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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Invisible Voter

Dear Bernie,
I chose you to take my campaign-speech-rally-virginity. Being a first timer I didn't know what to expect but I was excited. I had been vaguely following your slow ascent from a Vermont Senator to a serious contender in this election. I had listened to some of your speeches and I knew that many of your policies agreed with my moral compass. After also vaguely following Trump's shenanigans I'd decided if any election needs my vote it's the one coming up. So, when I heard about your rally at the Key Arena on March 20th I decided to go just for the hell of it. If I was going to continue to get behind your campaign I wanted to be as well informed as possible.

Now before I get too far let me just say this: I've never truly despised having a disability but I frequently despise this country's (world's) way of making me feel unwanted and non-existent. For example: if everything in the world didn't have stairs that would make huge strides in making me feel less disabled. But society has never had people like me in mind and that needs to change.

The doors to the rally were going to open at 12pm and everyone online was saying to get there really early to get a spot. My prematurely old joints hate the cold but I put on my big girl panties, wrapped myself up in my poncho/blankets, and arrived at the Key Arena at 10am. I wasn't surprised when I got there and it took the staff hosting the event about 5 minutes to figure out where I needed to go. I wasn't irritated at that moment. I've been in a wheelchair since the age of 2, I know how life works. I needed to go around to the other side of the arena. I've spent many summers walking the grounds of the Key Arena so I knew my way around. I wanted to go straight through the middle but the staff wouldn't let me. I told them my hands were getting cold so it would be difficult for me to roll all the way around the arena to get to the proper side but they insisted. This is when I started to get perturbed but alas I acquiesced and went around because there's too many battles in my life for me to fight every one.

At the back of the line of about 100 people there was another woman in wheelchair. Immediately, we discussed the issue the staffers had figuring out where to put us. We joked that events never know what to do with us because people with disabilities aren't supposed to leave the house. I laughed but you know how they say part of every joke contains some truth? Well, I felt the truth of that joke dampen my spirits a bit, the way the rain was dampening my face but I tried to ignore it because I truly was excited to be there. Eventually, a staff member that had some sort of clue pulled everyone with a disability out of the main line and put us in the “A.D.A.” line. The purpose of this being that when things got going we would get to go in first.

Meanwhile, the rally was getting closer and one could feel the belief in you, Bernie, in the misty Seattle spring air. It was cold but hearing you speak was going to be worth it. Seeing everyone my age and younger supporting you was worth it. The bomb squad came with their dogs and gave the arena a go ahead. And after endless hours they told everyone in the A.D.A line to go stand by the entrance. It was time and I was feeling alive. I was feeling the Bern.

But as an after-thought, because let's face it if you're not able-bodied you're an after-thought to society, the Secret Service realized those of us in wheelchairs couldn't get through the metal detectors and bomb dogs would need to be used for us. Now I don't care that they had to use a bomb dog for us. What I care about was the piss poor planning surrounding the event. As opposed to doing the diplomatic thing which would have been to make everyone wait, they made everyone in the accessible line (some of your most fragile people) wait outside an extra 45 minutes. Secret Service let at least 300 people through while those of us with disabilities waited for the bomb dog to come back.

The sad thing is I'm totally used to being treated like a second rate citizen. I've spent my entire life taking the back entrances into buildings. Getting seated next to the kitchen doors at restaurants. Having retail people ignore me when I'm shopping. I accept it because it's my life. But this stunt from the Secret Service was the last straw. I was exhausted, cold, and angry to the point that I felt tears prickling my eyes. I debated with myself whether or not I should have gone home, since my presence was clearly unwelcomed. But, ultimately I stayed because I believed you would say something in your speech that made everything worth it.

Flash forward to 5 hours ahead and you walked on to the stage. I felt my heart pick back up after a long day of disappointment. Thousand of people cheered as you talked about Black Lives Matter, LGBT rights, every ethnicity, women's rights, and every other group of people. I loved everything you said but guess what, Bernie?

You forgot about people like me. Essentially, you forgot about millions of potential voters that are waiting for one person to hear their complaints. Sure, you spent two minutes of your speech to mention the elderly, disabled veterans, and Social Security. You didn't mention the millions of people like me who are born disabled or become disabled for reasons other than war and age. You didn't mention that in most states people like me can't get enough caregiver hours to be independent of our families. You forgot to say that people like me are forced to live off the government or be super rich because that the only way we get the services we need. And lastly, you never said that people like me typically have to choose between marrying the loves' of their lives or having someone besides their partners get them out of bed and shower them. You would almost think that the millions of people that are like me don't exist.

Now Bernie, I believe in the things you believe in. All I'm asking is that you mention people with disabilities and the issues they face more extensively in your campaign speech. That maybe if people in the media actually talked about us there wouldn't be so many disability issues like the ones surrounding your event which I do realize were out of your control.

I'm just done feeling invisible. I am a person with a disability before I am half black or a woman because that is the identifying factor that impacts my life the most. And I expect to be recognized because the last time I checked my name on the election ballot is not stamped in invisible ink. Or is it?


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