By Derek Wetherell, Community Organizer, Paraquad, St. Louis, MO
Recently in my home town, St. Louis Missouri, there has been an uprising by people living in our black and brown communities, sparking a national debate about race in our country. We are now having an unprecedented discussion about police brutality and police utilization of military grade weapons. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able, through my work at Paraquad, grassroots community organizations, and the leaders who we support, to be part of this national dialogue. I’ve recognized the wonderful work that we are doing at Paraquad, using the community advocacy model, as well as areas we can, as a national movement, improve.
I’ll start with the positive. We at Paraquad use a model of community advocacy – or organizing – that is true to IL values and opens us up to work on a number of issues that we wouldn’t have focused on before. Over a year ago we reorganized the way we engage people in advocacy and decided to put the power back in the hands of community members who come to our CIL. Instead of bringing people to us to do defined advocacy, we came to them and they led the charge, set the agenda, and organized initiatives that most impacted them.
So far, we’ve grown 8 dynamic and powerful community organizations built on pursuing disability rights in their area. We facilitate the development of community leaders who head these community organizations. We support and grow new leaders through our own leadership workshops. Instead of dictating to folks “these are your issues,” we partner with community members. We ask them to partner with us on matters of concern that they themselves have identified. This powerful shift has expanded the effectiveness of our local movement. It has also pushed us as an organization to work in new local issue areas.
We are supporting community leaders and their groups in doing disability work, but also gender and race-based work. This includes, as mentioned above, work around Ferguson and police misconduct. For instance, we’ve had a number of community leaders speak at St. Louis County Council meetings, turn out other community members, and talk to city alderpersons about civilian review boards. They’ve talked to the police about more inclusive Crisis Intervention Team trainings – pushing for inclusion of disability information and awareness. Doing more intersectional work makes sense on the heels of major wins for people with disabilities to be in our communities. Doing this work around other forms of oppression is a natural extension of our ‘disability work’ – as people with disabilities are they, themselves, a diverse group. There is more opportunity here. [Read more...]