It was good to be back. For the first time since March 2020, disability community members turned out for an in-person rally at the state capitol.
The Valentine’s Day rally was part of 2023 Disability Advocacy Week, with the theme of Love. Liberation. Belonging. Activities began Monday night with a virtual session, then will continue through the week with advocacy and outreach to state lawmakers.
More than 100 people turned out, starting the day with sign-making at the Minnesota Department of Transportation Cafeteria. Many of us have not seen each other since the pandemic shut the world down. We enjoyed catching up. It almost felt like the first day of school.
Many of us acknowledge how challenging it is to get to rallies and hearings, given our staffing shortage and issues with not having enough paratransit drivers. We wonder how many could not be present.
The cold and drizzly weather ruled out the traditional march to the capitol. I have to say I missed that. It’s always an impressive sight, to see self-advocates making the trek to be heard. But the tunnel system had to do, steep incline and all.
The rally itself was well-organized. We heard from a few self-advocates and legislators who focused on a few key disability-related bills. Some years we have had so many speakers and so much information packed in, it was challenging to take everything in. The focus on a few issues gave those issues the attention they deserve. We’ll be describing them in detail in our print issue.
As someone with Meniere’s disease as one of my disabilities, I do have to brace myself for the loud chants and cheers at rallies. Some years, there has been so much yelling and screaming, I was down for the rest of the day. I respect the excitement and chants and cheers, but it can get to be a lot for those of us with hearing disabilities.
I did have to laugh, though, when a couple of our senators wanted everyone to yell so the governor could hear them. Folks, Tim Walz is in Norway, celebrating the state’s relationship with that country. He’s not going to hear us from there.
Again, it was good to be back. Many of us will continue to rely on online hearings and floor sessions more and more, but the option to be back in the capitol and the state office buildings is welcomed.
And to see friends is priceless. We talked about the friends who are no longer with us. We miss them. We also talked about how encouraging it is to see younger people becoming active in disability community events, and taking active roles. But we also know that many younger people, who would be self-advocates, are able to take advantage of past gains and be busy with their careers.
One of my good friends, who has since died, used to say we should always train our replacements. Minnesota’s disability community is doing that. We need to keep doing more of it.