20 2 / 2013

Of course. Of course, I want more justice in the world. Of course I think Love is the way to go about it. What’s the problem, then? Simple. I’m tired of the inherent ableism in the Standing On The Side Of Love campaign name.

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What I won’t be doing is standing. I’ll be sitting or riding by on my scooter. But the name doesn’t leave any room for that.

I can hear the objections.

I.  Theresa, it’s a metaphor. You can stand without actually standing; you know, taking a stand.

The name of the campaign devalues the disabled body. It privileges standing over using a wheelchair or scooter. It confirms that able-bodied standing is the default.

The syntax of the name is STANDING…on the side of….

Not Standing For…

The construction gives the slogan a sense of physicality, one in which not everyone can share.

The language also creates a false duality—if someone can’t stand, then, by implication, they are not advocating for Love, not able to advance the cause of Justice. In fact, people who can’t stand are often present at actions of public witness doing their part to advance Love.

II. Don’t we have more important things to worry about?

The assumption in this question is that issues can be ranked according to a hierarchy. Choosing to talk about ableism doesn’t mean that it’s the most important thing the speaker can talk about, just that it’s appropriate for that time. In fact, the language we use  is an integral part of the struggle for justice. If we use language to exclude and oppress, then we have not begun to address the ways privileges are disconnecting us from each other.

III. But I have a disabled friend who doesn’t think it is offensive.

That’s fine, but I and others do. Wielding words is a power and a privilege. If you choose to use structures and words that exclude and discount groups of people, then that choice comes with a corresponding set of responsibilities and outcomes. In this case, the exclusion of anyone who doesn’t stand is highlighted over and over, in songs, signs, shirts.

What should we do then?

It’s probably too late to change the slogan all together.

What if Standing on the Side of Love had at least one piece of art that had people standing and people in wheelchairs and walkers. or all the people sitting, some in chairs and some in wheelchairs and some with walkers?

We would begin to create a visual association that would expand the metaphor of standing to include more people. A secondary benefit is that with a shirt, for example, allies could show support for a meaning of wider inclusion. This could be a useful step toward wholeness for the Unitarian Universalist movement.