Ethan Ellis - Able NewspaperBY ETHAN ELLIS

My folks taught me to partici­pate in democracy and social change. If something harmed average Americans, I was obligated to help fix it.

That’s what they did. That’s what they expected me to do. My disability was no excuse. It just gave me more to fix. So I became an activist for poor people and people with disabilities.

We organized letter writing campaigns, Congressional visits, rallies, marches. They worked in the 1960s and 1970s: Johnson’s War on Poverty reduced the percentage of poor people from 25 percent to 15 percent.

We passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Title 9, Section 504 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act; started Independent Living Centers; and got Congress to fund many other programs people needed.

Then Reagan got elected and tried to undo all we had done. He tried to cut social spending in half and gut the rights legislation justifying it. When he could cut programs, he gave the money to the rich and corporations as tax breaks.

Almost every president since did it, too, cutting programs and giving the money to the rich and corporations. No dummies, they used some to elect Congresses that passed laws that made them even richer. Now they have the best government money can buy. It still takes money to run it, so Congress raised taxes on the poor and middle class and cut more services.

Now we have even less say. Two economists ­ Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern­ studied how much less. Using 1,779 surveys of what five different groups wanted, they compared that with what each group actually got.

The groups were the rich ­ the top 10 percent, the middle class ­ those at 50 percent and the poor­below 20 percent, advocacy groups and big corporations.

The rich and corporations got 48 percent of what they wanted. The poor and middle class only got what they wanted if the rich and the corporations wanted it, too. Otherwise they had no impact on publice policy. None.

Neither did their advocacy groups. Those letters, calls and visits to Congress, those rallies and marches no longer worked. If the rich and the corporations said no, it was No.

Public opinion didn’t matter, either. Approximately 80 percent of Americans favored ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but they continued because you can make money in war if you own or run a corporation. More wanted the rich and corporations to pay at least the same percentage of taxes we do. Didn’t happen.

What did? 25 percent of Americans are poor again ­ 27 million of them have disabilities and 20 percent of all children are poor. Yet Congress cut food stamps, which all three need to stay alive.

45,000 people die annually from lack of medical care ­ some my friends and some yours. Countless others can’t find doctors who take Medicaid. Only 4.4 million people with severe disabilities work full­time all year. And on and on after all the tears are gone and only anger remains.

This can’t happen in the world’s richest democracy, you say. You’re right. We no longer have one. We don’t count and won’t until our anger turns to action. God, keep me alive until mine can be put to use.

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