Friday, July 26, 2019

Dialogue and Advocacy

You may be wondering why I haven’t written since the Tuesday roundtable on the Georgetown contract.  The reason is that I’ve sent a letter to the editor at the Post and am waiting to hear if it will be published, so I can’t repeat the same message here in my blog.  In the meantime, here is the link to the video from the Tuesday event:  There were more than twenty witnesses, myself included (on behalf of the DD Council).  And, to keep you up to date, an article in today’s Post:

I’d like to use my soapbox today, then, to make a couple of broader points about the way in which the relationship between DDS and the disability community is evolving. 

First, to Andy Reese:  I believe you were sincere in the comment you submitted on July 9 (see comments section on my blog post, “Andy, You Need a Plan” below or click here:  I think you truly believe that the combination of HCBS Advisory Committee, Supporting Families Community of Practice, public Family Support Council, Project Action! and monthly person-centered organization meetings provides ample opportunity for input to DDS decision making.  I understand the point you’re making, but I do not agree, for these reasons: 

1)      The conclusion of the Evans case (look in the blog archive over to the right and read “Where We’ve Come From,” 9/25/14 and “Big Developments in the New Year,” 1/9/17) in January 2017 was a golden, and necessary, opportunity for DDS to spell out its proposed post-Evans vision and to invite a dialogue on future strategy with the advocacy community that had done so much to help achieve that important milestone.  Two and a half years later, this hasn’t happened, and none of the meetings you’ve cited pertains to the strategic direction DDS is taking.

2)      Such a strategic dialogue – hopefully rich with data about the size and needs of the D.C. population with development disabilities – would have brought creativity and energy to shaping the future and also set the stage for new breakthroughs.  It also would have established a shared perspective for discussion of the types of individual issues such as housing, contributions to costs and now, health care issues that DDS is rolling out now with little context or connection.  It’s not too late, though, for this dialogue to take place.

3)      Taken on their own, the array of individual meetings you point to has its own set of inherent problems:  
a) They are often very lengthy, and a person would have to attend each and every one of them to stay aware - no one has time for all that;  
b) Many of the discussions are highly redundant “listening sessions” and provide little clarity as to what is going to be done with the comments provided;  
c) Often the meetings are filled with elusive technocratic jargon that anyone outside (and many inside) the bureaucracy can’t hope to understand fully.  
d) Finally, many of us doubt the effectiveness, and are concerned about the consequences, of candid discussion in sessions with operational, as opposed to policy-setting, DDS staff.

Now, to my colleagues in the local advocacy community:  In my most recent blog post, you got the sense that I do not believe “anything goes” with respect to tactics when we’re trying to effect change.  Specifically:

1)      Keep it local.  Although my blog centers on developmental disability issues, I never lose sight of the fact that we’re operating in the District of Columbia, whose democratic participation on the national stage is limited.  In fact, I would be tempted to add a third “D” for democracy to the title of my blog, and I hope none of my readers are happy to tolerate the denial of our right to determine our own future (and get voting representation in the House and Senate).  Read my last blog post on this, and let’s keep it local (meaning D.C. only).  Enough said.

2)      Respect roles and boundaries.  I worked in government for over three decades, and I respect the roles of people who are trying to make a difference and running large and complicated programs.  Andy Reese’s job as director of D.C.’s Department on Disability Services is an important one to which he brings integrity and dedication.  Let’s not immediately lord it over him by appealing to the mayor over his head.  Also, raising the specter of a return to court oversight is not a prospect that should be raised lightly.

3)      Don’t exaggerate or distort.  When government witnesses testify, they raise their right hands and swear to tell the whole truth.  The same is not required of other witnesses, but we need to hold ourselves to the same standard and ensure we are not overstating the case or stretching the facts.

4)      “I got mine” is not a solid basis for advocacy.  Many of my readers receive, or have family members receiving, services in D.C.  Others do not, and wish they did.  D.C. services don’t reach everyone they should, as we all know (another reason for a strategic dialogue!), so please remember, when you advocate don’t just talk about protecting what you’ve got.  There’s more at stake.

Some of what I’m writing in my blog lately is making me less popular, but I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.  These are difficult subjects and we need to wrestle with them together.  I do think, though, that we owe it to ourselves and to one another to be more reflective and to do a better job of remembering we’re in this together.

Have a good weekend.

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