January 18th, 2017

New Year’s Resolutions for the Autistic People

Ominous clouds gather and darken above a landscape.

A storm is coming. Are you ready?

We’re headed for hard times. Our movement is on the defensive. The ideas that animate these times don’t bode well for us. That had me thinking about what our absolute necessities are, what we have to have and do to remain ourselves. I only came up with two things:

1) Protect vulnerable people; and
2) Protect the internet.

If we fail to protect our own vulnerable people, we’ve lost our collective soul. If we don’t take care of our own, there is no ‘we,’ no shared existence worth protecting. If we lose an open internet where ideas move freely, we’ve lost the ground on which we stand. I can’t think of anything else we really need to get by, so we should be able to protect our essentials.

The way to do it is to stay engaged. Sign up for action alerts from organizations that deal with issues like disability rights, benefits, and net neutrality. Act on them. Contact your elected officials when something important is happening. Get or stay registered to vote. Help others do the same. Educate people about the issues important to us. Recognize that you will disagree with some decent people, and don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Sometimes, a person or group will have different priorities or values and may only be a good ally on one issue. On that one issue, work together.

Don’t get discouraged. Remember what we’ve already accomplished. We know how to do this, how to build and support good organizations, keep showing up, and leave anyone who threatens our community swamped in outraged calls and emails. We know how to grind down our problems for as long as it takes to get rid of them. It’s hard because it requires commitment, months or years of sustained effort, but it isn’t complicated. We have the skills we need to effectively navigate whatever the rest of the world thinks it’s doing. My fear for us isn’t that we can’t. It’s that we won’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I see the people who always do our heavy lifting hard at work. They’re doing all they can to protect the ACA. When they need warm bodies to throw at a problem, though, when circumstances call for chaos on the internet or phone lines tied up for days, will people show up? Will we organize around these issues, which may be more existentially threatening, as determinedly and consistently as we did against eugenics? I don’t know how successfully we’ve inculcated newcomers with the sense of duty to respond. We have a lot of warm bodies now, far more than we did when we were successfully undermining the medical model of disability as applied to us. I’m just not sure enough of them will participate. Will we put aside our differences where our common interests are concerned, or will some of us ignore good ideas rather than admit that a rival is doing something right?

We’re a young community. We don’t have enough strong institutions to protect us from the odd self-serving individual. Our unique relationship with the internet serves us well in some ways, but it’s part of our strong tendency to fall into infighting. With the extremist right ascendant in Western nations, we’re at a crossroads. We have a choice to make: are we a subculture, or are we a people? Are we something like a fandom or a cluster of Facebook groups that lasts for a while, maybe produces lasting friendships, until a catastrophic implosion, or are we something more enduring? Are we more about ourselves or each other? We don’t have much time to make up our minds. If the Autistic community grows up and behaves like a people, there is no problem or threat our determined efforts can’t eventually, successfully address. Otherwise, all of us, from the most self-sufficient to the most vulnerable, are on our own. I hope we make the right decision.


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