Chalk on the line…. #thisismystrikepay

This is what happens when you put a doodler like me on the strike line…


Appreciation to the people who brought us goodies and/or had words of support today. We are walking the line to protect public education and ensure the support that is needed is there for students like my son… and for every child…

The kindness being extended to us on the picket line, in the community, and through social media is a strong indication that we are not alone.

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Activist, Autism, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Christy Clark, Educator, Public Education, social justice, Special Education, Teacher | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Minecraft and Autistic Pride

HsMinecraftAvi.jpgtic… tic… tic…

Time is passing slowly for H today…

He is watching the clock…

He is waiting for 4:00, when it has been arranged that he will hang out via Skype and play Minecraft with his friend B♥…

And perhaps her little sister…

I anticipate that he will show her the project he has working on for the last little while.  It is sitting on the coffee table, seemingly perched with the same eager excitement and barely contained anticipation as H.

He is proud of what he has created and this is a wonderful thing to see and support.

Last year for Autistic Pride Day, H shared, “I am proud of my inventive mind!”

This year he is proud to share his design and creation…


MinecraftSkinDesignMinecraftSkin1MInecraftskin2Minecraftskin3Minecraftskin4This post is participating in the 5th Annual Autistic Artistic Carnival  Check it out!!

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Autism, Autistic, Autistic Pride Day, Minecraft | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1…2…3… Magic!! Christy Clark needs a time out!! #BCTF

Leah Kelley:

This post is from 2 years ago (March 2012) so some of the numbers will have shifted and changed, but sadly the situation for my son and others like him remains the same.

Our students are still getting less than they deserve…

Christy Clark still needs that Time out!!

And the teachers and families of BC will rail on!!

Originally posted on Thirty Days of Autism:

87%… That is the result. I sit tonight on the brink of an abyss of sorts… and I stare into the darkness – with unknown demons on the move.It sounds like the setting for some cool video game that H would love – but this is no game. This is real life.

I pride myself on my self-regulation ability. I can keep my cool in the most stressful and tenuous of situations. I sometimes blow off some steam out of sight or earshot of others, or may perhaps write a scathing letter that will never be sent. My attitude generally has been when the going gets tough… it means there is work to be done.

This time however – I think I need to let fly and post about what I am feeling. My chest is tight… I am angry and frustrated and tired of the rhetoric. Our…

View original 1,296 more words

Posted in Activist, Advocacy, Autism, Autistic, BCTF, Christy Clark, Distance Education, Distributed Learning, diversity, Educator, Father, IEP, Speech and Language Therapist, Teacher | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

99 years… Updating Solidarity Forever #thisismystrikepay #BCTF

Today I am rewriting the lyrics to Solidarity Forever – 99 years after they were penned. I will be singing this at our Study Session and Rally on Monday.

Solidarity Forever: Ralph Chaplin (1915)

Lyrics updated by Leah Kelley (2014)

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

Is there aught we hold common in the fight for workers’ rights,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
For the union makes us strong.

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;
But the union makes us strong.

Our communities and classrooms and the places we call home,                                             Where we laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.
It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.
While the union makes us strong.

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We’ll fight to put those millions back to help our students learn
And the union makes us strong.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,                                           With the futures of our children magnified a thousand-fold.
We can fight to bring the language back from contract days of old                                          For the union makes us strong.


H in 2002 – a student who needs support!! Rail on!!

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Activist, Autism, Autistic, BCTF, Christy Clark, Educator, Public Education, social justice, Special Education, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deconstruction by Design: A visual history of the Liberal attack on education

The following are some of my drawings and whatnot over the past few (okay… 27) years of weathering the BC Liberal Government’s attack on public education… interspersed with information about the BCTF’s bargaining history. The cartoons I’ve included have all been previously published in my local union newsletter.


I completed the Professional Development Program at SFU and began my teaching career in 1987, the same year that full collective-bargaining rights for teachers were finally achieved.

