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Belonging: We All Want to Feel Like We Belong in Spaces That We Help Cultivate

We all want to feel like we belong in spaces that we help cultivate. I am very involved with politics and in the world of advocacy in my state. I want to make a name for myself so people can see what I a person with a disability can accomplish. I want to work and make a mark so that people in powerful positions can see the value and power that people with disabilities possess. I want our leaders to stop ignoring my community. I want elected officials and organizations to open spaces for the disability community so that we can belong.

In my home state of Rhode Island we’ve had many issues with getting our Democratic leaders to take our platform seriously and essentially to make it inclusive to all our residents. Rhode Island is a diverse state with a rich culture with everything from a huge LGBTQ community to people of Latinx, African, and Asian descent, and a growing disabled community. Rhode Island is a state where everyone should feel like they belong, but it has become a bit aggressive to many diverse communities. Even women have felt that they were not heard in the overall political climate, but Rhode Island had a rather impressive and diverse number of women run for office from the municipal level to state level, and we re-elected our Governor Gina Raimondo and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

Like all states, during the year we had many platform meetings to design a Party platform that looked and felt like our state. And like the majority of all states, access to these meetings was not fully taken into consideration. Some of these meetings were held in areas where it was difficult to travel to and lacked public transportation, thus being present at the meeting was not possible and there was not the opportunity to stream it online. Luckily the new President of RI(NOW), Hilary Levey Friedman, streamed Facebook live feeds for all the meetings thus opening participation. Night after night, transparency, abortion, jobs, healthcare and seemed to be the larger discussions. Sometimes we heard LGBTQ needs, housing and education. We heard concerns by some veterans and senior citizens in which they discussed the need for housing because of the number of homeless in our state. One topic however kept being missed, and that was disability issues. As you know, jobs, women's health, universal healthcare, immigration, housing, transportation, education, fairness on economic opportunities, environment, gun violence/public safety all intersect with concerns that the disability community get impacted by everyday, and we need to be acknowledged on all of these issues.

At one of the meetings, our local news man Steve Ahlquist was in the meeting filming live for his news blog and I messaged him and asked him if he could do me a favor and discuss some disability issues that should be addressed in the platform. I clearly laid out the need to have disability priorities in every part of the platform as we are the fastest growing group not just in Rhode Island but worldwide! I am very thankful to Steve for doing me the favor, and in fact after he spoke up, Michael Beauregard, President of the Young Democrats of Rhode Island, also spoke up about including the disabled community and our priorities as it is imperative for the success of our state.

A few months past and on September 18th a post by someone who was helping write the new Party platform. The post said and I quote “Is it perfect? Of course not. For some reason, as I've thought about this the past two days-- since the meeting on Sunday where we voted-- the lines from Hamilton's Non-Stop have floated through my head: "The Constitution's a mess/So it needs amendments/It's full of contradictions/So is independence, we have to start somewhere!" And, so we did. And more.” I knew I was about to read something that I might not like, so I braced myself. I took the attachment and started reading. When I finished, I had to go back because I thought “Is this real life?” I decided to go through the entire document again and imagine my surprise when I saw disability THREE times. Let me be more specific: there were THREE sentences. One sentence in the preamble where it just very quickly mentioned the word, another in the veterans and military families and lastly in the senior citizens sections.

As this sunk in all I could do was cry, as I write this, I still get emotional. I literally spent 10 minutes trying to stop the tears and the anger that was building up inside of me. I have always been a Democrat and I have been proud of it. I hold those values in my heart and in my work because all people, no matter their identity, should live equally and prosper. However, at that moment I did not feel as I belonged in this Party. My political party seemed not to care at least about seeing my community prosper. My anger only got worse when I also noticed the lack of attention also given to the Latinx community especially when it came to education!

So, in my anger, I did write on that post my thoughts, because it sounded like an excuse to not be more thoughtful when writing the platform, especially because it read very exclusionary. I expressed that the platform seemed liked “we were plugged in as an afterthought because oops we forgot this group of people!” I have never felt this left out! The committee members may not have done this intentionally, but in their own ignorance they missed a huge opportunity.

The Constitution's a mess/So it needs amendments/It's full of contradictions/So is independence, we have to start somewhere!" - Hamilton. The platform is not a Constitution, it is the priorities of our Democratic political party. The party that people of all groups and spectrums belong to and feel an idealistic connection too. It shouldn't have contradictions. It needs to be very particular to what the Party wants to achieve. The platform is our goals as a party. It also shouldn’t just be independent, it needs to be inclusive, and it should serve our diverse party!

I am still a Democrat even though I felt a real sense of not belonging to it for a few months. I am now coming to terms that issues like this is what makes me motivated to continue to advocate for the people that our party platform used as an afterthought in our state. I want to be able to help our kids with disability feel empowered so that they can be the voice that is needed in our community. They are our future.

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