I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot on my mind moving into July.
First, we are celebrating Disability Pride Month: July 26 will mark the 31st Anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We celebrate because organizers with a range of disabilities and conditions fought and won real progress: “Under that transformative law, schools and workplaces are now required to have ramps, elevators, designated parking spots and curb cuts, and to provide accommodations for people with a range of disabilities, including those who are blind or deaf.”
But the ADA was a chapter, not an ending. Many Americans just celebrated Independence Day, but independence is still blocked for many by inaccessible public transit, insecure and inaccessible housing, intersecting violence against people of color and people with disabilities, and more. Universal design gives us principles for much greater access beyond the base requirements in the ADA—but too many spaces aren’t even ADA compliant, let alone designed for universal accessibility.
Second, I’m thinking about the heat. Portland, OR reached 116 degrees last week as the US and Canada face record breaking heatwaves. Unfortunately, we’re going to keep breaking these records. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez observed in front of the White House with protesters from the Sunrise Movement: “What a lot of folks here in D.C. don’t understand is that while this may be the hottest Summer of their lives, it’s going to be one of the coolest Summers of OUR lives.” Of course, she’s right. News also just broke that the EPA has underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas production by as much as 76 percent.
Third: I also can’t help but think about evictions. Evictions and housing instability were already a crisis before the pandemic. We know that disability intersects with race, gender, and other marginalized identities strongly when it comes to evictions. So what happens when the CDC’s eviction moratorium is about to expire at the end of July?
Seven million Americans still owe back rent. Many with disabilities. Many people of color in Environmental Justice communities. Many who will have few places to shelter from 116 degree heat.
I don’t have any simple ways to wrap up everything on my mind. Just as human needs are connected, our fights to meet them must be. But in the face of such huge challenges, I don’t have great answers. Mostly I just have more questions.
As the climate clock ticks, how do we keep momentum going on multiple fronts? Fighting for disability justice and affordable housing, while also fighting to kick carbon out of our buildings and economy?
How do these evictions and economic instability affect our ability to decarbonize? How do we take dramatic action cutting carbon from our buildings and our economy, while also recognizing that millions of Americans are more worried about having a home than having a heat pump?
Facing these injustices, how do we maintain our commitment to intersectionality as a coalition?
Maybe some of you have answers or better questions. I hope you’ll reach out and share a reflection for a future newsletter. Marnese, Margaret, and I certainly don’t have all the answers.
For now, I want to end on something helpful and concrete. Over 300,000 people in Illinois are having debt-based driver’s license suspensions cleared from their records this month. This comes after over 5 years of advocacy by a broad coalition. Before joining Fresh Energy and the Midwest BDC, I was part of the coalition that supported this campaign, and it is a huge win for mobility, employment opportunities, and equity.
If we want heat pump installation jobs, green construction jobs, or energy efficiency retrofit opportunities to benefit the most disinvested communities, people need reliable transportation to and from all the locations where we do renewable energy and building decarbonization work. And if we want a sustainable future for every body, we need multiple mobility options that are as accessible as possible.
Reinstated driver’s licenses don’t solve our problems. But they’re a victory—an intersectional victory that particularly benefits people who are marginalized in multiple ways. And like the passage of the ADA, I hope it’s one more reminder to fight for each other, to celebrate our milestones, but never settle for them.