“…teachers negotiated a full set of terms including: class size, duty-free lunch, fair personnel practice, professional development rights, and a healthy salary increase. In the many negotiations that followed, hundreds of negotiations were concluded without reference to strikes or lockouts. Where necessary, teachers did undertake job action in the face of school boards’ acting unfairly in the negotiating process.” Al Cornes (Teacher Newsmagazine, Volume 13, Number 7, May/June 2001)


"We don't need no education..." Leah Kelley, 2001 (Pink Floyd Brick in the Wall Parody)

“We don’t need no education…” Leah Kelley, 2001 (Pink Floyd Brick in the Wall Parody)

In 2001, the B.C. Liberal Party’s plan to make education an essential service was designed to strip away the right to strike for some of our members and to weaken our collective.

This additionally served to reduce the employer’s incentive to bargain during a labour dispute.

Our contract language was stripped and the conditions and supports that had we had achieved in 1987 were gutted.


"Contract Stripping" Leah Kelley, 200

“Contract Stripping” Leah Kelley, 2001

At that time, Christy Clark (our current Premier) was the Minster of Education

“Lil’ Christy” Leah Kelley, 2002

“Lil’ Christy” Leah Kelley, 2002

Text reads: Lil’ Christy: “Choice, Flexibility, Accountability”

“My goal is to provide a vulture to every school aged child”

Text on packaging includes: “Pull the string to hear the rhetoric.”

“All proceeds to be donated to the Fraser Institute”

Text below image reads: “Purchase your own virtual Minister action figure. It cuts, it chops, and it makes a mockery of teachers and can destroy public education with a single stoke of a pen. Yours to own and control for a mere $200,000,000. (Some assembly required – silver bullet and Vulture System sold separately)”

It was obvious that the government had a corporate agenda for the public education system of British Columbia. There was talk of a voucher system to provide “flexibility” for families wanting to educate their children in the private system.


“I thought you said Vulture!!!” Leah Kelley, 2002


Text reads: “Oh @*!!$!! Gord, I thought you said ‘Vulture’ not ‘Voucher’…”


Text below drawing reads: “After painting them pink and trying to pass them off as short legged flamingos (a pretty bird that all children love) Christy’s Vulture system was ready to be set into action. She longed for the Flexibility achieved by providing a vulture to every school aged child.”



In 2002 H went to his first political rally in support of public education on the shoulders of his daddy. He has a button on his hat  from the BCTF and an additional one that I made for him…

H and Craig at a Supporting Public Education Rally, 2002

“It’s about time… Campbell thought of my future…” H and Craig at a Supporting Public Education Rally, 2002

I didn’t realize at the time that it would be so prophetic a statement. Many children like my son, struggle in our classrooms and schools due to a lack of resources and capacity to meet their needs.

"Its about time... Campbell thought of my future..." H and Craig at a Supporting Public Education Rally, 2002

“It’s about time… Campbell thought of my future…” H and Craig at a Rally Supporting Public Education, 2002

Ultimately, the Liberal Government, reduced the teacher shortage with ‘a single stroke of a pen’  by increasing class sizes and imposing a contract that stripped our agreement of its hard-won gains…

"The Child Centred Classroom" Leah Kelley, 2001 (LOTR Ruination of Isengard Parody)

“The Child Centred Classroom” Leah Kelley, 2002 (LOTR Ruination of Isengard Parody)

Here is a close up from the image above… showing Clark and Campbell (the Premier at that time). My likeness is represented as the primary teacher schooling the masses – sadly like Saruman churning out the ork army. 

"Clark and Campbell in Isengard") Leah Kelley, 2002

“Clark and Campbell in Isengard” Leah Kelley, 2002

Sometime during the next few years the Liberal Provincial Government ended a program where every school library had a grant of $200.00/year to buy books written by British Columbian authors.

"Here's your book - Good Luck" Leah Kelley,

“Here’s your book – Good Luck” Leah Kelley, 2004

This was replaced by a program where a particular book was selected each year and was purchased for every kindergarten child. Yes… every child got the same book. I can imagine that the selected authors likely made a good financial gain for that one year… but school libraries, their young readers, and the unselected BC authors lost a worthwhile program.

