Voting is important. But it seems like such a dull topic. It’s hard to motivate ourselves and others to vote. Why? Does it appear that voting doesn’t matter? Is it that we don’t really care about politics? Is it because we see voting is an isolated, solitary activity? It’s just not a very glamorous activity all by itself.
So why does voting matter to those of us involved in self-advocacy? Here’s why. Public officials decide how much funding goes to public transportation, affordable housing, work programs, and Personal Care Assistance. Therefore, it definitely matters who gets public. Public officials make decisions based on their values. We need to elect people with values similar to ours: independence, jobs, housing, public transportation.
For example, in Minnesota, millions of dollars in public transit funding are on the chopping block. While funding for mass transit gets slashed, highway funding is increasing. “People whom drive cars are seen as voters, those of us who take the bus are seen as non-voters,” says Carol Robinson. “We need to let public officials know that we vote and that they better pay attention to us.” She adds “If we had more political power public transit would not be at risk every year.”
Maybe the public officials do share our values, but there just isn’t enough money for our issues. In response to public officials blaming cuts to services to people with disabilities on lack of resources, Rick Cardenas, co-director of Advocating Change Together says, “When they say there is no money it’s because they’ve decided there is no money. It’s a values’ issue, not a money issue.” When we look at any of the issues facing Americans, it all boils down to values. People with disabilities value independence, jobs, housing, transportation and relationships. We look to public officials to take action to assure that our rights to live, work and participate in our community are protected.
Okay, so how do we decide who to vote for? First, you need to know your values and then find a candidate who has similar values. Robinson says, “You need to dig deep down and know your values, and then you can match your issues and values to candidates.” Robinson helps others with disabilities clarify their values at disability rights conferences asking them to create a personal collage that represents what is important to them. “Once people take the time to reflect on their values and priorities, it’s a starting point for figuring out whom to vote for.”
Once we know our values, how do we choose among the candidates? Not by watching TV. She believes TV favor ads favor the candidate with the most money and the news items favor the best looking candidate. “There is no way you will be able to figure out who to vote for by watching ads on TV. It just won’t happen. You need to get involved with issues you care about and go from there.” Robinson says that she does not cast her vote based on a single issue, but she does have a few issues she keeps her eye on. “It’s just too confusing to try to follow all of the issues. I care about affordable housing and public transportation; these are my top issues. When I find candidates who will work hard for issues that effect poor people I usually find that their votes match my values on other issues too.”
Finally, it’s helpful to see voting as merely one step in a larger process. It’s not the first step. And it’s not the last step. It’s right in the middle. Before voting comes getting informed, talking to others, clarifying our values, pushing our candidate. After voting comes dealing with the election results and planning for next time. It’s this whole process that is motivating to so many self-advocates. “Simply voting does not turn me on,” says Gloria Steinbring of Minneapolis. “It’s about being active. It’s about getting involved in the issues that affect us, and finding public officials who will really work for our community. That’s what it’s all about. Voting is just one little part of getting involved and having our voices count.”
As we clarify what is important to us, as we discover and name the values we hold most dear, as we become involved in the empowering process of making change, the motivation to vote will become strong. We will work with each other to vote in force and see that our voice counts. “We need to be visible and vocal. We need to be noticed. Being invisible is a big risk,” says Cardenas. Let’s vote our values – and get visible.