Disabled people’s attitudes towards politics and activism are complicated.
Distrust in politics is almost standard among Americans today. Some of that distrust extends to various forms of activism as well –– or to anyone trying to change public policy, or people’s beliefs and behaviors. But what about people with disabilities, who have historically benefitted from the fruits of politics and activism, but also felt let down by them more than once?
Despite the urgency of problems and issues disabled people face, a great many of us remain alienated and suspicious of social and political action. Exploring the reasons why is important if we are to fully understand ourselves, and if others –– especially politicians and policy makers –– are ever to understand us.
It helps to start by recognizing some of the reasons for disabled people to be optimistic about politics and activism today:
- There was more detailed focus on disability issues by the 2020 Presidential campaigns than ever before. At least ten candidates for President issued specific, multi-point disability plans, nearly all of which included at least some of disabled people’s most cherished priorities.
- Voter participation by people with disabilities significantly increased in the 2020 Elections. Rutgers University researchers Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse report that although there is still a participation gap between disabled and non-disabled voters, it shrunk in 2020. Disabled voter turnout was 5.9 points higher than in 2016, and 17.7 million disabled people voted in the 2020 Election overall, a potentially powerful contingent of voters.
- There is a rare chance right now for passage of major investments in home care through the Better Care Better Jobs Act, and for significant reform and updating of SSI in the SSI Restoration Act. Both are high priority issues for the disability community that are finally being at least taken seriously by a Presidential administration and Congress.
All of these developments suggest that disabled people’s involvement in activism and politics really can work. And they didn’t come out of nowhere, or because politicians are suddenly more compassionate or interested in disability issues for their own sake.
These gains and opportunities exist today because of decades of organized protest, policy activism, and political engagement starting in the early 1970s by movements of disabled people, fighting for ourselves. This movement has won specific victories, like passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, as well as more gradual shifts, like inclusion in schools, deinstitutionalization, and the gradual expansion of home care.
These are impressive gains, won by disabled people’s involvement in activism and politics. But yesterday’s victories can only do so much to persuade most disabled people that fighting for change is time well spent. Many if not most of us remain wary and skeptical about organized activism and electoral politics. Some disabled people are distinctly hostile to them.
Precise reasons are hard to pin down. But there are broad factors worth considering:
1. Politics and activism aren’t accessible.
Despite clear and longstanding mandates, voting accessibility is inconsistent from region to region. Would-be disabled voters still regularly contend with inaccessible polling places, antiquated voting systems, and poorly trained poll workers.
Now, some measures that made voting a good deal more accessible in 2020 are under direct attack in many states. This includes efforts to restrict or eliminate voting by mail and early voting. Meanwhile, countless other petty measures are being passed that make the act of voting more physically restrictive and demanding rather than less. Whether intentionally or not, these measures turn voting into a test of endurance, instead of a civil right.
Political events are often inaccessible too. This includes party and campaign meetings, public forums, campaign rallies, and voter outreach activities. Disabled people who want to participate in politics constantly run into problems with:
- Wheelchair accessibility
- Sign Language interpreting
- Captioning for video content
- Transcripts for audio content
- Website accessibility
- Plan language versions of key documents
Even disability organizations can fail at some of these basic components of accessibility. And there are other, more subtle problems with inclusion in disability culture as well.
Disability activists sometimes put unreasonable physical and emotional demands on each other. Sometimes this happens because of sincere enthusiasm and momentum for a vital cause. Other times it’s part of a vain effort to demonstrate disabled people’s ability to achieve in mainstream social action, without compromise to our impairments. Either way, it’s ironic and wasteful that so many disabled people are allowed to conclude that their own disabilities make it impossible for them to do disability activism.
These practical deterrents don’t just keep disabled people out of politics and activism physically, but discourage us from even trying.
2. Mainstream politics tends to either ignore or misunderstand disability issues and culture.
Until fairly recently, disability issues and disabled voters were virtually invisible in political campaigns. When they were addressed, it was only in the most vague and inconsequential ways. There has always been lots of “support” for our rights, but little in the way of policy that was politically challenging, or likely to make a real difference in our lives. This is beginning to change, but the progress so far is lopsided.
