From 8th to 12th August this year thousands of anarchists from all over the globe gathered in St. Imier, Switzerland to mark the 140th anniversary of the first anarchist International in 1872. The event included talks, discussions, a book fair and concerts. Staines Anarchists were well represented at the gathering with 12 members attending. The account below is from one of our members.
As an anarchist, I strongly believe that this movement should be inclusive and representative of people from all kinds of different backgrounds, and with different needs and life experiences. To some extent, when I came to anarchism, and I’m very much still in the process of coming to it, this was one of the big draws – a political movement that really recognised intersectionality, and made itself accessible for everyone. This wasn’t just on a theoretical level, but also on a physical level – as a wheelchair user, I felt drawn to a group that would see accessibility as a priority.
I’ve come to realise though, that topics such as this are often more lip service than they are real, practical ways in which we live our lives. This was highlighted at the St Imier Anarchist International, where despite there being some amazing speeches and discussions, very few of them took place in wheelchair accessible rooms – most of them involved flights of stairs, or hills that were far too steep to wheel up without help. With reference to the latter, I realise that geography cannot be altered, but it seems that the event was held in an incredibly inaccessible location due to the history of that area, and that privileging history above the accessibility of our movement is something that’s highly problematic from the outset.
However, the inaccessibility of this event provided Staines Anarchists with an opportunity to challenge it, and indeed to grow as a group as a result of that. The method in which we did this, was those of us who had first observed the inaccessibility as a serious problem (alongside problems of race and gender representation) raised it with the rest of Staines Anarchists, and with their support we took this to the Safer Spaces team. Staines Anarchists and the Safer Spaces team then called an emergency meeting at which discussions of access going far beyond simply wheelchair access happened, and a statement was read at the final closing meeting about these issues. This provided our group with important experience in how to organise ourselves as part of a wider movement, and highlighted to us the importance of considering issues of access.
However, it’s not just us that need to be considering these. The issues at St Imier were reflective of the issues in the wider movement as a whole, and it’s those we need to be looking at and challenging. It’s not always possible to make events accessible, but this is an important consideration, because otherwise we risk losing the voices of disabled people within our movement entirely. This doesn’t just mean wheelchair access, but also low background noise, possibly an alcohol free venue, plenty of things that I’m not going to even remember to list here. These are issues people need to be discussing in their own collectives, and organising from. Our movement can only be strengthened by taking issues of accessibility seriously and ensuring everyone can participate, but we need to work together to do that. If you meet somewhere inaccessible, look for somewhere else. Even if you have no disabled members. Because someday you will, and then we’ll be grateful for your prior consideration.