Free Our People Film Contest and Festival

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Are you in Rochester, NY? If you are, can I come and see you? Because I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be there August 7th for the Free Our People Film Festival put on by Center for Disability Rights in New York State.

There’s kind of two ways I think about the name “Free Our People.” One is that we have to continue to work to ensure disabled people maintain the right to live in the community and that that right is actually enforced. The other is that disabled people, and all people, need to live free from systemic bias and the systemic oppression that bias feeds. Ongoing bias in the US around disability shows up from segregated special education and segregated proms to putting people into nursing facilities even if they don’t require 24-hour nursing care to denying care or even suggesting assisted suicide to disabled people without a terminal illness and allowing abuse and negligence in long-term care facilities and places like Judge Rotenberg Center. And all of the current and historical fights to cut Medicare and Medicaid? Easy to understand if you factor in the racism, ableism, and classism that the arguments are built on.

Maria Palacios, a Latina in a tank top and skirt, sits in a manual wheelchair. Resting on her legs is a sign: "Nasty Crip Resistance. Free our people." There is a Venus woman power symbol and a nude Brown woman in a wheelchair, arms raised, chains around her wrists broken, adapted from the ADAPT logo.Here’s Maria Palacios, poet, author, activist, Sins Invalid performer, and community organizer, in a screenshot from a video of a recent ADAPT protest in Houston. The bias our larger society usually expresses is that disabled lives are not worth as much as non-disabled ones, that disabled people can and should be described by limitations and their capacity to get normal (or to be nauseatingly viewed as angelic and inspiring for being alive at all), that the burden of paying for anything related to illness or disability is more than society wants to bear, and that if you can’t live independently, then you should live–and die–institutionalized. Most media out there, positive and negative, will focus on white people, as if no other parts of disability community matter. And importantly, you’ll read so much of this stuff written about disability community by non-disabled people, often without even quotations from disabled people.

In honor of creativity, of personal narrative about disability community and from disability community, and of celebrating interdependence (not independence), I made a short hybrid documentary film and entered into the Free Our People Film Contest and Festival and won first place.

I have never been institutionalized or even faced a risk of it. I have not relied on government support for my health care, but I did receive SSDI for some time and will spend the rest of my life grateful beyond words for that support. Having disabled folks living in the community is essential to having a diverse, thriving, beautiful place to live. The cuts and caps on the Senate’s table right now truly do threaten health, dignity, and even lives. Institutionalization destroys the possibility to live among your peers, direct your own care, and have choices and say about how you live your life. We can’t take that for granted. Not because anyone can acquire a disability so you should care. Not because maybe you know a disabled person so you care. This is for everyone. We cannot take for granted what’s at stake if we continue toward removing our disabled peers from society and stuffing them into institutions, whether skilled nursing, carceral, psychiatric, or any type.

The film I made is called “In My Home.” It premieres in their festival on August 7th in Rochester. More details will be available on their Facebook page. After that, it will show a few more places. Here are the stars of the documentary. Meet Erik and Onyx, Kiersi, and Yulia and Lefty. (Not pictured: Rowena, Kiersi’s cat.)

Erik Ferguson, a white man, looks intently at a black dog and pets it, Kiersi Coleman, a South Asian woman, looks out the window and smiles, and Yulia Arakelyan, a white woman, looks off in the distance with a black and white cat in her lap.