By Contributor on February 05, 2013

By Mike Ervin

The recent announcement of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, that he will not seek re-election in 2014 is very bad news for Americans with disabilities.

Harkin has been a genuine champion for disabled people. He was a primary Senate sponsor of, and a galvanizing force behind, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), even though he was in his first term in the Senate at the time.

Later, after conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts issued a series of rulings gutting the ADA, Harkin sponsored the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. This law clarified the meaning of the ADA and restored much of its strength.

As chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Harkin has pushed hard for funding to fulfill the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees a free and appropriate public education for children with disabilities.

He has also worked hard to bring about changes in federal laws and policies that make it easier for people with disabilities to live in community settings rather than in nursing homes and institutions. Harkin has always had someone on his staff who works on disability issues.

Part of Harkin’s passion for advancing the lives of people with disabilities came from witnessing the struggles of his late brother Frank, who became deaf as a child and was sent away from the family home to the Iowa School for the Deaf. In a 2009 speech on the Senate floor, Harkin said of his brother,

“I saw how many times he was discriminated against, whether it was getting a driver’s license, so many things he was told he couldn’t do because he was deaf,” Harkin said. “Why did he have to fight so hard for all of this? Why did he have to struggle so much just to get people to accept him for what he was and who he was and not just to look at the fact that he was a deaf man, but that he was a person of great capabilities?”

The last 30 years have been a time of historic positive change for American with disabilities, and Harkin, more than anyone else in Congress, has made that possible.

At a time when Americans have such an overwhelmingly negative opinion of Congress, Harkin restores our faith that at least some can still rise above pettiness and timidity and fight for justice.

Disabled Americans owe Tom Harkin an enormous debt of gratitude. There will never be another like him.

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT (www.adapt.org). He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

 

Section: 

Topics: 

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

More

I’m at my third American Exchange Legislative Council (ALEC) conference, this time in Dallas, and on my first day,...

The conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued decisions today upholding the state’s controversial...

A new report by Human Rights Watch and the Columbia Law School focuses on the dubiousness of federal terrorism sting...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project

Newsletter

Get Breaking News and Alerts!