People have many associations with this time of year – generosity, family, tradition, faith, flying reindeer. One thing I believe the season encompassing Thanksgiving to the New Year can highlight for us is what it means to be an American. Here’s why I think that is true.
Thanksgiving is a time to remember to be grateful for all our many blessings. Amid the hubbub of daily life, we can take for granted the opportunities and freedoms we have in this country. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remember that whoever we are and whatever our life situation is, we do enjoy fortune many people in the world might dream of. The traditions associated with Thanksgiving can also remind us that the history of our country includes the exploitation of others, including the native nations that preceded the Europeans to this land. This should continue to be a cautionary tale.
Christmas is another season of gratitude and giving. During this same time of the year, we could be celebrating Hanukah, Winter Solstice or Kwanza. One of the core values of the United States is the freedom to celebrate and practice the religion of one’s choice, and December seems to hold a lion’s share of holidays to reflect that.
The New Year represents a fresh start, the hope of new beginnings that we share with the millions of immigrants who have come to our country for the opportunities it promises. Most of us are the decedents of those immigrants.
I think what these holidays all can represent are the civil liberties that we are promised in our Constitution and subsequent laws and court rulings. Civil liberties are the basic rights that are guaranteed to us as American citizens. They are a large part of what makes us proud to be an American.
Throughout our national history, Americans have also struggled with how we assure civil rights to all. Civil rights are related to civil liberties, but are slightly different. While civil liberties encompass the basic rights we are promised, civil rights ensure that we all have equal access to them, regardless of our race, gender, disability or other protected characteristic.
Access to basic freedoms is still not experienced by many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Depending on where they live and the severity of their disability, some adults with IDD are routinely denied the right to vote, the right to marry, freedom from seizure of personal possessions and basic liberty.
Fortunately, many people with and without IDD are engaged in the fight to secure civil rights for all people with disabilities. One organization of those civil rights warriors is Disability Law Colorado.
Representatives from Disability Law Colorado will be in Durango from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Durango Public Library, where they will host a discussion on “Inclusion as a Civil Right.” We invite all community members to celebrate the season by learning more about how we can all support fellow Americans to exercise the civil liberties that truly make us great.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.