Douglas J. Usiak, Chief Executive Officer
Over one-half century ago, when my teachers were attempting to get me to understand our American system of governance, I was too busy trying to get Patty in the next row to smile. So, as a result of that small diversion of my attention in Civics class, I missed some very valuable information on what kind of power that I, as a citizen, really do have.
Now, as an old man, I am facing shocking developments in Administration policy that ultimately may try to restrict my rights as an American with a disability and reduce my ability to live independently and free. But you know…I have some power here, after all — and if we all play this right, you and I can make a difference and/or prevent change that could impact on our quality of life.
So where to begin? I think that I’ll start with…an IDEA! This IDEA that I have could be anything — well, that helps people, of course. But I need to make it known and gain support for it; so, I’m going to call my friends, family, and maybe neighbors, too...pitch it to organizations whose mission makes it likely to be embraced…and look for people, places, businesses, and other entities that have a common denominator, in that they care about the same things I do.
Once I pull together a small, (or large!), working group, I am going to put this IDEA on paper, explaining what it is, why it is, and the potential impact of it. That way, my partners in this effort and I will all be, literally, “on the same page”, speaking about the same thing, as we disseminate the IDEA to gain the support that we need to make it happen.
SO FAR, SO GOOD! BUT HOW TO PROCEED FROM HERE?
Well, depending on the IDEA, I will want to contact the appropriate elected leader that represents me and my interest. That is, to advance it, I will seek out a legislator. Whom I approach depends on whether the issue is local, Statewide, or National:
• A village, town or City Trustee, Council member or alderman
• A County legislator
• Assembly person
• State Senator
• A member of the U.S. House of Representative (Congress person)
• Federal Senator
Why involve them? To persuade them to incorporate our IDEA into a bill or resolution: a document that can represent what we need to have done, and that my representative can introduce to the other legislators to seek their support. Now comes the politicking! Once we have our IDEA in this bill/resolution form, it usually takes a lot of talking, many meetings, and negotiations to have this bill/resolution move through committees and on to the legislative body’s floor for a vote. But no truly good IDEA fails to have its day.
Although lengthy and complicated, this process is not a bad thing. In the course of the meetings and talks, many people, media, and community groups become aware of the IDEA, and we may gain greater support as the LEGISLATIVE body considers this. This is vital, as, if they endorse it and pass the bill, the legislature takes our IDEA and forwards it to the EXECUTIVE BRANCH, where it can be signed into law. The Executive Branch also has the power to execute and enforce the law with our IDEA.
Each level of government has its own Executive:
• A Village – the Mayor
• A Township – the Supervisor
• A City – the Mayor
• A County -the County Supervisor or County Executive
STATE – the Governor
FEDERAL – the President
Now, as you probably know, most of the above-mentioned positions are elected by us voters. A few of them are appointed or elected by the Legislature (mostly some County leaders), but even these people are ultimately empowered by our vote. If not for someone(s) receiving the most votes cast, (in most cases), they would not have the job. In essence, the Executive is the branch of government that your vote has hired to executive our IDEA as it is introduced to our community, State, or Country.
However, the reality is that no great IDEA is without its opposition. So, if or when our IDEA becomes “the law of the land”, but the law itself was written badly, “we the people” have the right to challenge the IDEA/law. If we believe that the law is not constitutional, and/or it is not being enforced correctly, we can have this IDEA/law interpreted by the JUDICIAL branch of government, (the Court systems). The Judicial Branch encompasses everything from the local small claims court all the way up to the Federal Supreme Court in Washington D.C. The nature of the challenge to the IDEA, and the level of the IDEA as it became law, will dictate the degree of local, State, or Federal Court system involvement.
And you know what? We don’t have to take the first “NO” as the answer. We can work our way up through the courts, challenging decisions on the interpretation of our IDEA. So, we can “keep on kicking until the system stops ticking”. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
So, why did I bring this very brief Civics lesson to you, (assuming you are still reading and interested)? Because, as I look around and consider what I have fought for, over the last 45 years of my life, I see that many people believe that the dollar outweighs the value of a human. That we, as people with disabilities, don’t have any value to our society other than the Medicaid or public dollar, which they believe that we all live on. So, if they want to chip away at those dollars, why not?
My efforts over the last more-than-four decades have been to inform our society about the real value of the human. About the fact that we all might not fit the ideal image popularized by the professional models in magazines and on TV, but that the contributions of each and everyone of us, when the disability-based barriers are removed, is invaluable! And for those who do need care and some assistance, that the benefits we get from community life certainly outweigh the costs of isolation in institutional care.
But, even with that said, the systems that benefit those of us who need more than physical barrier removal and communication assistance still struggle to let us remain in our communities. Why? Because, for some in leadership or in rehabilitation organizations, the dollars that can be gained by caring for a person in an institution appear to outweigh the cost savings and improved quality of life for that same person with a disability who is living in their home with family and friends.
So, if you are as angry as I am, consider the concise Civics lecture above, and show your power: the power of your vote and voice. Exercise your political muscle, get involved, and guarantee your rights as an American, just as our forefathers did when they really made America Great!