Describer: [On screen text:] Trevor Turner, Public Policy Director for the Minnesota Council on Disability, interviews Brittanie Wilson about her reaction to the Governor Walz Budget Engagement Event: Disabilities Communities on March 25th, 2021.
Brittanie, who identifies as a person with a disability and is a strong disability advocate, asked the governor and lieutenant governor about how their budget addresses the intersectionality of disability and race and the marginalization of BIPOC Minnesotans with disabilities.
Trevor Turner: Hello everyone. My name is Trevor Turner and I am the public policy director for the Minnesota Council on Disability, and a white man with blue eyes and blonde hair. I’m wearing a black sweater. I use he/him pronouns.
And today I am here with Brittanie Wilson. Brittanie, will you go ahead and introduce herself?
Brittanie Wilson: Yes, absolutely. So happy to be here with you today, Trevor.
Hey everyone. My name is Brittanie Wilson. I am a black and brown woman. I’m sitting in my wheelchair in my room wearing a purple shirt that says, “Disabled not Disposable” and I’ve got long curly black hair. My pronouns are she/her.
Trevor: Thank you so much, Brittanie. And we’re very happy to have you here. And the reason you’re here is because a couple of weeks ago we had a budget engagement event with the governor and lieutenant governor. It was a town hall style event, where the governor asked questions that were submitted by the disability community and you actually asked one of the questions.
And so, the question that you asked was, how is your administration working to ensure that systems and social change aligned with racial and disability justice, focusing on equity for black, indigenous, and people of color with disabilities?
And you talked a lot about the intersectionality of race and disability or identity and disability. Why did you choose to ask that question?
Brittanie: Yeah, so, you know, I am someone that has a lot of intersections. I am a disabled, queer woman of color. And so, you know, I view life through that lens. I feel that it’s really important to continually bring up the intersectionality, especially disability, because oftentimes it gets erased and we get forgotten about and invisibilized, and the truth is that if we aren’t taking a look at disability in every single facet of the work that we do, then we’re really missing the bigger picture. And we’re inevitably not gonna be lifting up those that are most in need.
And so that is why I chose to ask that question.
Trevor: Well, it’s a great question and I appreciate it, as a gay man who’s disabled himself. I definitely understand the intersectionality of identity. And I think it’s a really great question. I’m happy that we got responses from the governor and lieutenant governor, and I’ll read a quote from the governor.
He said, in response to your question, he said, “I think in Minnesota it’s only been in recent years that we’ve been able to name exactly what you mentioned, which is ableism and systems of oppression and intersectionality, whether it’s historic systemic racism or white supremacy that masquerades as policy in some cases or even the idea that an inequity to the system is set up and then something like COVID happens, it becomes exacerbated.”
And then he goes on to talk about, you know, the decision, how it’s important that the policymaking decision table has to be full. And that everyone has to be included, including people with disabilities.
Talked about how he’s addressing inequities in vaccine distribution. And he said that, you know, your expectations are pretty clear, talking about you, and you stated it, and that too often the voices of people with disabilities are overlooked.
How did you, what did you think of that response from the governor?
Brittanie: Yeah, you know, I really appreciated the governor’s response. I thought that it was well thought out and well-articulated. I feel that the governor definitely understands that ableism is an issue in our society and in Minnesota. And so, I think that he did hit the nail on the head with that.
But with that also being said, you know, I think, yes, it’s important to name things, but we have to have action behind it. And so that’s really what I am looking forward to seeing from the governor. And that’s what really matters to me, because we can talk about ableism all day, but until we address the ableism that’s in our laws, the ableism that lives in our hearts, in our minds, in our society, then does it really matter to be able to say, “Oh, that’s ableism?”
Trevor: Exactly, 100% agree with that. And I appreciate the governor is willing to at least address it and to take it on, and admit his own biases enables them and that you’re working to change that.
And then the lieutenant governor also responded, and she talked about how in the budget proposal there are several areas that they focused on. Equity in education and in small businesses and also working on things with the department of corrections and looking at the Healthy Start Act, and also talked about what the budget does for housing.
What did you think of the lieutenant governor’s initial response too?
Brittanie: I appreciated the lieutenant governor’s comments. I think that she could see that there are ways that we can address systemic oppression and include disabilities in laws. And so, I really appreciated that.
You know, what I was really kind of trying to get at is that we have to include disability at every table. It can’t just be, you know, disability with, you know. the Department of Human Services, or, you know, whatever it may be.
Disability affects every single race, every single gender, religion, it doesn’t discriminate, basically. And so, I really just wanted to get that point across, that disability needs to be at every single conversation. And ultimately when we are recognizing, acknowledging, and including the most marginalized people in our community, we are naturally lifting everyone up.
I think that sometimes we have a tendency to kind of start from the top and think that things will just trickle down, you know, that trickle-down effect. But I think that as the governor said, you know, COVID has shown a light on the inequities. And so, I think we need to always be going to the most in in need, the most that help, that need help, excuse me, and the most that are marginalized, we need to start there. If we start at that floor, we start at that bottom of the ladder, so to speak, the rest will naturally be uplifted.
And so that’s really what I was trying to kind of make a point about, but kind of like you were saying, you know, I feel like the governor and lieutenant governor are definitely open to hearing what our community has to say and hear our stories and our experiences and take them into account.
But, you know, bottom line, disability, it needs to be included in every single conversation at every single table to really have the effect that the community needs and ultimately deserves.
Trevor: Absolutely. And the lieutenant governor herself, as an Indigenous woman, do you think that identity makes her more sympathetic to the intersectionality conversation and the disability rights movement?