In 2005 we were again in contract negotiations…

Things hadn’t gotten better…

Anatomy of a Minister of Education

“Anatomy of a Minister of Education” Leah Kelley, 2003

This poem is from 2005… when the BC Teacher’s Federation strike was deemed illegal by a government who has continued to manipulate the law in their favour and ignore it when it better suits their agenda.

I recall that there was almost a year wait for the court date for the trial of serial murderer, Robert Pickton, yet the Supreme Court was somehow able to convene on the Thanksgiving weekend for the Madam Justice to order the BCTF’s return to work.

We walked out anyway… for 2 weeks… to protect public education and teaching/learning conditions… and to protect our right to bargain a collective agreement.

Since then the government’s actions such as the ripping up of our contracts have been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada…

The Law it is a Slippery Thing Leah Kelley

I haven’t done much in the way of cartooning over the past few years. To be honest, I find it disheartening that these drawings are all still so pointedly relevant… and it doesn’t really drive me or inspire me to create anything new…

In the interim, I have shifted my focus to supporting social justice and human rights issues within the disability community, and promoting and amplifying the voices and perspectives of Autistic people to build understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity…

But I am a teacher


I  am  the  BCTF!

And the work we do matters a great deal…

And this is from today…


_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

This post is part of the T-21 Down Wit Dat Blog Hop: Click here to enter your link and view the other participants.

Posted in Activist, Autism, Christy Clark, Educator, Public Education, social justice, Special Education, Teacher, Visual History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I am a Greedy Teacher #bctf #bced

I am a greedy teacher…

I want more than I currently have, a lot more. I don’t think that I should have to apologize for that. You see I have a son that will need help in school. He will need one-on-one attention, and a speech pathologist. I am so greedy that I am willing to walk out on strike and potentially lose over $4000 because he isn’t the only one.

I am a greedy teacher. I work in an alternate school and teach students with behavioural and mental health issues, high anxiety, ESL, Learning Disabilities, and drug problems. I have seen all of the teachers I work with struggle to make decisions as to who should get testing and who shouldn’t, since access is limited. I am so greedy that I am willing to sacrifice my strike pay to make sure that they get what they deserve when it comes to service.

I am a greedy teacher. So greedy that I believe a raise that is in line with cost-of-living is something everyone is entitled to. I am so greedy that I believe this even after being legislated back and taking 0% for almost 3 years (and potentially a 4th) for fighting to protect the rights of students learning conditions, that are illegally being stripped away by a Neo-Liberal government. I am so greedy that as I watch my profession get trashed in the media, and assaulted by many of the parents who have entrusted me to protect their children, I still keep fighting for their rights. I am so greedy I sacrifice my ability to bargain for a fair wage because the government wants a lower wage offer in order to start to negotiate class size and composition and when we give them one they still refuse to negotiate on “key issues.”

I am a greedy teacher. I want the government to tell the truth. Peter Fassbender goes on Global and states that the government has been at the table ready to negotiate 24/7 since last June. Then maybe he can explain why, after threatening our benefits the government wanted to take from April 30th – May 26th away from the table and the BCTF had to use precious negotiating time to try to convince them to come back for May 6th, 7th and 8th. I am so greedy that I think that the fact the government agreed to come back by the 12th, and waste 2 weeks, is ridiculous.

I am a greedy teacher. So greedy that I would rather believe Dr. David Zyngier who did a comprehensive review of 112 research papers, written between 1979-2014 discussing the effect of class size. I would rather believe the 109 research papers that argue smaller class sizes are better for students than the 3 that argue it’s not. I am so guilty that I would rather believe UBC education professors Dr. E. Wayne Ross and Dr. Charles Ungerleider who study curriculum, pedagogy, class size and composition, sociology in education and policy research, and state the government is wrong about class size, rather than Peter Fassbender who read a few research papers and the one OECD report he quotes the most, he misrepresents.

