As we again celebrate our nation’s birth and the beginning of our struggle against British rule, we are also once again confronted with the ongoing struggles of our nation to become that “more perfect union.”
Given the current unrest rocking our country, we are again confronted with our shameful legacy of slavery and the continuing struggles of Black Americans to achieve the full measures of equality. We are reminded that American women weren’t allowed to vote until 1920. We are reminded that an untold number of treaties with Native Americans were violated as their lands and cultures were systematically and violently dismantled. And it is hard not to be reminded that people with disabilities still face discrimination when a person with a disability is openly mocked by the president and a cheering crowd.
As much as we have struggled however, we have made progress, and there are two upcoming important anniversaries that commemorate that progress.
First, Community Options and people with disabilities celebrate the 30th anniversary of President George H. W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. The law was then updated, amended, and signed by President George W. Bush on Sept. 25, 2008.
This landmark civil rights legislation prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in all aspects of their lives, and while it obviously hasn’t changed the hearts and minds of all Americans, it represents a profound statement that people with disabilities should be treated with dignity and respect, and that they have all the rights and responsibilities of every other citizen.
The second cause for celebration comes Aug. 18, with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of women’s suffrage via the 19th Amendment. It is hard to imagine a time when women couldn’t vote, but then again, there are many things in our history that are hard to imagine, and which took many years of evolution (and sometimes revolution) to change.
A quick history of voting rights shows that the 15th Amendment, ratified on Feb. 3, 1870, gave Black men the right to vote, while Native Americans couldn’t vote until the Indian Citizenship Act was signed by President Coolidge on June 2, 1924, although some states denied that right until 1957.
This foundational tenet of our democracy was a long time coming for many people, and still needs protection as demonstrated by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Our nation has struggled in fits and starts to truly embrace and implement independence and equality for all, and as we celebrate our successes and freedoms this Independence Day, I also encourage us to reflect on the work we still have before us. That is what the current times demand.
Tom Turner is the executive director of Community Options