30 Days of Thanks Day 8 – Dolly (and voting)

Yes, I’ve written about my mother before and you should definitely go read this post about her if you haven’t already. Caroline, or Dolly as she is known to everyone, is the one woman most responsible for me becoming the person I am today. Many people say that about their moms, and they probably mean it with as much sincerity as I do.

I’m choosing to thank my mother again today because it is Election Day here in the United States. Today, FINALLY, we get to vote in one of the most contentious elections I have witnessed in my 43 years. I plan to vote, as I do every year, because I am a firm believer that if you don’t exercise your right to vote, you forfeit your right to complain about the outcome. I have Dolly to thank for my interest in the electoral process, and I don’t know as I have ever publicly acknowledged her role in this aspect of my life.

I learned about voting because I watched my mother vote. My mother, a first generation American, the child of Italian immigrants who moved to upstate New York for a better life, voted every chance she could. Mom voted in all the major national and state races each Election Day, taking me with her in the afternoon to polls located at the Town Hall before we then went to join Dad at the annual Rotary Club Election Day pancake dinner. I always tried to get Mom to tell me who she voted for, but she never revealed her choices.

The ability to cast a private vote is a privilege. I won’t tell you or anyone else how I voted.

So, as a child I never knew how my mother voted although I asked all the time. When she took me with her to the polls, I never accompanied her into the voting booth. Even when she voted on the school budget in the spring, I never went into the booth. I suspect I know how she voted in those elections though.

Never vote against the school budget, Denise. Never vote against better education. 

I don’t know if Mom followed her own advice about the school budgets, because of course she never told me how she voted when I asked. I suspect her status as the parent of six students in our local public school, and her role as an employee of the school district, may have influenced her views on the school budget but I’ve never asked her.

I am a registered voter because as soon as I was 18, the legal voting age, Mom took me down to the Town Hall so I could get the forms to register to vote. Mom parked the car on Main Street so I would not have to walk up the incline from the parking lot behind the bank. She opened the building door open, letting me hold her arm for balance as I crossed the threshold. I don’t remember the conversation with the clerk as we asked for the form, but I could tell from the tone of her voice Mom was proud to be bringing “her baby” to this rite of passage.

I quickly started to fill in the boxes, pausing when the form asked me if I wanted to register for a political party. I had never really thought about whether I would want to affiliate with a political party, and was unsure if I wanted to check the box. Mom tried to give me advice as she looked over my shoulder.

My father always said you register Republican, vote Democrat. You should register Republican.

And just like that, I knew what to do. I checked the box marked Democrat because 18 year old me with an attitude was NOT going to do anything my mother told me to do!

Walking to the car, I asked Mom if she really believed you should register for a party, but vote for the opposite one. Now that I was registered, would I finally gather some insight as to how she voted?

Denise, you know I never tell anyone how I vote! It’s private!

After she retired, Mom signed up to work at the polls on Election Day through the local League of Women Voters. For many years, she worked almost every Election Day, all day, at the polls until her mid-80’s. I was not surprised by her response when I asked her why she decided to volunteer her time to do this.

People fought and died so we could have the right to vote. That privilege is the reason so many people like my parents came to this country. Now I can do my part to help the process.

Thank you Mom, for teaching me the importance of being an engaged citizen. Your example showed me how easy it is to become part of the political process. I know I am involved in advocacy now because I understand the value of my vote.

 

If you are a registered US voter, I hope you exercise your right to vote today. Like Mom, I don’t need to know how you voted – just that you did you part!

 

Redefining Disability Challenge – Question 40

Each Wednesday, I post my response to a question from the Redefining Disability Challenge.¬†This is my response to the fortieth question in the Challenge. As usual, I am not looking ahead to future questions, so I may inadvertently address some topics which will come up later in the Challenge. Here is this week’s question:

Are you involved in any political or social activities related to having a disability? This could be anything from an advocacy group to an informal social gathering to participation in adaptive sports.

I have always been an active advocate for disability rights. I have spoken publicly about disability issues since I was a child, and continue to remain engaged as an adult.

Sadly, one of the ways I remain engaged is overlooked by the majority of Americans with disabilities – the power to vote. In my mind, voting is one of the most important ways we can become involved in the political process. As soon as I was old enough to vote, I registered with the Board of Elections. I vote each year, not just for large national elections.

Because of my current job with a disability organization, I have frequent contact with local elected representatives. I attend rallies and legislative action days with the Consumer Directed Personal Asssistance Association of NYS (CDPAANYS), the statewide membership association for agencies that assist people who use consumer directed personal assistance for their homecare. Through my involvement with CDPAANYS, I have met other advocates from across the state and developed a stronger peer support network.

I encourage other people with disabilities to become involved in advocacy using whatever methods feel comfortable to them. Some people like to write letters or make phone calls. Others like to go visit their elected officials for meetings. A few activists are willing to be arrested to make a political statement.

When you become involved in advocacy, you make it easier for your elected officials to know how issues impact real people – their constituents and people who vote. I know the man who represents my district in the New York State Assembly. I have been to his office at least once a year since he was elected and see him frequently at events. I send him emails when I notice he has supported legislation important to people with disabilities. He has also reached out to me by email to notify me when pieces of legislation have passed. This relationship would not be possible if I were not regularly engaged in advocacy activities.

In addition to my advocacy efforts through my employer, I am involved in activities at a local independent living center, the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV). I have participted in two writing classes hosted by the ILCHV. Not only was I able to practice memoir writing and photojournalism, but I made new friends and developed a deeper understanding of discrimination experienced by those who live with invisible disabilities. I am a stronger advocate due to these relationships.

Nothing makes an impact like a personal story. Hearing an individual’s experience allows us to personalize an issue which may seem abstract. Sure, it sounds great to say all sidewalks should have curb cuts. But when a person tells you they can’t get off their block because the sidewalk does not have a curb cut, the issue changes dimension.

I speak out whenever I can because I am in a position to do so. When I do, I always remember I am exercising my rights because others paved the way for me to do so. I advocate for others who are unable to because keeping quiet would be a wasted opportunity.