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Lisa Duran Speaks at the 2018 ADA Access Awards – The Highlights

Lisa Duran headshot
Lisa Duran

(Please do not reproduce without explicit permission of Lisa Duran. Copyright © 2018 Lisa Duran All rights reserved.)

Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you, Julie, for your introduction, and for the amazing work that you and everyone at the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition does.

I am honored by the invitation to speak with you today. The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition is such a bright light in the struggle for justice and I am glad to participate in this celebration of their work and to pitch in to lend my own support.

Congratulations to Allison, Peter, Tim and Joe for your awards. It was inspiring to be able to hear your stories.

I have been an organizer and activist since 1979, but recently, I worked for 28 years in the immigrant rights movement, as director of Colorado’s first immigrant-led immigrant rights organization and as a co-founder of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, CIRC. I now work with organizations to build effective practices that are centered in the lives and experiences of their participants, that can learn from their participants, that can have actual relationships with their participants.


Ending 2nd year of a Presidential administration that has shaken me.

Divisions fanned – we have a President who cannot seem to find it within himself to condemn neo-Nazi violence on unarmed people, who launched his campaign with the most blatant racist attack on Mexican immigrants, and who appears to admire dictators and strongmen around the world.

Inequality is growing in the U.S. We are now in the 30th percentile for equality – that means 70% of the world’s nations have a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources than this nation.

Institutions have reached their limits in problem solving. In many cases, they have become part of the problem. Accepting models of professionalism that commodify people and rigidify hierarchy.

I speak to you today as a fellow midwife in the struggle for justice, as someone inspired by the vision and the power of CCDC’s approach.

I say midwife advisedly, because I don’t believe we are going to create justice by defeating our enemies, vanquishing our opponents — although I fought for that for many years. I believe we are going to create justice—not just victories, but justice—by creating deeper and stronger communities, where everyone is included, everyone thrives, everyone is honored for who they are and their unique gifts. We have to bring this kind of community into being and then nurture it, support it, commit to it, help it have a long life.

We have to grow into our work as community creators, because the vicious attacks on the humanity of immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQI folks, people of color, women, men, children, eco-systems and the planet require us to see beyond what is right in front of us to the future we want to build together. Everyone has a role to play in this, and everyone is needed to do this, but sometimes we don’t recognize that.

CCDC does the hard work of visioning the future and ways to get there, offering inclusion to everyone, creating amazing partnerships and then putting their feet on the path and bringing us along with them. They are deep in the policy and community care weeds and high up at 10,000 feet.

CCDC has much to teach us. It is because of work like theirs and others all across this country that I have more hope than I’ve had in a long time. My hope is based on many things, but today I’d like to explore with you three reasons that CCDC brings me hope and why their work is something everyone in the struggle for justice can learn from.

1) The first is that CCDC is creative and courageous in its work, engaging in transformative organizing that is guided by the people directly impacted .

2) The second is that CCDC is a microcosm of the social justice movement and they see the ways that issues and identities intersect. They pull us to think about our work in inclusive and diverse ways.

3) The last and most important is that if our democracy is to survive and our nation live up to its potential, it is precisely the value of NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US – EVER that needs to guide us.


Clearly seeing what is and crafting new ways of challenging seemingly hopeless realities by refusing to accept skewed power dynamics and involving the people directly affected in effective and heartening ways. CCDC builds community as it engages in systems change. Too often we work to make change by adopting the ways of the system that have worked to destroy our community. For me to win, you have to lose in this binary party system.

Communities are transformed as as individuals are transformed. When individuals are transformed, policies are transformed.

We have to work not for what we can win, but what we need and want. If we limit ourselves to what we can win, we are doomed. Our work will be to achieve something that is not really what the community wants. It will wear us out, dishearten us. Working for meaningful transformation of our communities and ourselves gives us life, because we see the short term struggles, victories and losses as important steps on the way to something we really want and need.

We can win by losing well, so that even if we don’t get the policy we were fighting for, the articulation of our true, heartfelt values and the bold visions of justice to achieve them give us strength and hope and build our movement, make us stronger.

But if people have been shoved to the margins, then visioning together to help each other see the possibilities is critical. And this requires relationship.

I call this transformative organizing. And there is very good news in this kind of work. It requires that we be transformed as we do this work. In order for us to hold the space for change to happen, we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This requires self-awareness, vulnerability, real relationship with each other. It requires that healing be a part of our vision for change. Because how many of us have been traumatized by the violence, the objectification, being told that we are not worthy of full participation in society. How many of us have believed that?


The last and most important idea is that CCDC’s work embodies the statement “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US – EVER.” If our democracy is to survive, it is precisely this kind of value that we need to live.

We need to follow CCDC’s example – they have always involved those directly affected in all aspects of decision-making
Public face
Policy decisions
CCDC just finished 11-stop Statewide Listening Tour

Late capitalism is very scary, but community is the antidote. We don’t need hope, we need courage to face together what is around us and to build solutions that leave no one behind.

People with lived experience are the experts in resolving issues and building the kinds of communities in which everyone thrives.

Centering people and their experiences is different from depending on programs and agencies for solutions. Programs and agencies usually tell the community what they need, based on careful studies and data. Centering people means we begin with their lived experience as guidance for offering services, developing policies, and creating the communities we want to live in.

Centering people literally upends the traditional way of providing services or even advocacy, because we work differently when we are accountable to those who are directly impacted. We work more slowly, we check back, we learn together what the community needs and how we can work together to achieve that.


Everyone has gifts.

Relationships build a community.

Leaders are those who bring others into active community.

People care and will act when it is important to them, but we have to listen to know what that is.

Our job in this time is to find the right questions to ask each other:

Who are you?
What is your story?
What do you love?
What do you care about enough to act?
What kind of a community would you love to raise your children in?

Asking these questions, we can build the answers together and create the kinds of communities we need and deserve. Thank you very much for allowing me to speak with you and thank you for all the work you do.

Important Notice
CCDC’s employees and/or volunteers are NOT acting as your attorney. Responses you receive via electronic mail, phone, or in any other manner DO NOT create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between you and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), or any employee of, or other person associated with, CCDC. The only way an attorney-client relationship is established is if you have a signed retainer agreement with one of the CCDC Legal Program attorneys.

Information received from CCDC’s employees or volunteers, or from this site, should NOT be considered a substitute for the advice of a lawyer. DOES NOT provide any legal advice, and you should consult with your own lawyer for legal advice. This website is a general service that provides information over the internet. The information contained on this site is general information and should not be construed as legal advice to be applied to any specific factual situation.

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