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For first-time campaigners Gustave Roy and Huda Mukbil, local politics is about connection – Ottawa Citizen

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Gustave Roy’s political debut has been a long time coming.

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He grew up steeped in current affairs, with a paper route that made front-page news part of his daily routine, and CBC radio embedded in the soundtrack of his family home.

By high school, he was thinking about running for political office someday. “It’s … a bit of a calling,” he explained, entirely earnest, between driveways in the Stittsville neighbourhood where he was knocking on doors, introducing himself to Carleton voters as their local Liberal candidate.

Despite his longstanding desire to jump into the political arena, Roy, 47, said he wanted to wait until he had the experience and background to be successful.

He had a worldly upbringing, from Sherbrooke, Que., to Rwanda in east-central Africa, where he saw his father, a mechanical engineering professor, training Rwandese students and his stay-at-home mom volunteering in local schools.

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His own career progressed in the private sector, in finance and the pharmaceutical industry. Roy is the youngest of six children, all of whom have been successful, he said, and giving back is a strong family value.

“So I just feel that it’s time for me to sort of pay it forward,” Roy said of his decision to run.

“And a lot of those decisions and the reasons that I was successful were really because of the decisions that my parents took, early on in life. So I want to do the same and I want to have an impact. And it’s a bit of an opportunity for legacy as well.”

Ideally, he explained, that would entail being part of government, representing the riding, and supporting the building of a brighter future.

“We need to attack climate change. It’s mission critical. So I want to be on that team, that made a difference,” he said. “That found the right policies and that put the right strategies in place. That balanced … economic growth and also protected our environment, and be recognized for that.”

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Roy is one of two newcomers to federal politics this newspaper accompanied for interview while canvassing in their ridings. The intent was to profile a first-time candidate from each of the big three parties, but none of the six local Conservatives who fit the bill were made available to participate.

‘We need those voices’

A pivotal moment in Huda Mukbil’s path to politics was an inquiry, from a university professor, about the languages she spoke.

Born in Ethiopia, her family fled civil war in that country when Mukbil was four. They lived in Cairo, then immigrated to Montreal and moved to Ottawa in 1991, the same year they got citizenship. Mukbil went to Ridgemont High School in Ottawa South, the riding she’s now running to represent as an NDP member of Parliament.

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Mukbil studied law at Carleton University, and had thoughts of becoming a police officer or a lawyer. But the professor who learned about her ability to communicate in English, French, Arabic and Harari, an Ethiopian dialect, suggested national security as a career option.

She spent nearly 16 years at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and while it was a “great career,” Mukbil has spoken publicly about her struggle for equity at an institution she found lacking in both, culminating in a since-settled lawsuit against CSIS with several other employees, alleging harassment and discrimination.

This fight has been a repeated theme in Mukbil’s life, with an expanding scope — from collaboration with an NDP shadow minister on national security reforms, to work with a group representing Black federal public servants now suing the Canadian government over alleged systemic racism.

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Mukbil said she started thinking deeply about the presence and responsibilities given to Black women in politics. She looked at the Status of Women committee, and didn’t see them represented. She spoke to Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Black Liberal MP who left caucus and elected office, disillusioned. Mukbil also makes mention of Indigenous women, such as Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and Vancouver-Granville’s Jody Wilson-Raybould, who’ve just recently walked away from the House of Commons.

“So women… and especially racialized women, are finding it difficult in these places of power. And that’s problematic,” said Mukbil. “We need that representation. We need those voices.”

Now, she’s trying to add her own.

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Growing momentum in Carleton

Roy started moving on his political aspiration two elections ago, reaching out to local MPs and gathering information from the Liberal party about what it would take to run.

Finding a riding without a Liberal incumbent narrowed the field in the local area (of the 13 Ottawa-Gatineau ridings, all but one elected Liberals in 2019 and nine of the 12 are running again). Other practicalities were considered in his talks with the party, such as distance — Roy lives in Gloucester — and political infrastructure at the riding level. Carleton’s Liberal riding association is well-organized and committed, said Roy, with lots of volunteers, and years of work put into building their local presence.

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“And I really felt that the momentum was also growing in Carleton, for the Liberals. So for me, it was just the perfect place to advocate for my values.”

Roy, who bested competitors to secure the Liberal nomination, sees the riding as a place where he can make a difference.

As a longtime follower of politics, he was already familiar with Carleton Conservative incumbent Pierre Poilievre, who is probably the best-known Tory in local politics. A powerful but polarizing figure, with a commanding ground game and social media presence, Poilievre has been a member of Parliament in the area since 2004.