I am a greedy teacher. So greedy that I don’t think that “below average” funding is good enough for the children of British Columbia. I am so greedy that despite “below average” funding I have still managed to give my students one of the best educations in the world. I am so greedy that I managed to do this by buying supplies with money out of my own pocket. I am so greedy that I am constantly searching for new technology and software that I can use to engage my students and efficiently facilitate learning, for different learning styles, and then realize it will have to wait because the money isn’t in the budget.

I am a greedy teacher. So greedy that when the government locked me out of my own school and docked me 10% pay for fulfilling my contractual obligation I stopped doing extracurricular activity. I am so greedy that instead of coaching, running plays, facilitating environmental clubs, etc… I took my VOLUNTEER time and went home and played with my kids instead.

I am a greedy teacher. So greedy that I think that the government should increase the corporate tax rate that they have been cutting since they got into power. I am so greedy that I don’t believe I should have to pay more tax than a multi-billion dollar corporation that has not created the jobs that the Liberals corporate tax cuts promised. I am so greedy that I believe all corporate tax cuts should be incentive based and not handed out until the jobs are created, not before. In legislature, when discussing BC’s weakened finances and loss of revenue Christy Clark admitted, “It just doesn’t add up.” I am so greedy that I think we should have a government that will admit it when they get things wrong and fix it.

I am a greedy teacher. So greedy that I think the government should prioritize public education and healthcare above a new roof on BC place, or LNG projects. I am so greedy that I think that the government spending money on students is a better investment than a retractable roof that rarely opens. I am so greedy that I believe the government should not make promises, about BC’s economy, based on a gamble with LNG and a lot of “coulds” and “maybes.”

I am a greedy teacher. I want for all students what Christy Clark obviously wants for her own son. I am so greedy that I want Christy Clark to come on TV and tell the people of British Columbia that she chose private school for her son because she wanted him to have smaller classes and more one-on-one time. I am so greedy that I want her to explain why she finds it necessary to spend over $18,000 a year of the money tax payers pay her to put her son in a school that promises classes no bigger than 26 and senior electives no bigger than 16, when over 30 students in a class with 4 or more special needs students is just fine for everyone else.

I am a greedy teacher because I want more, and I want better. I want more for my own children, I want more for the students of British Columbia, I want more of my taxes to be reinvested into the province not into private corporations’ pockets, and I want a better government that cares more about the people of the province on all socio-economic levels.

If being greedy means not being complacent, I am proud to be greedy. In fact I teach my students to be greedy, to not settle. In the words of Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the New York Times, “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.”

Andrew Turner

Appreciation to my colleague and fellow BC teacher, Andrew Turner, for allowing me to share his spectacular post. You can find Andrew on twitter @turnerwoodart  and I encourage you to check out his very cool and creative fb page Turner Wood Art.



Originally posted by Andrew Turner:


_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in Advocacy, BC Teachers Federation, BCTF, Christy Clark, Educator, Public Education, social justice, Special Education, support, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

This Teacher will Rail Against Injustice

We (BC Teachers) are in the midst of negotiations – at the table with a government that is unwilling to negotiate.

We are at stage two of a three stage plan of action – which currently involves rotating strikes. We are also in a partial lock-out from the employer who is docking our salaries by 10% for the time we are locked out. Oddly enough this lock-out is during lunch time, and until 45 minutes before school begins, and also 45 minutes after school is out – so I don’t really understand how they can take away salary for time I am not actually required to work… but, ya… that is the way they seem to operate.

Soon we will be voting on stage three of the plan – a full-scale strike.

Of course it is scary to be on the brink of this, but it is not the first time I have experienced a strike or job action. And though I am not assured of the outcome, I am certain that the only route for me is to stand strong with my union, because teachers are the only ones at the table advocating for the needs of our students.

From an early age, my parents modeled the importance of being politically active and strong supporters of human rights, workers’ rights, and issues of social justice. Some of my earliest political memories are participating in protests against the Vietnam War – from the vantage point of my father’s shoulders.

