The Free Britney movement is proof that grassroots activism works

At first, the Free Britney movement was mocked as a crazy fan conspiracy. Two years and hundreds of pieces of press coverage later, the singer's father has agreed to step down as her conservator, proving that grassroots activism can still move mountains.

Britney’s bops gave the soundtrack to many of our gay lives. Her music, persona and long career is shared culture and spectacle. To her fans, beyond her iconography, Britney is a beacon. Many have come to accept their own struggles with mental health because of her relatable image in her early career — and her very public breakdown — let her fans know that they're not alone.  

Those same fans birthed the Free Britney movement. For years they called out a conservatorship that we now know is upheld against her will. The movement, the documentary, and the unfolding courtroom drama have allowed Britney to weaponise her voice and platform like never before.  Hers is a case for freedom, not only for her, but for countless other women who remain voiceless in a system where the odds are stacked against them.

She wants to go the mother fucking spa. And I completely agree. 

All the celebrity, success, and fortune cannot afford Britney own autonomy or basic rights under this court system. Conservatorships are extremely invasive with courts deciding everything from a person’s medical care, to where they live, to what they spend. Many also lose the right to work or vote. This power is granted by the court to conservators. 

Throughout Britney’s 13 year conservatorship, Jamie Spears, her father, has had sole and joint control of her person and her estate. This month he said he’d finally step down when the time is right. This of course is a major victory for the case. Britney’s recently self-appointed lawyer, Matthew Rosengart will still be thoroughly scrutinizing Jamie’s management of the conservatorship. To prove Britney’s claim of conservatorship abuse, they would have to prove Jamie misappropriated her money for his own benefit. Meanwhile, Britney remains in a conservatorship, she is not free.

Britney’s complete freedom from her conservatorship hinges on the medical reports which the courts will be looking at to see how her medical condition has improved since 2008. They do this without questioning the detrimental impacts of living under a conservatorship. It’s clear that it might be harmful to be kept captive and controlled to such a degree, and Britney’s testimony revealed the stress she continues to live through under the arrangement. Perhaps most disturbing to come from her testimony is the revelation that she has been forced to take an IUD despite wishing to have more children in the future.

She has also refused to go through the medical procedures and examinations in her petition to be released from the conservatorship. Perhaps because she knows that the structure around her is not interested in her freedom. In court, this usually involves psych evaluations, medical evaluations and IQ tests, “flawed measures of capability” according to advocates.

Britney’s fitness to work and tour has no bearing on measuring her capability to live for herself. This also exposes the potential to manipulate the conservatorship system in that Britney has continued to work and generate a lucrative career which her father and the team of conservators and attorneys have benefitted from for 13 years. As her testimony reveals, she wasn’t even made aware of the legal pathways to getting out of it in the first place.

It’s not just about Britney the millionaire

Conservatorships have long been argued as too extreme and used too freely. Estimates say that 1.3 million people in the US live under a conservatorship. Although, there is an alarming lack of vital data and so the number of people and the length of time they’ve been living in these arrangements remain unknown. 

For these people, most of them with disabilities, their rights have been taken because this system seems to rely on the dehumanising stereotype that people with disabilities require constant supervision and cannot take care of themselves. Very little scrutiny has ever been applied to conservatorships, in fact, as Zoe Brennan-Krohn, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project, explains, they are revered as forces for good within the court system. 

Britney’s case is bringing a new, widespread public awareness to the longstanding movement for change. Senators, including Elizabeth Warren, have requested the missing data and are challenging courts on the excessive use of conservatorships.

Now that Britney’s story has grabbed the world’s attention, the public and lawmakers have to question why there remains so little known about the people who continue to live in a system which gaslights them and removes their rights. Knowing this now, this example of structural dominance of women and people with disabilities cannot be forgotten again. 

Written by Ciaran Wark

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