“I think the riding of Carleton deserves somebody who’s maybe a little bit more positive, that’s more collaborative. And that’s what I intend to bring to the table,” Roy said.

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Finn Long, a jack-of-all-trades on the Roy campaign, said people think of Carleton as a pretty Conservative riding. “But there are more progressive voters than there are Conservative voters.”

In 2019, Poilievre took 46.3 per cent of the vote in Carleton, to Liberal candidate Chris Rodgers’s 38.2, while 9.3 per cent voted NDP, 4.9 per cent Green, and 1.1 per cent for the People’s Party.  And the riding is changing, Roy said, with new developments and new families. As for the fact that he doesn’t live there, Roy said it hasn’t been an issue thus far.

Something he raises on every doorstep is his belief that the economy and environment go hand in hand — a Liberal talking point, but one he thinks is important to share, a year and a half into the pandemic’s upending of society.

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“People want to know … what our future’s going to look like.”

What this vision would mean for Carleton is the extension of light rail transit, and taking a climate-friendly approach to needed infrastructure, such as electric buses or a new net-zero community centre, Roy said. Rolling out affordable child care is also at the top of Roy’s priority list (the Liberals have pledged $10-a-day child care within five years if re-elected).

In the lead-up to his nomination, Roy got a crash course in local priorities from the Liberal membership in Carleton. Beyond infrastructure, these also included supports for small businesses, for minority communities in the riding, employment and community organizations.

Roy sees his experience collaborating in the private sector as transferable to this new job, where he says he’d like to work with the city and his provincial counterpart to bring more investment into the riding. He also wants to be accessible to his constituents, and sees listening as fundamental to the role of a MP.

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“Every conversation is meaningful to me and I take it all in,” he said while door-knocking. At night, Roy said, he thinks over the dialogue he’s had with people throughout the day.

“And that does influence the way I think, and my position.”

Huda Mukbil is running for the NDP in Ottawa South.
Huda Mukbil is running for the NDP in Ottawa South. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

Diversity in Ottawa South

It looked like Mukbil was going to have to face off against Morgan Gay, the Ottawa South NDP candidate in the last federal election, for the 2021 nomination.

Gay took 16 per cent of the Ottawa South vote in 2019, behind Conservative candidate Eli Tannis’s 24.5 per cent, and Liberal incumbent David McGuinty’s 52.3 per cent. Both men are running again, with McGuinty aiming for his sixth consecutive re-election.

The two aspiring NDP candidates met up, and “And right away he was like, ‘You know what, Ottawa South is a really diverse community. I think you’re going to do really well representing us. And so I’m going to step aside,’” Mukbil said of her conversation with Gay.

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In a post about his decision and his support for Mukbil, Gay referenced her credentials and experience, a goal of the riding association (of which he’s president) to better reflect the diversity of its community, and the need “for much greater efforts at allyship” in Canada.

It was “amazing,” said Mukbil. “That’s the party. And I’m very proud to be standing with them.”

Mukbil lives outside the riding’s boundaries with her husband and four children, in Findlay Creek. But Ottawa South has been her home in the past and she’s there all the time, Mukbil said; her parents and the mosque she attends are in the riding.

Her candidacy may prove to be a strategically savvy move for the NDP in Ottawa South, a diverse electoral district with a significant number of Arabic-speaking voters.

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Mukbil, whose family background is Arab, from Yemen, as well as east African, said she feels her roots allow her to bring together different communities in the riding.

“That connection and that ability to communicate in all of these languages is helping to get more people to support us, and to … be involved in politics and to see themselves reflected in the system. I think that’s a really important and powerful thing.”

On one doorstep, she spoke at length with an Arabic-speaking resident who wasn’t himself a citizen yet, but had family members in the riding who could vote. He called one of them, and passed his phone to Mukbil to introduce herself.

At a Syrian community event, Mukbil said she learned that people who had fled the war and claimed refugee status in a nearby country, then arrived in Canada and became citizens, were being turned away from those countries when they tried to return to visit family who remained. One man missed the chance to see his mother before she died.

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“Heartbreaking, really,” said Mukbil, moved to tears while recounting this. As an MP, she said she hopes to be able to tackle such concerns. She also envisions having an Arabic-speaking staff member in her office, so people can access service in the language.

Affordable housing issues such as the redevelopment of Heron Gate, reform of the Employment Equity Act and the stripping of charitable status from Muslim organizations, which which a civil rights group said the CRA has unfairly targeted for audits, have all been on Mukbil’s radar.

