With the start of the new year, the mass media is full of diets and fitness and other personal-improvement features. What’s on my mind is making life better for our community in general. We all have a lot to be thankful for; the advancements every year in independent living have been amazing. But this year as much as any other, we have a lot of work ahead of us to protect our independence, to maintain our health, to strive for higher employment and educational levels , and to further our ability to become or stay employed and successfully contributing to society. As people with disabilities, we have to try a little harder, be a little more persistent, be a little more expressive and show our confidence a little more than others might in order to be accepted. It’s still a world that looks the other way when people are different from the norm.
Fortunately, we have so many role models—nationally, people like Ed Roberts, Justin Dart, Harriet McBryde Johnson, Judith Heumann, James S. Krause, PhD; and right here in our own backyard, Charlie Smith, John Schatzlein, Margot Cross, Rick Cárdenas, Jeff Bangsberg, John Tschida, Jennifer Mundl, Rose Hollermann and so many more. I really believe that each of us has to do all we can, in whatever way we can, to push on and become role models ourselves for our next generation. Each one of us needs to start mentoring young people, or newly disabled people, and help them recognize the great strides we’ve made and how to practically overcome the many prejudices we face as part of our national and world community.
With a new legislative session just around the corner, it’s time for my reminders to begin about the personal importance for every one of us of to familiarize ourselves with the legislative process. We’re lucky in that we have in our community some great professional activists. It’s truly valuable and rewarding to get to know them and to stay connected. The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) is the best place to be to stay informed.
We have an article on page 4 that explains this year’s initiatives. What we can’t forget is that even when a piece of legislation does not affect us directly, it will affect our friends. If it’s good legislation for positive change, we want it to pass. We want to let legislators know why certain legislation is good for everyone.
Write to them or go to their offices and tell them whether a law will affect you personally, whether it is good legislation, and explain why. And of course, if a piece of legislation does affect us, than we have that much more passion to make our point. This reminds me of the speech that Jeff Bangsberg made at the Charlie Smith Awards in Nov. 2011. Jeff explained how scared he was the first time he went to the capitol and how difficult it was to go in and talk to a legislator. But in the very same breath he explained how easy it was the second and third—then for him, the thousandth or 10,000th time. Bangsberg hasn’t given up, and neither have Anne Henry, Steve Larson, John Tschida and many others. We must not give up. As someone said to me years ago: “Your life depends on it.” And it does!
The Minnesota Consortium for People with Disabilities is offering the Grassroots Action Session Kick—Off Tuesday Jan. 17th, 2012, 3:00 – 5:00 pm at the Center for Changing Lives, 2400 Park Avenue S, Minneapolis. This gathering is to learn more about “Tuesday at the Capitol,” a weekly opportunity to communicate with your legislators and to show the strength within the disability community. In other words, you don’t have to be alone. “Tuesday at the Capitol” has been a well- attended Grassroots action for several years now. The Jan. 17 meeting will help you prepare and can give you some expectations of what a day in the Capitol is all about. The group will give a brief training on how to effectively communicate with legislators and staffers, and provide information on the policies. It’s a good place to start for beginning self-advocates and a great place for veterans to find someone that needs to be mentored. In other words, it’s a great opportunity that we should all be involved in.
Happy New Year, and let’s make a difference in 2012.