Introductory note from Dr. Anders: I receive so many activist and social justice email messages these days, I don’t always have the time or energy to read them. I am so grateful that Julie Reiskin’s New Year’s message to the members of her organization, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), did NOT fall into that category. Her words inspire and encourage me as we move into the New Year. Whether in person or via the written word, Julie communicates her passion, wisdom, and commitment to social justice for all with focused attention on persons with all types of disabilities. With her permission, I share her January 1, 2018 message with each of you. –Tisa M. Anders, Editor, Writing the World (Website links added by Anders)
Letter from Julie Reiskin:
Dear CCDC Members:
Happy New Year! It is the day for New Year’s Resolutions. I always have the same two personal resolutions, one of which gets eye rolling from one of my bosses and the other from my partner. CCDC Board Co-Chair Lloyd Lewis is not one who gives up on things easily, but he has said he has officially given up on helping me figure out time management. I struggle with this constantly, especially email management and keeping on top of the numerous projects at CCDC. My other swan song is about my weight. My proclamations about how I am not going to eat (fill in the blank) starting tomorrow gets my partner into the eye roll mentality. To be fair, when one hears the same thing for a quarter of a century one may get tired of the “all talk no action” situation. (I did abstain from sugar for more than 11 months last year)
So…what is a resolution that I can keep? I can vow to exercise more but I love to exercise. I can resolve to keep my desk neat but that would result in a simultaneous eye roll from the entire CCDC staff.
This has been a rough year. We lost some justice warriors this year (Rest in Power). We lived with the stress of wondering if our supports were going to be cruelly yanked away. We experienced the drama of participating in the #SummerofADAPT and the emotional roller coaster as the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (with Medicaid as collateral damage) kept coming back again and again and again. We felt the sadness and empathy for the Dreamers, the people of Puerto Rico and anger at our government’s inadequate responses to both manmade and natural disasters. We felt anger at the unfair targeting of immigrants and regulatory hypocrisy. There are so many other issues, such as the epic disrespect shown to Native Americans with regard to their sacred land, “dog whistle” politics, and living in a country where Nazis feel that they have a place to be open and proud of their hateful drivel.
It is enough to make one want to say “this is all too much” and “my voice won’t count”. Another option is to feel there is so much to do that one must jump into all causes, at all hours, and run from protest to protest. Neither approach is useful.
I was speaking recently with a professional who I deeply admire and she said “where are all the caring Republicans…I am one but where are the rest?” I did not say anything at the time, but as I went home that night I realized that I know many, many caring Republicans. What is going on in our country is not about Democrat versus Republican. It is about right versus wrong-but not in the traditional way.
It is about right versus wrong in terms of how we live our values.
We have a Martin Luther King Jr. poster in our living room that says “The time is always right to do what is right”. Nice quote, but living that is harder than it seems. In a time with so much division, when I feel under personal attack, it is easy to start labeling people, succumbing to the dogma that supports my personal views, and being selective about which values I will live on a daily basis.
Sadly, we are not at the end of the division in our country, nor are we at the end of the threat against all of us who live with disabilities. People of color are not yet safe, let alone equal. People with disabilities and Native Americans continue to suffer from unacceptable poverty. Immigrants are expected to work inside our borders without having any rights and refugees are left to wonder when the stability and safety they may have gained will be yanked away. But this is still a Democracy…and while it is a troubled Democracy it is indeed a Democracy.
So getting back to my resolutions….this year I will focus on two promises that I will make to myself, and make publically to the CCDC membership.
No matter what is going on I will get up every day and do the best I can to act on my values and to “do what is right”. I need not announce what is right nor tell others what is right at full volume. I think most (but not all) people want to do right. I know that I cannot change the minds of our opponents when I am screaming at them (even silently) and if I refuse to leave my own echo chamber. I will be open to the fact that I am not always right (this is a hard one) and that while I can (and will) refuse to change my values, I can still work with people with diverse perspectives and try to make our corner of the world better.
I will continue to honor our Democracy and understand its’ value, as well as to learn from history. I will work hard to be a CITIZEN* rather than a CONSUMER. I have the honor to be a leader of this amazing organization that serves a community that I love. Supporting each and every person with a disability, along with our families and friends to use our power is my goal. I recently heard a great definition of a leader from Jim Sandman, the President, and CEO of the Legal Services Corporation. He said a leader does not speak for those without a voice…because everyone has a voice. A leader must assure that people whose voices are not heard get in front of the audience that they deserve. He heard thisfrom Patty Mullahy Fugere, Executive Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. There are so many voices in our community that are not getting the audience they deserve. I vow to do a better job of listening, and securing the audiences-rather than speaking for others. As a start, CCDC will be doing a listening tour around the state during 2018 to hear the hopes, dreams, and concerns of Colorado residents with disabilities directly from our members. We will also be holding monthly events to spotlight the contributions of citizens* with disabilities and to show the world that we are so much more than consumers.
When all of us act as citizens* and live our values, positive change will become contagious. I believe that most (but not all) people are driven by kindness, not hatred. I think that some of the divisiveness comes from fear based on the myths about “others” (see Dog Whistle Politics) and the scarcity mentality (if you get something it takes away from me) which we know is false. Instead of fuming with anger when I encounter these attitudes, I will try to live in a way that shows how inclusiveness benefits all of us, that there is enough to go around if we so desire. I will try to remember each day that Margaret Mead was right when she said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens*can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”
I will still probably continue to download productivity apps and complain to Lloyd about time management. I will still whine about being too fat while eating too much. My real focus, however, will be on doing what is right and being a good citizen.
*When I use the word CITIZEN I mean a world citizen who believes we are responsible to each other. I do not mean someone with specific documentation or mean to leave out people that do not have documentation.
ADDED NOTE ABOUT CCDC from Dr. Anders, creator of Writing the World, LLC blog:
I first learned about CCDC 20 years ago when dear friend and colleague Carrie Ann Lucas interned there as part of her Master of Divinity at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, USA. Actually, Carrie and I were jail mates and hunger strike buddies in the Iliff student struggle back in 1997 (Curious to know more? Just ask!). Carrie went onto become staff at CCDC. Her experiences there led her to law school. Now she is one of the leading disability rights activists and lawyers in the nation. She currently is running for political office (please support her!). In turn, Carrie introduced me to CCDC and the many magnificent people in this organization and community. I even worked for them for a few years doing access monitoring. I learned much plus enjoyed those professional endeavors.