And then there are the hallmark NDP platform pledges, such as pharmacare, dental coverage, and lowering cell phone and internet bills. Initiatives like these would be tremendously helpful for people with low incomes, Mukbil saiod. The median household income in Ottawa South is $71,314, compared to $86,451 in the city at large.

Mukbil’s husband Ali Elbeddini is a pharmacist — and a dedicated member of her campaign team — who said he sees customers come in who can’t afford medication. He does what he can, but some products don’t have lower-cost substitutes.

“We need a candidate that understands those challenges, and works with people to find solutions for it.”

Elbeddini contrasted that with politicians who show up during an election, put in a few minutes at the mosque, or synagogue, or church, and then disappear. Talk alone isn’t enough, he said. “We need to see actions.”

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Politics Professor Emeritus leads prestigious four-part lecture series – University of Virginia The Cavalier Daily

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When Brantly Womack, Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of Virginia and Senior Faculty Fellow at the Miller Center, retired from his professorship at the University last May, there was a noticeable loss in the Politics department’s coverage of contemporary China and Chinese politics. No classes on Chinese politics are being offered this semester, and the Politics department has not yet instated a replacement for Womack as the department’s China expert. This was a catalyst for Womack’s decision to host a four-part lecture series entitled “China and the Recentering of East Asia” through the University’s own East Asia Center, beginning Thursday and with three more planned through Oct. 7.

“This is my little effort to continue presenting something available to students about the big picture on China and Asia,” Womack said.

Womack’s speaker series has been set to run for four consecutive weekly lectures, covering a chronological scope of China’s history and positioning in the changing regional and global socio-political landscape. Each session will feature Womack’s own knowledge, an assortment of attendee questions organized by a chosen moderator and significant collaboration with a renowned Chinese expert. 

“I could combine the presentation, not only with a webinar, but also top Asia experts to comment on the history of Asia or comment on my ideas on the history of Asia,” Womack said. “That adds a tremendous amount to the depth and to the richness of the ideas available.”

The first session of the series took place Thursday night and was moderated by Ambassador Stephen Mull, the University’s current vice provost for global affairs. To kick off his discussion on the topic of “China’s Premodern Centricity,” Womack welcomed Wang Gungwu, a professor at National University of Singapore and renowned Chinese historian, as his first guest collaborator. 

In addition to Zoom, the event welcomed both in-person attendance and a livestreamed service on YouTube for those who did not register on time. 300 people alone were registered on Zoom, and this significant online turnout was complemented by the estimated 40 to 50 in-person student and faculty attendees who gathered in Nau Hall’s large lecture space. All attendees were masked in accordance with the University’s COVID-19 policy, and everyone sat fairly distanced from each other. 

East Asia Center Director Dorothy Wong welcomed all of the event’s in-person and virtual attendees at 8:30 p.m. Thursday before passing the microphone to Mull. After a brief recognition of all of Womack’s accomplishments, Mull invited the series’ host to take the stage, and the main presentation began.

Womack’s first presentation emphasized three different kinds of continuities throughout Chinese history — situational factors, asymmetric perspectives and relational interactions. The now-retired professor expanded upon each continuity with carefully articulated detail before inviting his guest Gungwu  to elaborate, emphasize and challenge his presentation.

“It was a really insightful discussion,” said first-year College student Juan Arratia. “There were a whole bunch of interesting perspectives… My favorite moment would probably be when [Wang] modified a bit of what the Professor said and added a new spin to it, I liked that a lot.”

This interest certainly didn’t end with Arratia — professors and students alike sat attentively in the crowd at Nau Hall.

Attendees took notes, listened and engaged with the professor’s intellectual and humorous insights. Although reasons for attendance varied, there seemed to be a unanimous interest in the chosen subjects being discussed. 

“I heard about the event through my engagements class,” first-year College student Reese Whittaker said. “I would really like to attend the other parts of the lecture series … I think it’s important to know history everywhere in the world [because] I’m a firm believer that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Brian Murphy, the East Asia Center’s administrative coordinator, furthered Whittaker’s take on the importance of understanding history from a more broad perspective.

“I mean, it’s not the type of thing that really is taught in the curriculum at any level,” Murphy said. “You know you can get a B.A. and have really no idea about the history of the East … It’s kind of amazing that that’s the case, that world history is always so Eurocentric.”

