Marta Russell died a few days ago in Los Angeles days short of her sixty-second birthday. A journalist and commentator about issues affecting disabled people as well as a film industry worker for many years, Russell was best known for her landmark and pioneering book, Beyond Ramps: Disability at the end of the Social Contract (Common Courage Press). Here she set out a compelling critique of how capitalism marginalizes and oppresses disabled workers.Reading it as a young disability rights advocate, I found Marta's book a breath of fresh air, combining passionate advocacy with an understanding of political economy and an account of how disabled people are systematically oppressed by capitalism.Marta was particularly unique in focusing on an anti-capitalist critique of disablement policy in the United States where postmodern analysis of the disabled body has predominated. With Jean Stewart, she wrote a remarkably biting piece about prisons and disablement for Monthly Review.She was also not shy about criticizing misguided strategies by disability rights movements that she felt were too moderate or co-opted.Disabled since birth, Marta leaves behind a daughter, Georgia Scheele, her partner, Steve Weiss, and countless disabled people she radicalized around the world. Advocates of socialism from below would do well to revisit her work on this too often ignored topic.
Her book - Beyond Ramps, Disability at the End of the Social Contract - was published in 1998 by Common Courage Press (Honorable Mention from Gustavus Myers Program for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America at Boston University).
Essays, articles include (but not limited to):
"Backlash, the Political Economy and Structural Exclusion." In Linda Krieger (ed), Backlash Against the Americans with Disabilities Act: U of Michigan Press (2003).
"Capitalism and Disability." Leo Panitch & Colin Leys (eds) A World of Contradictions: Socialist Register, 2002.
"The Political Economy of Disablement." Real World Micro 2001, Marc Breslow, Ellen Frank, Cynthia Peters the Dollars & Sense Collective (eds) Cambridge MA.
"Targeting Disability." Monthly Review, 2005.
"What Disability Civil Rights Cannot Do: Employment and Political Economy." Disability & Society, 2002.
"Disablement, Oppression, and the Political Economy." Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 2001.
"Disablement, Prison, and Historical Segregation." Monthly Review, 2001.
"The New Reserve Army of Labor?" Review of Radical Political Economics, 2001.
"Backlash, the Political Economy and Structural Exclusion." Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law 2001.
“Being Disabled and Poor in New Orleans,” ZNet, September 2005.
“The Social Movement Left Out,” ZNet, August 2002.
“Supremely Insensitive: the High Court’s Decision to Side With Business On the ADA” WorkForChange.com, March 2002.
“Work Ought to Mean Getting Ahead,” Los Angeles Times, July 1994.
“Productive Bodies and the Market,” Left Business Observer, ed Doug Henwood, November 1999.
“Wheeling Through Mr. Bill’s Neighborhood,” The Disability Rag & Resource, November 1994.