Thursday, June 30, 2016

Running the Race

Summer’s here, and everything’s gone quiet:

-          Finding a replacement for Laura Nuss seems to be going nowhere fast.  Last I had heard (see “Here’s the Scoop,” May 12) the process of reviewing candidates was expected to get started around Memorial Day, but local disability organizations are hearing nothing from the mayor’s office about starting that process.  Andy Reese, the interim director, is settling in.

-          Yvette Alexander was defeated by former mayor Vincent Gray as the Democratic nominee for her seat on the D.C. council, so the long-delayed rescheduling of the joint hearing on the Citizens with Intellectual Disabilities Civil Rights Restoration Act ( is seeming even less likely to happen during this council session.

Summer doldrums are real, and it’s easy to feel discouraged.  But when advocating for change it pays to remember that old adage from Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

I was thinking about this when I attended the third public session of the D.C. statehood commission on June 13 (  Now THAT is an effort that’s been under way for decades, and the forces are still arrayed against allowing D.C. residents our full rights to representation in the U.S. House and Senate.  What’s almost worse is that those who live here are so used to the situation that few of us try to do anything about it.  This new effort, which may show up on the November ballot if it makes it through the council, deserves serious support and effort from all of us.

Think about how hard people with disabilities have pushed, and continue to push, for their civil rights.  As a matter of fact, while I was attending the statehood convention that morning, self-advocates from Project Action! were meeting to talk about how they can bring more pressure to bear to get B21-385 back onto the council agenda.  They aren’t giving up because they know how far things have come already and that, sooner or later, this odd relic of D.C.’s history, civil commitment, will finally be rolled aside.

But it all takes effort.  So I’d like to add extra pressure with some direct personal appeals:

-          Ms. Alexander, I’ve appreciated your hearing me out when I’ve testified before your committee, and you seem sincere about making progress on the rights of D.C. citizens with disabilities.  You could leave an important legacy by moving ahead on B21-385 – so give Council member McDuffie a call and say, “Let’s schedule that hearing!”

-          Mr. Walker, everyone’s wondering what’s up with the search for a new director of the Department on Disability Services.  There’s a meeting of the Supporting Families Community of Practice on July 11.  How about coming to talk to families about where the process stands?

-          Everyone - add your voice by posting a comment on these issues.  And while you’re reading, pay attention to the progress of the constitution for New Columbia through the D.C. council.  It may show up on the ballot in November, and it deserves your support.  Imagine how much more we could do about the future of our family members with disabilities if we actually had national voting representation.

Now I think of it, we need to have the impatience of the hare and the determination of the tortoise in the race.  And above all, don’t just stand there!

Monday, June 13, 2016

How We Change the World

My son voted for the first time last week, in early voting before Tuesday’s formal D.C. primary.  I convinced him to register a couple of years ago, but getting him actually to vote has been much harder.  I’ve had trouble understanding exactly why.  It could be because the cocoon of support around him still makes him feel childlike and fearful of “stepping out” into the adult world.  It could just be because it’s too much trouble to try to understand candidates and issues when listening to music is a lot more fun!  Whatever the reason, he came around.  But before going to vote, I insisted that we spend a little time talking about the positions and people on the primary ballot.  At first he said he didn’t want to come with me; then he called back and said he would, and he would let me “tell him who to vote for.”  I refused to do that, and tried to be as objective as I could in describing who was who: in the end he didn’t even ask whom I favored, and that made me happiest of all.

When we walked into the voting site, it was as empty as I had hoped.  I had written ahead to say he might be anxious and need my help with voting, and I had the Board of Elections response in my bag in case the issue came up.  But I know from monitoring polling places myself that there also are election workers available to help out.  We were the only two entering the room, so I told the volunteers that it was his first time voting, and they all clapped for him.  He instantly felt at ease, and walking in with confidence, he told me he didn’t need my help.  And he didn’t.  The only assistance he received was the same that I got – being shown how the new machines work, then how to print and proofread the ballot before feeding it into the tabulator.

Sure, I know how little our D.C. vote counts in the big picture (see yesterday’s Washington Post,  With our single (non-voting) member and a shadow D.C. representative on the ballot, I had gently tried to explain to him D.C.’s “special status” without launching into a tirade about taxation without representation.   Still, the local elections count for more, and I wanted him to be enthusiastic, not discouraged.

And yes, I still felt a mother’s pride when he slapped the “I Voted Early” sticker on his T-shirt and strutted out of the community center.  After all, every vote is about the future, not about the past, and one by one, little by little, votes and advocacy do bring change.  It’s harder to believe in positive change with the ugliness of this political season and the news of our latest mass shooting out of Orlando, but I truly believe the wavy line of history does tend toward the good. 

That comes primarily by people speaking up for themselves, including people with disabilities.  We parents sometimes have a hard time stepping out of the way and shedding our protective instincts, and I know I don’t always get that right myself.  But the more people with disabilities vote, speak up, are visible in our community, across the country and across the globe, the more they have the ability to change the world.  And maybe my son and the rest of his generation will also bring about, and live to see, the full civil rights of all the people in our nation’s capital.  I’m counting on him.