Individual Politics

Why Americans with Disabilities Should Be Getting Behind Bernie Sanders

Erik Hoff

It isn’t that we had to sit at the back of the bus. There were no buses for us. It isn’t that we had to use a different entry to the theater or restaurant.

There was no entry for us.

Prior to 1990, there was no toilet, no facility outside medical centers, no room at any inn, for millions of Americans. Many of them were veterans. Imagine how it would feel to be a natural citizen of a country, to be a wounded combat veteran, or a person born with a birth defect, and to be physically unable to access transportation, housing, employment — even entertainments such as restaurants and theaters that every other person in the nation may enjoy.

I don’t want anyone to think that I am trying to elicit pity. I mention the above to illustrate the world I grew up in, the one that still confronted me as I came of age in the mid- 1980s, and as a preface to what most informs my politics today. So many of us Americans with disabilities worked (individually and together) to change what we all saw as a fundamental inequity in society, one which only positive regulation could remedy.

Put simply, mine was the first generation of Americans with disabilities to survive and thrive. Civilization, science and technology had evolved enough that a much higher percentage of those born with disabilities and those who acquired them survived, a much higher percentage compared to even one generation prior. So society had no need to think of lifts, ramps, and toilet doors — until it did.

Suddenly, after the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of young men couldn’t get on the bus. They were not going to sit by and accept it. So what did they do?

They put their wheelchairs in the way of buses and performed other acts of civil disobedience. They wrote letters to the editor, they protested, they complained, and they voted. Finally, in 1990, after many years of protest and activism, we got the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I feel fortunate that I grew up when I did, that I was able to participate with them in the small way I did to help get the law passed. The ADA isn’t a perfect law, but it gave millions of us access to many public places we never would have achieved without it.

All politics are personal. So let me conclude by stating why I remain a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders for President. I’ve seen first-hand the efficacy of grassroots political movements. If it were not for a popular political uprising coupled with good governance, I would likely be chained to a bed in a nursing home right now, lacking even internet access, and contributing nothing. Instead, I live independently, pay my taxes and contribute to society.

Bernie Sanders is the only one who supports the ideas of good governance in pluralism and universal equity that, in my mind, far outweigh the importance of economic freedom and removing barriers to trade.

People often invoke the spirit of liberty as if it only included the ideas of democracy and capitalism. All minorities (ethnic and otherwise) understand that the concept of democracy means little if you’re barred from the polling booth, and that all the money in the world means nothing if you cannot enter the store to shop.

-E. Hoff

(Guest Author)

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