Advocacy is in my blood!

My Dad is retired now, but he was a teacher, like me.

I remember him telling me in other hard-fought political battles: “Leah, just because you are in the right and your side has all the good songs, it doesn’t mean you will win!

He also says, “Life’s a struggle… enjoy the struggle!!

Right now I’d like to respond, “Dad, I think I might be getting a bit too much enjoyment out of life!!!

He would laugh at that!

We (the teachers of British Columbia) have challenged the Provincial Government in court over the unconstitutional stripping of our rights to bargain class size and composition.

We won!

The BC Government appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada…

We.  Won.  Again.

It has apparently made no difference to the government that they were told their actions were unconstitutional

So like my Dad says… good songs don’t guarantee a positive outcome – but I figure as we go once again into the fray to protect public education in our province… another song certainly wouldn’t hurt.

I wrote the song in this video a number of years ago, in 2002. I merely changed the Premier’s name and sadly – the rest of the lyrics were still relevant.

Most of the images in the video were taken by me, but two of them are photographs from the book: Working lives: Vancouver 1886-1986, (Elaine Bernard, 1985) that have a special importance to me.

The first is of my Grandfather, Don Guise, speaking to workers during the Vancouver Civic Employee’s Strike, May 12, 1966.

The second is a photo of my Grandmother, Rhea Dear, at an anti-nuclear protest, outside the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver in 1963.

And finally, below is the link to the sadly still relevant song (recorded in 2012 with the patient assistance of my talented musician husband, aka, The Amazing Craig!)

They’ll Never Take Our Power: The Musical Advocacy Project

I am proud that I come from a long line of people with strong values, who are willing to stand up for their beliefs.Proud to be a teacher: BCTF

And I am proud to be a teacher!

Rail on!!!

Related post: 1…2…3… Magic!! Christy Clark needs a time out!!


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2014)

Posted in Autism, BC Teachers Federation, Christy Clark, Educator, Public Education, social justice, Teacher | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Birds singing at night…

I love this time of year when the days are getting longer and I awaken to birdsong in the early morning…

It feels so renewing and full of hope to know that spring has kept its perennial promise and has made the rounds again.

This year – I feel I need that…

And now… as I sit and lose myself in less considered and less tightly contained, controlled and measured words – I feel that I need to get in touch with deep down things that I have been pushing aside with my busyness.

I do that sometimes…

I use busy – wildly busy – as a distraction… a way to make me feel like things are in control and progressing and… in a way – this keeps me from getting too lost or sucked in by my own meanderings.

It is not a bad plan when it is working well…

But sometimes I lose the balance… and then I cannot find myself in the measure…

And I feel lost…


And it seems like everything falls into endless unanswerable questions…

And confidence drains away to some hidden subterranean place…

I see this coming…

But in avoidance or fear – I fail to name it accurately…

It is a leaking-in awareness – like light into an old-time photo…

but just a glimmer.

I am quick to dismiss it – and just get busier…

I seem to forget how to respond in a way that heads off this head-butting collision with overwhelm

because – ya… more is better…

But I am wrong…

Because it is stillness I need…

It is a quiet space for my racing mind…

And time to just meander…

And to let loose the things which I hold so closely – so tightly -

I need to ease up the reins upon my heart…

Release my stance of fiercely-determined-to-be-strong

Velvet my clutching-coal-to-diamonds-grip upon the things I feel.

I need to delve deeply into understanding that the swirling gyre of questions

Will not consume me…

I need to velvet my determination and accept that I do not know

And that this is okay…

And as I relax my no longer tensile hold..

It is then that I can be what I need to be for myself…

And what I need to be for others.

