In a few days, many of the national disability organizations will begin holding their annual and semiannual conventions. The American Council of the Blind, The National Association of the Deaf, The National Council on Independent Living, The National Federation of the Blind and others are gathering. Great planning, thought and expense has gone into these events. Among leaders, the rank and file they generate great interest. Old friendships are renewed and new ones made. Issues are discussed and plans are made. Marches are held, great speeches are given and songs are sung. Sponsors and exhibitors come in support and hope. Commitments are sought and given. Then what happens?
Some look at the gatherings as a reason for a vacation or party and are not truly engaged for the right purpose. They bolster our ranks and their voices fill our songs, but then they go home. Their participation is great, but we need more from them than singing. We need participation all year long. Everyone needs to make the calls, send the emails and show up at the meetings they are asked to. If this does not happen then next year, like last, we will be talking about the same issues and making new plans.
At the disability rights conventions this year, we face a time in our history when there are forces working to roll back the rights and access of people with disabilities. We are in a time when the United States Attorney General is using the Bible to justify immoral acts on the part of the government. Who is to say when such blasphemy will be turned our direction. Now more than ever the conventions must rise to the occasion.
The disability rights conventions are cause for celebration, but they must also be cause for commitment. The real and full participation of everyone attending in person or virtually is more vital this year given the forces arrayed against us. We must all use this time to be educated, plan and commit to the tasks ahead. There are some sixty-two million Americans with disabilities and an even greater number of friends, family members and supporters. We must use the conventions to become a thundering voice that cannot be ignored. The rights of millions are at stake along with that of our posterity.
The United States of America has just announced that it is pulling out of the United Nations Human Rights Commission on the heels of ripping babies out of the arms of their parents at the border. Yes, Americans with disabilities should be concerned and even worried about the course our government is taking. The political party blame game is in full swing, but it is reaching new heights of hysteria. Where it will go is any ones guess at this moment. We must ask, what is the end game?
It is safe to say that out of the 537 Federal elected officials in Washington that each of them has their own idea of where we need to go as a nation, how to get there and what the end game really is. As Americans with disabilities and the single largest potential voting block, we need to decide if we will be sheep and just follow along or fully take on our responsibility and drive the course of events. I am small, but taken together with other Americans with disabilities, our friends, families and supporters we are one hundred million plus strong. The 2018 conventions are where we begin.
Many people with disabilities take their advocacy responsibility seriously, but many more do not. We know this by the lack of voter turnout and failure to engage when called for. If the majority did engage then congressional phone lines and email boxes would be jammed when called for. That kind of involvement is such a simple thing when you think about it.
Those that need to get our message at the local, state and national levels are not afraid of us because they have never felt the full force of what we could muster if we were to act in unison. I’m not saying that we all need to agree on every issue, but many issues could bring the majority into alignment and generate a storm of influence the likes of which lawmakers at all levels have never felt before.
Consider this, if we had voted as a majority in the last presidential election then our disability friendly candidate would be in the White House right now. The candidates at all levels do not really seek our endorsement because they do not see us as players. The conventions are a place where we can begin to change that. If we do not, then the blowtorch of prejudice, indifference and anti-minority anger will be turned our direction. You can already see it in upcoming budget discussions where social programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security Disability are on the chopping block.
So, suitcases, hat boxes, portable barrooms, braille printers, all kinds of technology and all kinds of people are being gathered up to descend on places like Hartford, Orlando, St. Louis and Washington, DC with a purpose. Perhaps this time it could be with a mission.
Let us all resolve to support each other in a mission to set things right and protect our rights today and in the future. Let’s gather and make a joyful noise that will be clear all the way to the White House and beyond. Let’s learn all we can, help each other to make and keep commitments that can be relied on. We must join and come away from the conventions with a renewed sense of purpose, drive and Steele hard resolve. We must speak with the thunderous chorus of one hundred million voices speaking in unison, “This far and no further!” We must send a message that we will not become second class citizens again.
Douglas George Towne
Chair/Chief Executive Officer – Access Ready Inc.