New group offers ICS members and friends a forum for discussion and action
Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Meade
At ICS we are big believers in the power of community. We know that a small group of people who care about issues can effect great change. We have seen this first hand – our roots are in the disability rights community. Some of our staff leaders are people who participated in sit-ins and protests over the past 50 years to gain civil rights for people with disabilities.
Other members of the ICS community – members and staff – have fought successfully for accessibility in public settings, sued the city of New York for equal access to essential services, and successfully advocated for change right here at ICS. At the same time, we have members who are mad as heck about things they experience as people with disabilities, or worried about what the future may bring, and who do not know what to do or where to go to get their concerns addressed. Hearing this, we wanted to help!
On October 7 ICS members convened the first meeting of the Civics League for Disability Rights. The name is an homage to a group of New Yorkers with disabilities who fought for – and won – access to federal jobs created during the Great Depression. They called themselves the League of the Physically Handicapped.
About 20 people of all ages and ability showed up to the first Civics League meeting. Many are folks with a history of participating in activism and advocacy. These advocates shared ideas and resources and helped educate the rest of the group about actions currently underway on important issues like housing, benefits and transportation.
They shared information on how and when to register to vote – the deadline in New York is tomorrow and you can register on line here – how to find your polling place, and how to vote by mail, which anyone with a disability is entitled to do in New York.
Folks who attended raised a lot of issues – some of them long time problems (We are talking about you, Access-a-Ride!) and others that are emerging, for example, how marriage equality becoming the law of the land has affected same sex couples with disabilities and their benefits.
It looks like the Civics League will help grow new activists while supporting and reigniting the passion of people who have been taking action for years. Knowing there is strength in numbers, league members plan to build a coalition that can organize and act quickly when issues come up that impact their community. They also plan to share knowledge, build expertise and provide support for those out there advocating for causes the group believes in. This will not be an easy task. Advocacy is a long term process. Change takes time and advocates have to be patient, vigilant and persistent to be successful.
Longtime advocates know that you may take several steps forward and a few steps back on the path to victory. In a recent commencement address, President Obama encouraged Howard University Graduates to be change agents and shared just how long change can take.
The President talked about the idea that in a democracy change rarely happens all at one time. He suggested we accept each step towards our bigger goal as a step in the right direction, one that improves our negotiating position and our strength as we continue to move towards our ultimate goal. The Civics League will need to hold to that principle.
Join the Civics League!
Civics League meetings will take place monthly, hosted at the ICS Brooklyn Member Center. The next meeting is Friday, November 4, from 2 to 4 pm. Everyone is welcome. You do not need to be an ICS member to be part of the Civics League.
The November 4 meeting will begin with a basic primer on how to be an advocate, including finding out who has the decision making power to effect a change and how you can communicate with those decision makers. League members will also share information on how government works, ways to reach out to and educate your elected officials, and maybe even how to run for office.
Why engage in a long term fight that may take a lot out of you? As the great Margaret Meade said, it is the only thing that has ever changed anything. Every achievement in the world of disability rights was prompted by a small group of people demanding change to improve their lives.
Without the advocates who came before us, today it would be perfectly acceptable to have people with disabilities living in nursing homes with no access to schools, work, or places people gather to enjoy themselves. Today people with disabilities have the right under the law to live in their communities, as they see fit, but it is only because of advocates who have fought long and hard that these laws are implemented or enforced – however imperfectly.
Advocates like our Civics League members and other small groups of concerned citizens all over this country are the antidote to seeing the rights of people with disabilities slowly eroded over time. Your voice, your story, your passion is needed.
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