It’s progress that ten Presidential candidates offered substantial disability plans last year, but unfortunate that they were all from one party. Republican Presidential candidates offered no plans or positions on disability policy. And few “lower ballot” candidates of any party bothered to put out disability plans, even though Congress and state legislatures have far more practical impact on disability issues than presidents do.
So despite some recent encouraging signs, “addressing disability issues” still too often means candidates running sentimental ads and photo ops with unnamed kids in wheelchairs –– or addressing the needs of disabled people indirectly and mistaking the concerns and priorities of parents, teachers, and “caregivers” as being the same as those of disabled people themselves. This condescension has done a lot to sour disabled people’s feelings about politics, despite other undeniable gains.
3. The goals are good, but it’s too hard to see or recognize results.
Disability activists and policy developers are often on the right track, and are being honest when they describe the better lives disabled people can have if we all join the push for needed reforms. But in disability activism and politics, satisfaction is usually not just denied or delayed, but also disguised.
Even when change does come, we usually have to wait far too long before seeing the direct, personal results we were promised. And it’s not always obvious that a modest improvement we are experiencing now is a result of intense and committed disability activism that happened five or more years before.
There is also often a strong status quo bias. Some disabled people don’t like their living, working, or financial circumstances, but come to believe that any sort of “change” is more likely to make their lives worse than better, no matter what activists say. This may partly explain some of the backlash, even among some disabled people, against changes like increasing funding of home and community based services, and ending sub-minimum wage.
A lot of disabled people feel burned, not just by those who oppose change, but by the disabled activists who promise it, but rarely seem to deliver. This breeds a very specific and corrosive kind of mistrust –– a mistrust of optimism itself.
4. It’s hard to keep track of what’s happening.
There is usually just too much going in disability activism and politics for most disabled people to keep track or up to date.
The disability community is fragmented. There is no one source of reliable information, no single recognized leader to rally support at key moments. This diversity is a strength. And it can be bad in a different way when a very few disabled people or disability organizations have a monopoly on attention and power. But being this decentralized is also a weakness, especially in situations where coordination and mass dissemination of information is vital.
Internet communications have more recently helped sew some of the various disability communities together. But social media is also making the task harder, because it speeds everything up even more. We have the tools to let millions of disabled people know instantly when calls are needed to pass a bill. But we can rarely count on anyone to put those tools to use in time. And most disabled people have barely even begun to explore disability networks online, much less in their own towns and local organizations.
Disability politics and activism may actually have been easier when there were fewer realistic possibilities for us. More opportunities mean more work. The disability community’s goals may be outpacing its capacity to achieve them. That’s a positive sign for the future. But it’s a real and difficult practical problem for the present.
5. Nearly every victory the disability community wins brings risks.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was a massive moral and legal victory for disabled Americans. It remains one of our proudest accomplishments and the basis for most of our current claims for access, equality and fairness. But almost as soon as it was passed in 1990, efforts were underway not so much to overturn the law, but to make it manageable and blunt its more demanding and significant mandates.
Large companies especially were quick to develop effective strategies to “comply” with the ADA, while avoiding more meaningful improvements for actual disabled people. People complain about disability activists and lawyers using the ADA to make money off seemingly small accessibility violations. But far more consultants and lawyers have been making a living for decades by teaching businesses and employers more how to avoid compliance, or accomplish it superficially and on the cheap.
This isn’t unique to the ADA. Disability policy changes are almost always so complicated that it makes them less effective. Reforms like the ABLE Act have done genuine good for disabled people. But like so many other disability policy bills, in order to pass it was limited, trimmed, and loaded with conditions in ways that leave significant numbers of disabled people out and make even approaching it intimidating. The combination of narrowed eligibility and hard to understand rules make even some of the best disability reforms and programs all but invisible to the people they are meant to help.