Both Murphy and Whittaker’s responses elucidate the importance of continuing to broaden our understanding of contemporary China despite the topic’s absence from the University’s curriculum this semester. In the wake of the Asian Student Union-led survey report of APIDA students released in February, opportunities like this lecture series hope to continue acting as avenues for awareness and contextualization.

“I think a lot of our students are interested,” Wong said. “I learned that among the U.Va. undergraduate population, 25 percent of students have Asian and Asian American backgrounds. I hope the University pays attention to addressing the needs of the students of Asian and Asian American background.”

In the coming weeks, Womack will return to the podium of Nau 101 and virtually welcome three more internationally esteemed guest speakers from China, Australia and Taiwan.

His selection of speakers is impressive to say the least, and might not have been possible without his ready acceptance of a hybrid format.

“They’re all friends of mine and I’m happy to say that they’re my number one choices and they all agreed immediately to do this,” Womack said. “And even though I think remote teaching has all sorts of problems, remote events — that’s something that Zoom has added a whole new dimension of possibility to that we’d never be able to pay for, let alone actually get the people who are going to be commenting over the next few weeks.”

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Trudeau warns against vote split in tight Canada election

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Brooklin, Ontario (Reuters) -With the Canadian election in a dead heat two days before the Sept. 20 vote, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Conservative rival implored supporters to stay the course and avoid vote splitting that could hand their opponent victory.

Both men campaigned in the same seat-rich Toronto region on Saturday as they tried to fend off voter defections to the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and the populist People’s Party of Canada (PPC), both of which are rising in polls.

The latest Sondage Leger poll conducted for the Journal de Montreal and the National Post newspapers put the Conservatives one percentage point ahead of Trudeau’s Liberals, with 33% over 32%. The NDP was at 19% while the PPC was at 6%.

Trudeau, 49, called an early election, seeking to convert approval for his government’s handling of the pandemic into a parliamentary majority. But he is now scrambling to save his job, with Canadians questioning the need for an early election amid a fourth pandemic wave.

“Despite what the NDP likes to say, the choice is between a Conservative or a Liberal government right now,” Trudeau said in Aurora, Ontario. “And it does make a difference to Canadians whether we have or not a progressive government.”

Trudeau has spent two of the final three days of his campaign in Ontario where polls show the NDP could gain seats, or split the progressive vote.

A tight race could result in another minority government, with the NDP, led by Jagmeet Singh, playing kingmaker. It has also put a focus on turnout, with low turnout historically favouring the Conservatives.

An Ekos poll released on Saturday also showed the main parties neck and neck though the Liberals had an edge at 30.6% compared to 27.7% for the Conservatives. At these levels, neither party appears likely to reach the 170 seats needed for a majority in the 338-seat House of Commons.

With a Liberal minority the most likely result based on polls, Trudeau was asked if this could be his last election. He responded: “There is lots of work still to do, and I’m nowhere near done yet.”

If voters give Trudeau, who was first elected in 2015, a third term, everything they dislike about him “will only get worse,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told supporters on Saturday, saying his party was the only option for anyone dissatisfied with the Liberals, in a dig at the PPC.

The PPC, which has channelled anger against mandatory vaccines into surprising support, could draw votes away from the Conservatives in close district races, helping the Liberals eke out a win.

An election that had appeared set to be an easy win for Trudeau, whose Liberals had led comfortably in polls before it was called, has become an unexpected slog due to a lackluster campaign, the reemergence of old scandals, and public anger over its timing.

“I wish it wasn’t happening, to be honest,” said Connie Riordan, a voter in Cambridge, Ontario, who said she had switched to the Conservatives in advance voting from the Liberals.

On Saturday, the Liberals announced they would drop a candidate over a 2019 sexual assault charge that the party said was not disclosed to them. The candidate, a naval reservist running in an open Liberal seat in downtown Toronto, will not be a member of the Liberal caucus, if he is elected, the party said.

Earlier this month, Liberal member of parliament Raj Saini ended his re-election campaign amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards female staffers.

O’Toole, 48, campaigned in Saini’s district on Saturday, one of three Liberal ridings he is hoping to swing his way. Earlier, he appeared in a Conservative-held riding west of Toronto that was closely fought during the 2019 election.

The area’s member of Parliament, who is not running again, came under fire last spring for saying COVID-19 lockdowns were the “single greatest breach of our civil liberties since the internment camps during WW2.”

O’Toole, who said he wants to get 90% of Canadians vaccinated, has refused to say who among Conservative Party candidates were.

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Andrea Ricci)

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5 Reasons It’s Hard For Disabled People To Trust Politics And Activism – Forbes

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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.

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