I need to shut it all off for a while… and breathe…

And notice that with my May windows flung wide to the evening air… I can hear the birds sing in the ending of the day…

And I can breathe in the knowing that letting go will help me find my measure…

And like the freshened world after a storm…

The tears of a ‘good cry’ will wash my soul…

And I’ll breathe in the uncertainty…

And then breathe again…

Stillnessandtimetomeander_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)

Posted in acceptance, Autism, being wrong, discomfort avoidance, letting go, limits | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Perfect Saturday… Minecraft and Monster Trucks

It sorta’ emerged or unfolded in its own flexible way – but we did have a loose plan for today…

H spend some time in the morning collaborating with his online friend, L.  They Skype and facetime and hang out on the same servers. They have become good friends. Today among other things, they explored ideas around creating a Minecraft server.

H has a few friends online that he likes to hang out with. These are positive connections. Mostly they play Minecraft – but they do other things as well – and I am blown away by the opportunity for H to develop his ability to communicate his perspective and to understand DarksideGamesDoorway.jpgthat of others, and to problem-solve, negotiate, and collaborate.

I am also impressed by the acceptance these kids extend to H. They have advocated for him with others – and they have supported him in advocating for himself. There are multiple ways to build connections and community, when we are open to the opportunities…

I recently overheard H respond to another kid who used the word Autistic in a pejorative way – and rather effectively hold him to account. H asserted that he was Autistic and there was nothing wrong with that – and he found the way he was talking insulting and that he needed to stop.

I liked the way H handled it so matter-of-factly… and then I heard this kid humbly apologize… and say he wouldn’t do that again.

Sometimes there are misunderstandings… so there is so much room to practice social repairs and find the middle ground with others… and it is FUN!

I see him creating a system of support, and learning to ask others for help when he needs it.

And he is at the helm with this…

I think that is empowering…

The next part of the day was a bit more adventurous…

We headed downtown where word on the street was that Paramount Animation is filming Monster Trucks,” a $100 million live action/animated hybrid, directed by Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Epic) to be released in 2015.

We watched them set up and shoot some scenes – which was to culminate in a jump of one truck over a number of vehicles.

H is interested in movies and film and special effects – so this was an opportunity not to be missed.

We watched them shoot multiple takes… and, truth be told, H also ducked into a couple of his favourite stores that were nearby, like the Card and Collectibles Shop where he visited with his friend, Gord.

It was pretty cool…

Monstertrucks1.jpgSo now we are home after our adventure and H is connecting with another Minecraft friend, B.

I should explain that I met her with her family in Philadelphia, and I simply must to write her name with that little heart as I absolutely adore her (and her wonderful Mom).

It was in Philly that we conspired that she and H might like to play Minecraft together… as they have many interests in common.

H was game (pardon the pun) and a friendship is unfolding. It is interesting the connections that we can make and the different ways friendships can unfold when we are not stuck in a particular paradigm.

This afternoon B♥ and her younger sister are hanging out with H and cooking up plans of one kind and another.

At one point the trio sounds like they are working together to build a TARDIS.

Then they are rescuing chickens from wells, or considering the possibility of creating a Hunger Games world.

It is dynamic and changing… and they are teasing and joking and having great adventures.

I hear a lot of laughing at my end…

“Yay!” for the unstressed joy of play…

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)


Posted in Autism, Autistic, Friends, Minecraft | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Corbett O’Toole on Enduring Activism: “Dancing for the Win”

I met Corbett O’Toole at TASH in Chicago. We hung out – we talked – she is fabulous – we quickly became friends. Corbett invited me to attend her talk to the University of Illinois at Chicago Disabilities Studies Doctoral Students – which she framed as a fascinating kitchen table talk of the history of disabilities activism in Berkley in the 1970s and the origins of Disabilities Studies and the 504 sit in. Corbett was present and involved during that time and continues her involvement with working for social justice and human rights to this day. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of Disabilities Rights and Social Justice Activism and is an amazing oral historian.

Here are my visual notes from her presentation at UIC:

Corbettvisualnotes.jpgCorbett has been doing this work for a long time… She was present and involved during early 1970s and continues her involvement with working for social justice and human rights to this day. Corbett is a treasure and conveys her encyclopedic knowledge with her amazing storytelling talents as an oral historian.