Advocacy success breeds other problems, too. Now that we are seeing more disabled people elected and appointed to key government positions, it’s fair to ask how much a numerical increase in high profile “disability representation” really improves things. There’s a danger that truly effective activists can win well-deserved positions in government and politics, only to be constrained by the shackles of government itself, and held back by the politics that helped win them power.
This isn’t even about corruption or “selling out.” The dilemmas disabled leaders and representatives face are real. It takes more than most people can manage to balance a true commitment to disability activism, the obligations of responsible office, and the need for political unity and mutual support within any administration. We want to see disabled people in government where they can do some good. But is that even possible?
Distrust in politics and doubts about the usefulness of disability activism are natural, even healthy feelings for disabled people to have. At best they prompt us to ask uncomfortable but necessary questions. The problem comes when healthy skepticism becomes toxic cynicism. For the disability community to keep moving forward, we have to be wary and aware, but without giving in to pessimism and apathy. If we can manage that, it could even be a lesson to all Americans, with or without disabilities.
Doug Ford says Ontario opposition playing politics over his 'bang on' comments about immigrants – CTV Toronto
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he believes opposition parties are playing politics over his comments on immigrants and said he’s been told his remarks were “bang on.”
Ford was asked on Wednesday by Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh in Question Period whether he is ready to apologize for the comments that “play into racist stereotypes about new Canadians.”
“Those comments were hurtful, divisive, and wrong,” Singh said.
Ford responded to Singh by saying he has been “inundated with messages from your community, the Sikh community, that said ‘You were bang on.'”
The comments about immigrants were made in Tecumseh while Ford was speaking to reporters about a labour shortage on Monday.
“We’re in such desperate need of people from around the world,” he said.
The premier then specified that he only wanted “hard-working” people to come to Ontario.
“You come here like every other new Canadian. You work your tail off,” Ford said. “If you think you’re coming to collect the dole and sit around, it’s not going to happen. Go somewhere else.”
On Wednesday, Singh asked Ford if he was ready to apologize, adding the comments were “just plain wrong.”
“Stop playing politics and let’s speak the truth,” Ford responded to Singh. “You know the backbone of this province are great hard-working immigrants.”
“My phone is blowing up all night, all day, day before, from immigrants telling me their story … I’m the biggest pro-immigrant premier we’ve ever seen here.”
Ford told Singh he will “go to his community and door knock and see the response from the Sikh community.”
He said he’s been told already by the Sikh community that his comments were “bang on” and that he needs to “stay focused.”
Many Ontario politicians spoke out and demanded Ford apologize on Monday.
Ford was asked on Tuesday by the NDP to apologize for the “discriminatory” comments. He did not, and instead used the opportunity to say he is “pro-immigration.”
How green politics are changing Europe – BBC News
An ocean of conservative blue blankets the electoral map in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria.
And yet the conservative vote actually fell across Germany in last month’s federal vote, while the Greens achieved their biggest success yet,.
In an election dominated by climate change, a speck of green has made a ripple in Bavaria. For the first time a Greens candidate was directly elected to represent Bavaria in the federal parliament.
It is symbolic of the creeping rise in support for European green parties, from Hungary to Finland.
The new MP, Jamila Schäfer, beamed with satisfaction when she recalled her surprise victory in Munich-South, by a wafer-thin margin of 0.8%. Only once before had the CSU lost the constituency since 1976.
“This is a major sign of change,” Ms Schäfer told the BBC.
A campaign ‘close to the people’
The Greens won 14.8% of the vote nationwide, appealing beyond their eco-protest roots with Annalena Baerbock standing as candidate for chancellor. Now they are in talks to share power as part of a three-way coalition.
Ms Schäfer, 28, is the Greens’ deputy federal chairwoman and typifies a party that has undergone a national makeover after years of power-sharing in several German states (Länder).
She rose through the ranks of Green Youth, taking part in school strikes against education reforms, long before Swedish activist Greta Thunberg made her name by skipping classes for climate protests.
