organizing spaces. Indeed, the widespread adoption of eugenicist neoliberal lifestyles makes for an excellent social cover for this regression of values.

Who finds eugenicist normalcy tempting?

Our liberatory efforts mean nothing so long as we are willing to compromise our values on critical issues fascism makes no secret of weaponizing against us. Ableism can’t end a legacy of eugenics any more than transphobia can secure trans people a life worth living. Our aspirations towards abolition and the liberation of Black people mean nothing so long as we tolerate reactionary, inaccessible, and apologist methods of increasing our numbers in supposed opposition to anti-Blackness. During this fascist period, every compromise we make with oppressive dynamics and systems will be swiftly leveraged against us.

During a time when anti-survivorship is more common, survivors and their supporters have had to weather more advanced tactics from abusers and generally troubling intracommunal dynamics. With regard to this trend, more parallels can be found with pre-pandemic ableism vs. today’s more explicitly eugenicist tendencies. Just as survivors have long warned about and called attention to abuse and domestic violence in leftist spaces (see “misogynists make great informants”), disabled people have also been trying to make movement organizing more accessible and less tolerant of ableism.

There are decades of people pushing back against these reactionary trends that have taken root in leftist spaces in the name of liberation. In acknowledging these historical circumstances, we can recontextualize these pandemic years as something of an anomaly regarding how often or infrequently efforts are made to address ableism and abuse. They are an anomaly in the sense that many formal groups were forced to develop online organizing or covid-safe methods during quarantine. At the same time, so much abuse was coming to light that organizations had to at least make gestures toward addressing it (whether empty or substantive).

In the face of all of this, it is not hard to see the parallels between anti-survivorship and eugenicist normalcy. The disdain for survivors bears so many characteristics in common with the contempt for disabled people we see today. The tactics of gaslighting, isolating, and apologism between the two seem so interchangeable during this fascist period. Abusers seem to infiltrate spaces just as easily as fascists are able to breach care networks consisting of disabled people who struggle to keep each other alive. Mass abuse apologism seems to have taken over the national political stage as swiftly as eugenicist normalcy has. These observations all make it very clear that we cannot pick and choose which reactionary attitudes and behaviors we want to tolerate or participate in.

The more discerning we become as survivors and disabled folks (including Black, queer, and trans people who exist at the intersections of these identities), the more we are resented by the organizations who wish to recruit us. Likewise, we are resented for our ability to create networks of care in ways ableist and abuse apologist orgs cannot replicate. Decrying their losses and throwing their hands up at the first sign of increased scrutiny from potential recruits, many orgs now seek to invalidate collective efforts that haven’t been done in their names. We see this most often in a recurring discourse in which all organizing, coordination, and networks formed online are discredited by those groups most experienced with offline organizing.

The benefits of offline organizing apparently do not speak for themselves, but rather must make their value known through the ableist denigration of those who have no choice but to rely upon online resources and networks. Instead of demonstrating solidarity with disabled people, Black, indigenous, and people of color who are more at risk of getting covid by masking and organizing events where masks are required, we instead get erroneous bad-faith arguments that the only people who still take covid precautions are somehow a coherent class of economically privileged people. This political failure on the part of those who take no issue with eugenicist normalcy is evidence of yet another sphere of fascist influence.

Can we safely refuse ableism during fascism?

Be it bad-mouthing online networking or dressing up anti-survivorship as revolutionary, reactionary animosity for the means by which we refuse to participate in oppressive power dynamics remains. Groups that have become a hotbed for reactionary behaviors can’t help but reach for their dream situation where we simply uncritically accept their terms and restrain our lives and political activities to their reach of organizational disciplines.

Apart from this self-justification of ableism, there is also the idea that acknowledging that the pandemic is ongoing (meaning we should be taking precautions) unfairly characterizes workers who have jobs at places that refuse to require masks as complicit in eugenics. Here again, managers, business owners, funders, and the state are all conveniently forgotten as the direct causes of eugenicist normalcy. In some ways, this misattribution of oppression is similar to the worker who resents new hires who benefit from a raised minimum wage instead of their bosses who refuse to give raises across the board. Rather than recognize our common enemy and where our interests lie in getting free, there is instead a hopeless capitulation to terms set by our oppressors. This resignation is yet another instance of people succumbing to the influences of this fascist period both wittingly and unwittingly.

During a time where vigilance against oppression is more isolating than ever, it is especially tempting to settle for a sense of belonging to a group, but it is that willingness to settle that we must guard against. We cannot let our lived experiences of being denied care and safety be taken advantage of by reactionaries, opportunists, and apologists. The sheer novelty of being offered care, even verbally, is, perhaps understandably, compelling enough to make for easy recruitment into formal and informal groups.

But we still must be cautious of overemphasizing our shared experiences to the point of de-emphasizing the need to also combat forms of oppression we less commonly experience. Something similar also happens when cadre-led orgs with centralized resources rapidly coalesce and descend upon spontaneous actions that end up requiring court support or just attracting attention from the press. This isn’t to say that court support is wrong or unnecessary. The point is that it doesn’t hurt to ask where the support is coming from, whether there are strings attached, or whether groups are getting involved in good faith.

Quite often, it is exactly this guard-dropping in exchange for the possibility of receiving material support that gives some formations a cult-like character. The result can often be seen in lateral ableism, or a lack of safeguards for such dynamics when and if they arise.

These dynamics tend to cause people to misattribute the causes of oppression to the targets of that oppression. In the worst instances of this, we see supposed leftists mistake reactionary behaviors themselves for revolutionary actions. With so much at stake, we simply cannot let our desire for meaningful and safe community to be used against us. We must remain discerning and careful in the ways we build relationships and comradery in the fight to end fascism.

During this fascist period especially, embracing our creativity can help us find better, more flexible, and resilient ways of caring for each while bolstering our ability to combat oppressive dynamics. It is important that we do not give up our collective agency and creativity in exchange for rigid organizational disciplines that refuse to accommodate us and everyone imperiled by eugenicist normalcy. We cannot compromise with the systems that want us dead. There is much problem-solving to do and we need a comprehensive discerning solidarity more than ever.

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Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)