I never set out to try to make history. Six months ago I didn’t even expect to be running for office this year! I’ve worked on plenty of political and advocacy campaigns, usually running the field program,. Running for office is one of those things I thought I might do one day, but I work at a non-profit so I don’t exactly have extra money to dump into a campaign. I also just started a graduate program, another one of those things I had been telling myself I was going to do “one day” and I was finally doing it! Juggling work and classes was challenging enough. How did I decide that now was a good time to throw a campaign into the mix???
Not only do I have a disability, but I work at a Center for Independent Living where I work with other adults with disabilities. The worst days ever are when I have to tell someone, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” A piece of my soul dies every time I have to say that to someone because as a member of the disability community I understand all too well the consequences of those words. I’ve heard them myself. I know the wave of desperation and panic that washes over you when those words are spoken and I see it in the faces of others when I have to say it to them.
“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do,” means there is no source of transportation for you, or I’m sorry you’re about to be homeless, that there’s a 10 year wait list for that service you desperately need, you make slightly too much money for this program but not nearly enough to pay for this really expensive thing that you need to function, you might end up in jail because our criminal justice system wasn’t designed to deal with disability, or you may die before funding for something comes through. I have to say this phrase that feels like I’m issuing a death sentence to someone far more often then I should have to.
I couldn’t continue having to say that to people without trying to do something about it. I have more policy experience than most people I know. I frequently help other campaigns with their talking points and platforms, I help coach other candidates on policy, I’m the person others call on for press conferences, why was I continuing to rely on others to represent my community when that clearly isn’t happening?
Florida has one of the oldest populations in the country, but we rank near the bottom when it comes to accessibility. People are often surprised when they hear that, having lived here the majority of my life I’m not. Florida has absolutely zero disability representation. If I win my race I will be the first person with a disability ever elected to the Florida legislature. Even advisory boards that are supposed to represent the disability community are stacked with “experts” who have never personally experienced disability and parents of a person with a disability. I know some parents who are incredible advocates for their kids and I’m in no way saying that parents shouldn’t occupy some space at the table, but there are more than enough members of the disability community who are more than capable of speaking for themselves. Stacking advisory boards in this manner and leaving the disability community without a voice has lead to paternalistic policies and left Florida with some of the longest waiver wait lists in the country.
When Greg Steube announced he was vacating the State Senate District 23 seat to run for Congress earlier this year, my opponent, Joe Gruters, quickly filed to take his place. After a couple of months had passed and no one on Team Blue had filed to run yet I inquired with our local DEC Chair if anyone had expressed any interest in running. I was asking out of curiosity because I couldn’t believe in the year of the Blue Wave that someone wasn’t going to at least try. The response I got back was, “Are you interested?”
Was I interested??? This had to be a joke right?! I couldn’t run for State Senate! I wasn’t qualified for this!… Was I? Well, actually...I was, I am. Nobody else was volunteering to do it. If not me, then who? I wasn’t striving to make history. I started this journey to ensure that my government is doing what it is supposed to do; protect its people. All of them. Right now it’s doing a pretty lousy job at that.
So, here I am running a campaign I never expected to be running for a seat that wasn’t supposed to be open in a race I know many don’t expect me to win. This actually couldn’t be more perfect. I wasn’t expected to leave the hospital after I was born. My grandparents were told to put me in an institution because doctors believed I would never have any quality of life. I definitely wasn’t supposed to be self-sufficient, have the capacity to learn, or the ability to live on my own. I was already taking college classes in high school. I currently live with my boyfriend, but moved in with him from my apartment where I lived by myself. I went skydiving on my 40th birthday and swimming with dolphins in Playa del Carmen last Christmas. All of these things were supposedly things I would never do. What’s one more impossible task?
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