Climate change was consistently ranked as the most serious facing Germany in opinion polls ahead of the election.
Even so, Ms Schäfer targeted her “close-to-the-people” campaign in Munich-South on housing, pensions and taxes.
Green shoots of success
Once ridiculed by many as idealistic hippies, Green parties increased their vote share in 13 European countries at the most recent national elections. In six of those countries – Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg and Sweden – green parties have a share of power in coalition governments.
In all those cases, the Greens are pressing their partners to adopt more ambitious targets for lowering carbon emissions. Elsewhere, the green mayors of Amsterdam and Budapest are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2030 respectively – to balance the greenhouse gases emitted and absorbed by their cities.
Despite last month’s election success for the German Greens, even co-leader Ms Baerbock admitted they had failed to live up to early opinion poll ratings: “We wanted more. We didn’t achieve that.”
Given the urgency of curbing emissions, what’s holding the Greens back?
Trust and fear of change
One explanation is that mainstream parties across Europe have elevated climate change to the top of their agendas.
“If you’re concerned about the climate, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to vote green,” Adam Fagan, a political scientist at King’s College, London, said. “It means you’re going to scrutinise the manifestos of the main parties for their green credentials.”
Green parties tend to do better in countries with more proportional systems, as used by the European Union for its parliamentary elections. For example, the Greens/EFA bloc gained 25 seats with 10.8% of the vote in the 2019 election to the European Parliament.
“People think putting the Greens in power [in the EU] is less dangerous,” said Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA.
“From the right and the left, there’s always a question hanging over us: can you really trust the Greens with the economy?”
National election results suggest the answer is no.
To reduce emissions, the Greens say big structural changes to the economy are needed. While those reforms are necessary, they scare people and put them off voting green, Ms Schäfer said.
“They’re worried they’ll be the losers of big transformation,” the MP said. “It’s a lack of control that people are afraid of. But we need to convince people that our politics is not about giving up control.”
‘Killing the planet’
It’s even more difficult in Southern and Eastern European countries, where support for green parties is fragmented or non-existent. Surveys show that climate change is far from a top priority in post-communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania.
Voters and political parties there are generally more concerned about economic development or migration, leaving environmental issues to civil society groups.
Mr Lamberts believes voters find the message that their country’s model is “killing the planet” unpalatable.
Unlike in many of the other former Soviet-bloc states, green parties have made inroads in Hungary.
The green LMP party has won seats in three consecutive national elections since 2010, while Dialogue received 11.9% of the vote in an alliance with the Hungarian Socialists in 2018.
Dialogue’s success came under the leadership of Gergely Karacsony, who was elected mayor of Budapest in 2019.
He defeated the nationalist incumbent by rallying opposition parties behind his liberal platform, and promising solutions not only to environmental issues, but economic and social ones too.
“In Hungary today, there are three different crises. A democratic crisis, a social crisis and an environmental crisis,” Budapest’s mayor told the BBC. “The advantage of the green movement is that we have proposals for all three.”
He linked green policies such as urban foresting and carbon-free public transport to Hungary’s poor record on air quality and other environmental problems.
Particularly in post-Soviet countries, the mayor said, social justice must go hand in hand with the green transition.
“We cannot put the costs of sustainability on disadvantaged segments of society.”
What worked in Budapest may not necessarily follow elsewhere, but green candidates have achieved electoral success where they have channelled voter discontent, united the opposition and diversified their offer beyond the environment.
If the Greens can build on these gains, there is a future for them in coalitions, Professor Fagan said.
“Green politics in Europe is getting bigger and stronger, and I’m sure it will grow in the coming years,” Ms Schäfer said.
Biden says he’s concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he is concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, days after a media report that Beijing had tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide weapon.
Asked by reporters as he was boarding Air Force One for a trip to Pennsylvania whether he was concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, Biden said, “Yes.”
The Financial Times said at the weekend that China had tested a weapon in August that flew through space and circled the globe before cruising down toward a target that it missed. China’s foreign ministry denied the report.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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