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IMPACT

Eight Ways to Be Involved in Politics

By Vicki Gaylord

People with disabilities are a growing force in American politics. For example, during the last Presidential election in 2000 the number of people with disabilities who voted was much larger than in earlier elections, in part because of get-out-the-vote efforts by disability organizations (N.O.D., 2004). Recent laws, such as the Help America Vote Act and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, are also raising awareness of the importance of removing barriers to voting by people with disabilities. And in addition to voting, people with disabilities have long been involved in other types of political action, such as the disability rights and self-advocacy movements, which have changed laws, won court cases, protested, educated, and empowered.

There are many ways for persons with disabilities to be involved in the American political process. If you or someone you know is looking for ideas, here are eight suggestions:

1.
Join a group working on issues that are important to you. There are thousands of groups working on issues important to all Americans. Some examples include these:
 
  • Environmental groups working for clean air and water, wise use of our land and other natural resources, and preservation of wilderness areas.
  • Religious groups advocating for inclusion of their values in public policy.
  • Cultural and ethnic groups working on behalf of the needs of their communities.
  • Social justice groups working to protect the rights of women, people of color, immigrants, people living in poverty, gay and lesbian people, families, children (born and unborn), and people with disabilities.
  • Labor unions working on political issues and campaigns, especially those related to jobs, wages, and working conditions.
  • Self-advocacy groups and disability advocacy groups working to empower persons with disabilities and bring disability issues to the attention of leaders and the public.
  • Neighborhood or community improvement groups working on issues important to the residents of a neighborhood, town or city.
2.
Volunteer to help with a voter registration drive. Many of the groups listed above are also involved in helping as many people as possible get registered to vote and get to voting places. They often need volunteers to work at information tables at community events or go door-to-door helping people get registered to vote.
3.
Volunteer to work on a political candidate’s campaign. All people trying to be elected to public office need volunteers to work on their campaigns. People who are trying to get elected to school boards, city councils, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and those running for President all need people willing to help mail campaign materials to people, distribute lawn signs and fliers to homes, and call people to ask them to vote for the candidate.
4.
Let leaders know your views. When local, state or national leaders are making decisions about issues important to you, let them know how you want them to vote on the issue by writing, phoning, or e-mailing them. You can also share your views at public meetings such as city council meetings and government hearings about issues and laws.
5.
Invite leaders to talk about disability issues. Self-advocacy groups can sponsor public meetings in which people who are running for political office and people who are already in leadership in government are invited to talk about the issues important to people with disabilities.
6.
Participate in protest marches and rallies. When large numbers of people feel strongly about an issue they may gather together to hold a march or rally to make their views known. This happens most often when people want to protest an action taken by the government at the local, state or national level. There are also rallies to support candidates for public office.
7.
Stay informed about issues affecting you and encourage others to stay informed. Staying informed includes attending the debates and speeches by candidates running for public office, listening to or watching news broadcasts, reading newspapers and organization newsletters, attending community meetings about issues, and talking with others.
8.
If you’re eligible to vote, vote! When there are elections, learn about candidates and issues, think about your values and needs, make sure you’re registered to vote and know where to vote, and vote for the candidates who best represent your views.

These are just a few of the ways people with disabilities can participate in the American political process and use their freedom and power as citizens to influence the leadership and laws of this country. What will you do?

References

N.O.D. (2004). Presidential candidates speak out on disability issues. Retrieved 6/30/04 from www.nod.org/election2004.html.

Vicki Gaylord is Publications Coordinator of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She may be reached at 612/624-6347 or gaylo001@umn.edu.

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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota (http://ici.umn.edu). Citation: Gaylord, V., Powers, L., Hayden, M., Smith, J., & Finn, C. (Eds.) (2004). Impact: Feature Issue on Political Activism and Voter Participation by Persons with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities 17(2). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/172/default.html.
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The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/172/default.html.

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