Brittanie: That’s a really great question. I absolutely think that when people face oppression, and also when people belong to marginalized groups, I think that absolutely you can become and, are more aware of, you know, of real life, right? And of what it’s like to live in a body that isn’t, you know, always seen as something that’s positive or isn’t always accepted in the community.
And so, I think that definitely gives her a special insight. I don’t know if I’d go as far to say that it gives her an insight into disability but I would say that yes, that that can help provide, you know, some of the empathy and can provide that lens, so to speak, to understand that this oppression and marginalization happens.
Trevor: Absolutely. And one kind of fun moment during this engagement event, the lieutenant governor actually turned the table and asked you a question. And she asked, you know, she’d like to ask you that. And what does that look like to you? What does it look in order for you to feel seen? And we’re taking the entire individual into mind as we’re having these conversations in laying out this policy and budget.
What was your response?
Brittanie: Yeah, so, you know, I was a little surprised that they asked me for my opinion, you know. I’ve been at a few different events with the governor and lieutenant governor and that has never happened to me or really anyone else.
So, I was a little like, ooh! But I was really excited and jumped on the opportunity to be able to share my thoughts. I spoke about COVID and how that has, you know, particularly affected people with disabilities. I spoke about the need for things like housing and for access to education.
What I do wish in reflection that I would have included or said, really, was that they could throw a dart at any topic and the chances of people with disabilities and other multiple marginalizations or identities, like, are going to be affected more disproportionately than anyone else.
So, I guess if I could, if I could add to that, I would say every single facet of life, disability needs to be included, and there’s lots of room for people with disabilities to move up, right? And to have more access and to have, you know, just a better quality of life. There’s lots of room for that.
Trevor: Yeah, definitely. And I’m glad that you agreed to do this interview because now it gave you that opportunity to add that on. So, we’ll make sure the governor sees this so that they hear that response.
And then the last question I have for you is, how do you think that the disability community can hold the governor accountable? What can disability community do to, you know, keep pushing these issues along?
Brittanie: Absolutely, and that’s such a great question. And I feel like that probably is the most important question out of everything else, right? And the reason I say that is because one thing that I’ve learned in my advocacy journey is that our stories and our experiences matter, they carry so much weight.
And so, what I really feel like we can do is share our stories, keep that pressure on. If you are someone that’s watching this and you feel like, you know, there are certain aspects of your life and with disability that aren’t being seen and you’re not feeling heard, then, you know, share your story and get it out there and talk to other people in the community.
You know, I always make myself available to other people in the community, so feel free to contact me even, you know, but the power in our story is so real. And if we’re experiencing, you know, a system of oppression or, you know, whatever it may be, chances are that there’s someone else that is too. And so, I think sharing your story is definitely one way.
Going to events like this is also really important because you’re seeing, you know, the people in power’s reactions and their answers to really important and critical questions.
And, you know, so another thing that you could do and to kind of hold them accountable is to, you know, write to other, you know, write to your legislators as well or city council members, or, you know and explain your story. And really, we are the experts in our own lives. And one thing that I’ve really noticed is that a lot of times, people that are making the decisions for the disability community don’t have disabilities. Don’t live these lives. And so, they really rely on us to be able to inform them. And again, we are the experts.
So just kind of remember that, you know, and I think another thing that we can do is be in community with one another. Online is a really great resource, you know, following certain hashtags. I like to follow hashtags like #DisabilityPride and stuff like that, you know, and that connects me to so many other people and that has been extremely helpful to understand other disabilities aside from my own. To be able to be an ally to others in my community.
Disability, as so many people know, is not a monolith. It’s not a one story or one, you know, experience fits all. It’s very vast and very diverse. And so, it’s really important to, you know, be able to branch out and hear other stories as well and just support other members.
And another thing that I like to kind of think of is that even if something doesn’t affect me, like if a law passes or something that it doesn’t affect me specifically, but it affects other people in my community, I consider that a win for me, you know, if something good comes out of that or a good law gets passed, you know?
And so, I think just staying up to date is also important. And just being aware of what’s going on in the community. And ultimately don’t be afraid to take up space. A lot of the times I’m one of the only people of color with a physical disability and that can be really intimidating and that’s okay. I deserve and you deserve to take up space.
And so those are kind of my tips that I have.
Trevor: Awesome. Well, those are excellent words of wisdom. And I like how you really kind of ginned up the mantra, you know, nothing about us without us, how important that is that we need to be at the table. We need to take up space. We need to be there when decisions are being made.
And I really liked how you brought up community. You know, some of the lessons that you’ve learned in the civil rights movement or the gay rights movement is they have been ultimately successful by being a community and supporting one another. And so, you know, the disability community historically has been marginalized and we’ve been hidden and separated from community. So, coming together makes us a community, makes us stronger. It makes us better policymakers and makes us more influential.
So that’s really, really, really good points.
Thank you so much. Well, Brittanie, thank you so much for being here and thank you for asking that question to the governor. I thought that it really made them think and be reflective on a lot of different things and issues in the disability community.
So, we’re always happy to have you as a part of, you know, these events and thank you for doing this interview.
Brittanie: Yes, absolutely. It was a pleasure to kind of expand upon things and I really appreciate you reaching out.
Trevor: Well, thank you, and everyone else have a great day.
Describer: White text on a black background.
[On screen text:] Minnesota Council on Disability Legislative Forum.
Centered on the screen is a white square with the state logo, a blue M, green N. Minnesota Council on Disability. Underneath the white square, we have white text on a black background.
[On screen text:] For more information about the MCD Public Policy Program contact Trevor.Turner@state.mn.us.