Activism & the Overton Window. You’re welcome. by Neurodivergent K

(Note: Originally posted on Radical Neurodivergence Speaking by Neurodivergent K)

I’m going to tell you something frustrating about being me:

I will say something, and people will act like it’s completely outlandish. Something like, oh, disabled people deserve civil rights. Making everywhere an epilepsy nightmare is violence. Things need to be more cognitively accessible. Autistic rights are human rights, even if we never pass. That compliance training is by it’s very nature abusive.

And then you’d think that I said that babies are delicious and we should burn down everything and start over! The way people react to these things I posit that are direct extensions of “we’re people, dammit”…they’re the reactions of people who are threatened. It isn’t laughing or blowing off, no, it’s more like actual threats of violence. It’s a good time. Like I said something that is dangerous and absurd.

Then, about 6 months later, maybe a year later, someone else will say it. Someone whiter, or someone male, or someone with relative class privilege, someone considered more “respectable”. And suddenly this thing I’ve been saying for ages sounds reasonable. Maybe we should consider that! Sure, I’ve moved on to something even more ridiculous, like that bodily autonomy means everyone or something, but the thing that got me death threats and called a crazy bitch or whatever is now being seriously considered.

That’s because a function of activists is to shift the Overton Window. It’s a thankless and scary function, but it is a thing we do.

What is the Overton Window? It’s the fancy pants rhetorical term for the ideas that humans will consider. Anything outside this idea is seen as extreme, reactionary, outlandish. You can see the Overton Window in practice if you have followed 20th-21st century USA politics. The Tea Party in particular dragged the Overton Window way to the right, while supposed progressives have been trying to be ‘moderate’. The thing is…being ‘moderate’ and presented as an extreme means the window shifts. You never have actual extremes, and you see the ideas and policies that are tolerated shifting according to what people see as the reasonable range.

So. I fulfill the function of saying “Actually, that isn’t even a little bit extreme, let me show you some extreme you can’t even handle this shit”, and we lose somewhat less ground to people who are hell bent on curtailing our rights, because I am not a sellout like the US Democrats, for example. And there are always a few people willing to say “that’s not unthinkable, really”. And so the range of discourse shifts & maybe some day the idea that autism isn’t all about our parents will be considered a reasonable position.