Life of Pi
is currently showing in local theaters, and receiving great reviews from movie critics. While I have not had an opportunity to view the movie yet, I understand that it is a story of a young boy and a tiger that end up being stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. The previews show the natural tension between the beast and the boy, and it appears that they end up getting along in order to assure their mutual survival.
That story line could represent many other situations in the world around us, starting at the top with the political differences that divide our country during election seasons but need to be set aside in order to make progress. Many of us are watching closely as the January deadline approaches for the President and Congress to eliminate the threat of the "fiscal cliff" so that a worldwide recession can be avoided. Hopefully they will come to their senses soon and realize that we are all in this "boat" together.
While the situation is out of our individual control, thousands of people are contacting their elected representatives each day to encourage them to set aside their differences in favor of what is good for the country and those who voted them into office. Those callers know that their individual phone calls, emails and faxes may not even be acknowledged, but they also know that the overall impact of their contacts may convince policymakers that it is time to work together. Their collective voices create an uproar that cannot be ignored, as the "squeaky wheel" gets the attention when it comes to Congress and the issues that matter to us.
People with disabilities have used the squeaky wheel approach with great success for the past few decades. That sometimes required being controversial in a manner that would attract media attention, and at other times it was simply a matter of besieging policy makers to increase their understanding of why our issues are important, using the normal channels for contacts. When a face-to-face approach is possible, or preferable, we have descended on the halls of Congress in large numbers after having marched through the streets of the nation's capital, or state capitols if state-specific laws or issues were involved.
The past few weeks have seen people with disabilities throughout the United States rallying to convince their elected officials that it was important to ratify an important treaty that provides protection for the rights of people with disabilities throughout the world. This was not a treaty that was devised by outside interests, but instead it was a document that was developed and drafted by the leadership of the U.S. disability community in concert with disability rights leaders worldwide. It is a treaty that builds upon the concept of our own Americans with Disabilities Act
that was drafted and passed by the same U.S. Senate in 1990.
On December 4, 2012 the Senate f
ailed to ratify the treaty, the U.N. Convention On The Rights Of People With Disabilities
, by the necessary 2/3 majority vote, so the issue is off the table for now.
In retrospect, I believe that the defeat of the vote to ratify the CRPD in the Senate was simply an exercise by conservative republicans to determine if they would be able to rally enough members for future defeat of whatever proposal might be put forward by the president to solve the country's budget conundrum or other crises. After all, if they could stop the ratification process in this instance it should be a slam dunk if future issues up for vote are actually controversial. Unfortunately, if this is an indication of what lies ahead during the next four years, our country will be the loser.
While defeat of the CRPD will not mean the end of any civil rights for people with disabilities in the United States, it sends a very unfortunate message to the rest of the world that this landmark law that we helped develop in order to establish and preserve their rights is not worthy of ratification by the leaders of our own country. I hope that those other countries that are still considering whether or not to ratify the CRPD will not fail to do so just because of the unfortunate example that was set in the U.S. Senate this week.
This "boat" that we live in no longer contains just those of us in the U.S. It has grown to the point that it must hold those throughout the world who share similar characteristics and needs. We need to continue recognizing and trying to meet those needs as we move forward, so hopefully what happened this week is simply a speed bump on the way to a better future.
© 2012 Michael Collins