I’m writing this month’s column on what ordinarily would be the first day of the Minnesota State Fair, but it has been suspended in the year of COVID-19. The days are starting to get shorter and soon the temperatures will drop a little. While I’m not eager to have winter get here any time soon, I am looking forward to cool weather.
There’s been a lot of news and celebration in August recognizing that 100 years ago the 19th Amendment was passed and women were given the right to vote–at least some women. The local politics and repressions of the Jim Crow era prohibited African-American women from exercising their right to vote and for other reasons many white women were also discouraged from voting. Even Susan B. Anthony, the great champion and supporter of the 19th Amendment, never lived to see it ratified.
Did you realize, though, that people with disabilities are also still not fully exercising their right to vote? The disability community votes at a much lower rate than the population in general, even though we could represent a huge voting bloc. There are almost 15 million disabled registered voters in the U.S. That surpasses the number of Latinos and is nearly as large a group as Black voters. Few politicians address us as a community of voters, though. Let’s show them we’re here. We have benefited from legislation in the 1960s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s meant to protect our access to voting. Let’s do it.
The Democratic and Republican conventions were both virtual this year. It didn’t seem to hinder them, though. Both conventions came off pretty well, despite COVID-19. We have to make sure the election comes off equally as well.
While I was watching one of the conventions I saw a message on Twitter from a young Black writer, Keah Brown, who posted a video addressed to white people in the disability community. “It’s not true progress if only you’re the ones seen in the room; if we don’t acknowledge the fact that disability is on its face very white and we often dismiss and discount disabled people of color.”
As much as we have to work on eliminating the marginalizing of the disability community, we also have to stop marginalizing people of color within our community. Systemic racism is a long-standing problem and it is going to be a long haul to eliminate it in our society. But this year is full of reminders that we can’t just keep saying it’s a long haul as though we have decades and hundreds of years more. Our problems are too big now.
First of all we have to get on the same starting page and acknowledge that there is racism in the United States of America, in our state and local community, and in disability culture. There is a big segment of our society that doesn’t want to believe we have a racism problem. There are many others in America who don’t believe that there is white privilege. Before we can solve the problem we have to recognize the problem. Keah Brown said it very clearly: there is racism in the disability community. So that’s a place where you and I can get to work on solving problems. The disability community is one of the largest minorities, and we need to be talking about racism during the ADA celebration, and on every occasion where we celebrate a disabled person on the back for doing good work. Have they done good work for African Americans and other people of color in our community? That’s the question we need to start asking. Are we leaving our Black brothers and sisters to fend for themselves? We can stop that–let’s make it a goal. Let’s fight to end racism in the disability community.
Send in for your absentee ballot if you haven’t already. No matter who you vote for, we have a responsibility as citizens and as the heirs of all the people who struggled to ensure and safeguard our right to vote. From Susan B Anthony to Chuck Van Heuveln (who fought in the 1970s to make sure polling places would be accessible) to thousands of other activists and civil rights advocates, we received a gift. We are the ones they fought for.
Have a good month. Before you vote, study the issues in the presidential election. Make sure you’re choosing the person you want to represent you for the next four years.