I hope this edition of Progressives Everywhere finds you safe and healthy. As a New Yorker, I’m fortunate to report that I’m healthy and hanging in there, even as I enter the fourth week of quarantine inside my apartment. The chaos and human suffering unfolding around the city is beyond tragic, and it’s frustrating that all people can do to help immediately is donate money to hospitals and worker funds (donate to our fundraiser for workers here) and order take-out from struggling restaurants.
While long-time readers will know that I’ve never been a fan of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, I can give him credit for taking charge and executing a plan with focus and something like compassion (we will talk about his proposed Medicaid cuts and refusal to tax the rich later). But the COVID-19 pandemic has made it crystal clear that no level of government is prepared to handle the demand for healthcare or other needs of working people or small businesses. Congress just doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the pandemic — the focus there is still on ego and big corporate handouts. The kind of out-of-control ego and big corporate handouts that wind up exacerbating these problems and killing people.
We need people in government who understand what it is to struggle. We need representatives who are ready to advocate for disadvantaged groups that don’t have big money lobbyists or even the ability to fight for their own causes. We need people like Sara Bitter, an incredible candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives.
I first spoke with Sara before the outbreak really hit the United States, but I don’t think it could be more relevant to what we’re experiencing right now, when so many people are being left to struggle on their own. Sara is a lawyer in Ohio and a mother of two children with developmental disabilities. Instead of practicing law in the courtroom, she’s become a professional advocate for families with special challenges, fighting for policies that will help the millions of people in similar positions live with dignity and be full members of their communities.
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Today is fundraising Friday. (aka my weekly reminder that I need your support!) I got in this race to advocate for people impacted by disability, mental illness and addiction and caregivers. We need new voices in the Statehouse in Columbus. I will work hard for everyone in my district and for all Ohioans. Please consider supporting my campaign with a donation. Here is the link with information on how to donate online or via check: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bitterforbetter #bitterforbetter #nationalcaregiversday
“Through the years, I’ve had to change my entire life, trying to learn how to help [her children], help them navigate systems like healthcare, dealing with insurance and getting to doctors and therapists and how to get them what they needed,” she tells Progressives Everywhere. “And then that moved into education, schooling, making sure they got a good education. And now that they’re getting older, I’ve started to begin to look at other systems like getting employed someday. We have to deal with things like transportation, anything related to going out into the world and living in it. We’ll have to fight for everything.”
While she’s now focusing on the race for Ohio’s 27th district, Bitter works at the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. It’s a long line on a resume, but the job basically involves studying how current systems — healthcare, transportation, education, the job market, aid workers, etc — impact people with disabilities and then developing and advocating for policies that could help ease the burdens of the status quo.
While Bitter’s interest was sparked by her children’s difficulties, her focus is on the broader spectrum of people with disabilities and everyone impacted by them. That includes the elderly, people with physical disabilities, addicts, and mental health patients, as well as their families, caretakers, and anyone else who helps them on a day to day basis. In a state roiled by the opioid crisis and a rising suicide rate (even among teenagers) and governed by Republicans who are set on cutting Medicaid, Bitter stands out — she wants to start a Disability, Mental Health and Addiction Caucus in the State House, giving voice to so many people who don’t have any representation right now.
Everything is scrambled right now, obviously, and no one running for office can really run a traditional campaign. Many candidates aren’t even actively doing digital campaigning, afraid to seem insensitive to what’s happening in the world. And to be clear, it’s my call to feature Sara right now — she didn’t call me up, looking for a boost. But as I’ve written, the coronavirus pandemic is a political crisis and underlines the need for new leadership.
Right now, millions are struggling with kids at home, demanding jobs, and uncertain income, bringing into focus just how hard it can be to exist like that on a daily basis. Sara is already working on fighting for workers and patients amid this calamity, as she told me in an email last week.
“I believe we need (and I am going to push for) more hiring of direct support professionals and professional caregivers who can care for the elderly, especially now,” she wrote. “We (states) need to will need incentives to do this and in order to develop this field. We need to increase wages, increased training (credentialing), give health benefits, pensions, etc. for these workers. This should be a field in the workforce that is respected. I would like to see young people out of high school and college want to work in this field. Oh, and this group of workers also needs collective bargaining rights.”
We can’t stop global emergencies from happening, but we can be far better prepared and protective of our most vulnerable. As we’ve discovered, everything is interconnected — public health crises don’t discriminate. This tweet from New York State Sen. Julia Salazar (who we supported in 2018) really emphasizes that:
I’m at Penn Station right now (only to return to Albany). 90% of people here (probably more) appear to be mentally or physically unwell and destitute. The entire station smells like illness.
Penn Station is the most expensive shelter because we fail to provide permanent homes.
— Julia Salazar (@JuliaCarmel__) March 29, 2020
Sara is running in a very flippable seat, too — Ohio’s 27th House district was decided by less than seven points in 2018, and after running for State Senate herself last cycle, she has a great grasp on campaigning and what’s required to win this time around. But it can only happen with a lot of help, especially now that no one can go knocking or doors or holding public events. I know money is tight right now, but if you can spare anything, it would go a long way in these races.