Our world is no stranger to discrimination, bigotry and oppression. But equally prevalent are civil disobedience, willful and outright defiance by marginalized people trying to find liberation.
The raid on Harper’s Ferry, the Boston Tea Party and the Stonewall Riot – all momentous, rebellious occasions in our history, but even these acts of defiance are removed from their cultural and historical contexts and taught as if they are of no relevance in the present.
More alarmingly, other equally momentous actions are completely erased from our history textbooks. Entire generations of freedom fighters, environmental protectors, and anti-imperialist activists are deliberately ignored.
Listed below are 3 historical acts of defiance that are still relevant.
The San Francisco HEW Sit-In
Very few institutional reforms to address disabled people were in effect before the mid-1900s. More importantly, most of these laws were written by non-disabled people. A major law was the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which “prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability in programs.” Section 504 of the act banned any institution that received federal funds – like hospitals, schools, post offices, and so on – from discriminating against disabled people.
However, implementation of the act was stalled by three consecutive presidential administrations. Eventually the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD) called for a nationwide protest. In 1977, disabled activists picketed and occupied Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) regional offices nationwide. The HEW occupation in San Francisco lasted 25 days – the longest occupation of a US federal building ever.
In the end, the Secretary signed Section 504 without any changes.
The Third World Liberation Front
For those who’ve ever taken an ethnic studies class, you have the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) to thank. A coalition of organizations by students of color at San Francisco State University, TWLF protested a number of issues in the longest student strike in US history.
These included disdain of the Eurocentric curriculum, low admission of students of color, lack of faculty of color as well as the ongoing Vietnam War. The SFSU administration refused to negotiate.
The police were called in – and the campus was shut down for a week. But soon, members of the Federation of Teachers began a picket line in support and in just a couple of months over 300 students had been arrested on campus. The strike finally ended when the SFSU administration agreed to many of the demands.
The ‘Ashes Action’
Folks living with HIV/AIDS have experienced systemic stigmatization being denied housing, healthcare, and even education, often facing extreme homophobia from society at large.
With the federal government doing little to tackle this epidemic, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed. In October 1992, ACT UP organized a funeral march in Washington DC, that ended in scattering the ashes of those who had died of HIV/AIDS onto the White House lawn. In a second “Ashes Action” in October 1996, the AIDS Memorial Quilt was spread out across the National Mall.
Soon, the US government was forced to wake up and has since then been praised for “fighting” the AIDS epidemic globally.
When we forget about these acts of resistance, we’re deprived of revolutionary moments in history that can help aid us in today’s struggles. Hopefully our future generations will not forget all about our diverse and defiant past.