A critical focus of our work at the Northern West Virginia Center for Independent Living (NWVCIL) is advocating for equal opportunities for people with disabilities, all disabilities, across all platforms – economic, political, and social. As disability rights activists fought through the years for equal access, and simply for their individual freedom and dignity to be respected in our society at-large and by our cultural and political institutions, it would have been ridiculous and immoral to dismiss them by saying, “All lives matter, not just you folks with a disability.”
The Independent Living movement’s fight for equality and justice relative to our democratic institutions translates to the ongoing protests occurring in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Mr. Floyd is just one victim of so many that have been lost to racism in all its forms and its resulting brutality, which has disgraced our country since 1619 when the first slaves from Africa were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The ongoing systematic and institutionalized racism fails all citizens in that it is immoral, disrupting what is good and just in our common cultural context. Without justness and a cultural ethic of empathy and understanding, we all lose. But it is not all citizens who lose their lives, it is people without privilege, people without access, people who are dismissed as something less. In the current context, it is black Americans. Thus, to say “Black Lives Matter” is simply to raise a hand to say this problem cannot be ignored, and we will no longer allow it to be ignored.
To say, “All Lives Matter” is an iniquitous response that equates to, “I am good with business as usual.” Business as usual means the continued decline of our democratic institutions and the loss of the moral imperative and shared responsibility to address the problem at hand.
At NWVCIL, we believe in equality under the law, equal opportunity for all people, and the importance of a civil society in which there is a sense of shared responsibility and common purpose. NWVCIL will continue to serve people with disabilities, working to democratize access at every opportunity and combat a social and economic system that too often enables oppression.
As we work, we will remember, respect, and recognize this statement that should be obvious: Black Lives Matter. Systematic racism, injustice, and the brutality that results must be stopped at long last. NWVCIL will do its part to be courageous and vigilant in the fight against oppression and injustice, working to support the freedom, growth, and self-sufficiency of all citizens such that the phrase “all lives matter” can have a moral meaning rather than simply be a contemptuous and perfunctory sneer.
Executive Director, NWVCIL