State officials must support people with disabilities and older Minnesotans and work for long-term reforms in the service system. That was the message an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000 people took to the state capitol steps March 7.
Members of Advocating Change Together and Self-Advocates Minnesota led the crowd in song. Other self-advocates and their supporters helped lead chants; one popular call and response started with the question, “Who Belongs?” and was answered with “Everyone!” Parents, providers, advocates, self-advocates and children all together that day. People came not only from the Twin Cities, but from across the state—be it Zum-brota in the South, Marshall in the Southwest, St. Cloud in the state’s middle and Eveleth in the Northeast. The speakers—parents, providers, self-advocates, and advocates alike—spoke passionately about the need for the supports our state provides and, just as passionately, called for reforms to make the system better and last for the long haul. The positive energy coming from both the podium and from the crowd was palpable.
As expected at a rally, there were also plenty of signs spread throughout the crowd communicating a whole host of messages. Many signs communicated similar themes about protecting services from budget cuts, and some called for higher taxes to help, like “Tax Me, Not Those Most In Need.” Other signs urged state officials to recognize the dignity and the contributions of those with disabilities and seniors: “Disability Matters.” “Walk in My Shoes.” “I Matter.” “Invest in Our Brother; He Pays Taxes, Too!” A few raised other issues, like the maltreatment at the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options facility: “No More METOs” and “Don’t Handcuff Me.” And at least one sign, held up by a gentleman with Down syndrome, carried an optimistic and hopeful view: “Minnesota Cares.”
It was also encouraging to see bipartisan support for the rally. Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Senate Health and Human Services Chair Linda Berglin, and Senate Minority Leader David Senjem all shared a few words of support for those attending and their thoughts on the difficult battle ahead this legislative session. Community members hope, that as the struggle continues to maintain and enhance services, that all their colleagues from both sides of the aisle took notice of this event.
Didn’t get to the Capitol that day? See a collection of rally photos at www.flickr.com/photos/arrm
Mike Gude works for The Arc of Minnesota.