So that got me to thinking about how we work through the negativity and maintain a trajectory that supports activism for the long-term and helps us continue to work toward change. Being steadfast when it is not exciting and glamorous means we must make it a priority to find a balance and to take care of ourselves in the process… so we live to fight another day.

Sometimes social justice activism is exciting, but often it is just slogging hard work that requires perseverance, and lots of hope that – like the pebble in the pond – it will have a ripple effect and make things better.

Change is slow.

Corbett and I discussed this at some length…

I asked her if she would like to write something… and she agreed… and I am ever so grateful… and here it is…


Dancing for the Win

by Corbett O’Toole

Lately I have been playing (and playing and playing) Pharrell William’s music video “Happy”. It’s got a very catchy tune and a really wide variety of people each dancing for a few seconds throughout the video. It even has someone who looks like me – a larger than life woman in an electric wheelchair.

It’s my ‘go to’ song for dealing with the challenges life throws (sometimes with a very heavy object attached). I’m 62 years old. I’ve been visibly different all my life. And every single day that I leave my house, someone comments on my presence. I know it will happen and yet each time it’s like an irritating drop of water – drip, drip, drip. When I focus on it, I get discouraged. I start to think that it’s about me. Then maybe I feel a little sorry for myself. When will the world change? I yell to the sky.

Then I remember.


The universe is full of amazing, loving, kind people. And many of them are living with people who are visibly different too. Together we are fighting hard to change the world. It’s exhausting and depressing sometimes. I know, like many disabled people, I’ve been working all my life to help things get better. And it works.

When I was a child, I was literally not allowed to attend my local school because I walked with crutches. My mom just took me to the next school. My disabled daughter just graduated from high school and used an electric wheelchair and a computer all through school. Things got better.

When she was 3 years old, a filmmaker contacted us about being in their film, Mothers and Daughters. We said yes, and know what we did? We danced. Because no matter what others assume when they look at two people in wheelchairs, we knew who we are. We are dancers.

I’ve spent my life fighting and dancing alongside people who moved and thought and looked different. But I’ve never had as much fun fighting discrimination as I do hanging around Autistic people. My Autistic friends like Ibby and Alyssa move in such a lyrical way that I envy their fluidity and grace.

Plus they are kick-ass advocates. Smartest folks I know. And really really generous. I cannot keep up with them intellectually yet whenever I ask, they explain stuff to me. They can make social media be the real world – an enormously helpful skill for those of us for whom poverty and lack of comprehensive public transportation make going places a challenge.

Disabled people, and those who love us, spend our lives fighting to honor the beauty and diversity of the human race. Because we know that when people really get to know each other, we can create a society where all are included. But no matter how hard the fight, we always remember to dance.

Great social justice movements sustain themselves not with their anger but with their joy.


As we were finishing up our online correspondence to organize this guest post – I said to Corbett: “I am just listening to him (H) play his games online – he is socializing. Working shit out!! Laughing his head off – being a goof… It is lovely!!

Corbett: “These moments – where we are loving ourselves and our disabled family members – is to me the root of all our advocacy work – we don’t want to live in a world that cannot see how fabulous we all are – and we don’t want people hurt by ignorance and discrimination.

Me: “There we go!! I am stealing that quote!!!!! ^^^^ Keep talking! We will have the whole post beautifully situated in love and acceptance!


Thank you, Corbett ♥ CorbettOToole2014♥

Your friendship, your fabulousness, your commitment to social justice, and your willingness to share your perspective and experience are very much appreciated.

You can explore Corbett’s collection of writing and body of work on her website at:

Corbett’s oral history can be found at:

See also: My Plan B is… Stick to Plan A!!

_________________________________________________________ 30 Days of Autism is a project designed to promote social understanding and offer a glimpse into the perspectives of those whose lives are touched by Autism.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism (2014)


Posted in 504 sit in, acceptance, Activist, Advocacy, advocate, Autism, Berkley, Corbett O'Toole, Visual Notes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment