By Maria Town, AAPD President & CEO
Today is a solemn day as America and the world reflect on the violent, anti-democratic actions that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021. The forces behind the January 6th insurrection represent some of the most evil tendencies in American life.
It is not a mistake that these forces drove an assault on our democracy. More people than ever voted in the 2020 election, with more than 158.4 million people turning out to cast a ballot during a global pandemic. This increase in voter participation is thanks in large part to the organizing efforts of diverse communities asserting their right to participate in American democracy. There was a 6 percentage point increase in the turnout among voters with disabilities in 2020 compared to 2016, which translated to an additional 1.7 million votes from the disability community. The historic violent attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election was driven by people who view diverse coalitions increasing access to the ballot as a direct threat to their own power.
Although this assault on our democracy failed, the threat it posed persists. It is critical to recognize the weight and threat of this moment.
The disability community intersects with every other voting bloc: gender, race, nationality, and of course, partisan affiliation and political ideology. The disability vote is evenly split between Democratic and Republican parties. Our interest in maintaining access to the vote for disabled people is not out of allegiance or antipathy to any particular party or politician. Rather, it reflects our commitment to democratic government, the survival of which is integral to the rights and well-being of our community.
We must remain resolute in our community-wide rejection of the actions and the spirit of what took place on January 6th, 2021. That’s why I wanted to share three things I think we as a community can do together in the year ahead to keep protecting democracy:
1. Reject Attempts to Use Disability to Explain Insurrectionist Actions
Over the last year, several of the insurrectionists have attempted to evade accountability for their criminal actions by citing disability diagnoses. On behalf of the disability community, AAPD rejects these attempts and calls for these individuals to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Let me be perfectly clear: having a disability diagnosis does not lead someone to violently attempt to overturn a democratic election. Weaponizing stigma against disabled people to avoid accountability for such heinous acts is unacceptable. We do not believe that disability should be used to minimize the culpability of those who attacked our democracy on January 6th.
2. Don’t Limit Our View to Only That Day
January 6th was a terrible day, where unthinkable actions took place. Worse still, it was not an isolated incident. It is easy to condemn specific violent acts on a specific day. It can at times feel harder to articulate and address the broader political environment which enabled those specific, violent acts. In recent years, people with disabilities have been one of many marginalized groups concerned by a growing climate of intolerance.
People of color, women and gender-nonconforming persons, the LGBTQ community, Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities, and many other groups have been subject to hateful and often criminal acts designed to discourage their rightful participation in American political life. Individuals who are multiply marginalized experience compounding voter suppression efforts that make casting a ballot require a herculean effort. A recent research from the Election Assistance Commission and Rutgers University found that Black disabled voters experienced wait times at polling places more than twice that of white voters with disabilities.
As an organization, AAPD is committed to monitoring threats to inclusive democracy. We will continue to fight attacks on our democracy, whether they come in the form of violent insurrection or bans on curbside voting in Alabama or efforts to restrict voter assistance in Montana. We are profoundly concerned by the close to 500 bills to restrict voting access that have been introduced since the 2020 election. And, this is why our team, along with the disability organizations and advocates in our REV UP Network, are dedicated to increasing voter access in the 2022 midterm elections. We also continue to urge the Senate to advance the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and to amend and pass the Freedom to Vote Act before the 2022 midterm elections. Such efforts need not be partisan – they simply protect the fundamental rights of all Americans.
3. Stay Engaged in Civil Society
Civic engagement extends far beyond the act of voting. A society that excludes disabled people from the broader community cannot sustain a truly inclusive democracy. In recent months, the disability community and our allies have fought for expanded access to home and community-based services. These supports are vital for keeping members of our community free and included in all aspects of American life. That effort has been characterized by unprecedented collaboration with the labor and gender justice movements. Our shared advocacy efforts to increase wages, enhance employment benefits, and improve quality of life for children and families will ultimately support the creation of a democracy that works for every American. I want to bring more of that energy into the year ahead.
Building lasting, meaningful relationships, built on the recognition of our shared mutuality, is a joyful act – one that safeguards and sustains our democracy. In the coming year, I hope you will join AAPD for an event, protest, community conversation, or policy action as a sign of our shared commitment to staying engaged in civil society together.