This week, our Great Nation witnessed a pivotal election. Our choice was largely between two imperfect candidates, as all candidates are, but this election cycle was more divisive and contentious than any I have seen. This election has left me in melancholic fear. My fear is not for myself, but for my daughter. You see, my daughter has a disability. My daughter has Down syndrome. And after witnessing the behavior of our President-elect over the past year, and that of his hoards of supporters, I fear the future holds challenging times for my daughter and our family.
October was Down Syndrome Awareness Month (#DSAM). Some in the disability community suggest awareness is not enough, and I agree. Others criticize the dependence on “inspiration porn” and the praise lavished upon people who make people with disabilities (PWDs) into helpless victims while making themselves appear saintly. Again, this criticism is valid.
Don’t misunderstand me. My daughter is adorable, and I am so proud of her. However, society has an arbitrary focus on esthetics. Awareness campaigns make me worry about the day society no longer views her as cute or cuddly. I worry that her inherent worth as a human being will depend on her physiology, but she, like all children, like all people, is so much more than cute.
She is human and deserves a good life. She is not broken. She does not need to be “fixed”. She is whole. She is worthy of respect, kindness, and love.
And so I advocate. I advocate for legislation at the state and federal levels. I advocate for legislation that helps her and others with Down syndrome meet their potential. And if her reality does not match my hope for her independent future, I want to ensure the safety net she might require exists.
Advocacy requires an eye on the long view. It is not a sprint, but a marathon. I receive no financial gain for my advocacy efforts, but something infinitely more valuable. I help give my daughter a shot at an independent future. I show her how to raise her voice, so when she is older, she’ll raise her own. I help make our nation great. Every. Single. Day.
Advocating is not a guarantee.
It’s a chance. It’s a lifeboat. It’s hope.
This is why the election was so personal to me. Our nation selected a candidate with no disability platform even though twenty percent of our nation’s population has a disability. We elected an imperfect candidate, apparently with the hope that he’d be able to do something different. We elected a mirage.
When a person demonstrates bigotry, he shows us his heart. When an elected official does it, usually, there is backlash. Instead, the public seems to have given itself permission to follow his lead. This does not result in a more loving and accepting world, but one where bullying and hate becomes accepted, tolerated, venerated. This does not reduce prejudice, but increases it. This public permission to be unkind and, frankly, un-American, frightens me, as much as the potential political damage.
The amount of damage done in the next four years depends, in large part, on you. On me. On us all.
So, I have cried enough. I have said my piece. I will make my peace. I will not let fear and despair win. I will love and accept and advocate and continue to work to make America, our America, great. I will work to make it a loving and accepting place. And I will wear my safety pin. I will show others that I am a safe space. I will help hold us together, but I cannot do it alone. None of us can.
Good luck, Mr. President-Elect. Our nation needs you to be more, and better, than a mirage.