2020 has been a rough year. There is a global pandemic, communities are hurting, people are dying, and everything in the news is bleak. While what is happening today may seem hopeless, nationwide protests aren’t necessarily bad; they can invoke massive social change. During times of civil unrest, like we are experiencing now, we can look to other social movements, not only for comfort–to know what tactics have created change in the past but also for a framework for how to act and how to have cross-movement solidarity.
In this blog series, we will examine the intersectionality of four major movements: Civil Rights in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Second-Wave Feminism, LGBTQIA+ Pride, and Disability Rights. None of these movements would have been successful without the support of other movements and multiply marginalized (having more than one minority identity) people.
Before we can dive into the history of social movements to understand how cross-movement solidarity and being aware of intersectionality is crucial to any movement’s success, we need to understand what intersectionality is. As a concept, intersectionality is not new; in fact, Maria W. Stewart alluded to the idea of intersectionality in the 1830s. The term itself was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. It is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, as they apply to a given individual or group regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. This definition is complicated and very academic. Another way to conceptualize intersectionality is to list out how you identify yourself and think about what identities might cause you to be discriminated against or oppressed. A white, middle-class, nondisabled man in his 40s is likely going to experience less discrimination than a 70-year-old Black woman who has a visible disability and is living in poverty. Folks who have intersecting identities are more likely to experience discrimination than those without. For example, a Black woman may experience discrimination in employment in companies where a Black man or a white woman world not.
Our identities make up how we interact with the world and how the world interacts with us. Massive social movements have been necessary to ensure equality for oppressed people for a long time (early settlers came to America to escape religious oppression). What our country is experiencing now is not new, and has a proven record of change, although slow and incremental. Take a moment to reflect on the Disability Rights Movement (which we will examine in a future post): the Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1973, section 504 was not enforced until 1977, and it took a 24-day sit-in to get that done; then ADA was not signed until 1990 after a number of other protests and a crawl up the capitol steps. Reform does not happen fast. Through examining past social movements, including our own, we can learn to be better allies and further rights of all people.