Newsed Civil Rights Award --Speeches
One of our long time Community Leaders and Public Policy Advocate, Mark Simon was recently given the Newsed Civil Rights Award; CCDC's Executive Director, Julie Reiskin had the privilege to present him this award:
It is my great honor to present this civil rights award to my friend and colleague Mark Simon.
Mark has worked for decades to make life better for people with disabilities. Mark has been at the forefront of many legislative efforts. He ran the first disability advisory council for Governor Romer and has held other gubernatorial and presidential appointments since.
He helped state agencies create their transition plans after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. Mark has amassed so much respect under the dome that when his service dog passed away there was a Senate memorial for the dog.
Mark has a list of legislative accomplishments too great to mention---but I will mention a few of his favorites. Mark rewrote the disability parking statute several times---an issue that might appear insignificant until you are the person that cannot get into the store, your apartment building, the restaurant, the state Capitol, etc…. Then it is a big deal. Mark also authored the State version of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Finally, Mark created a program allowing the state to sell unique valued license plates to raise money for disability run programs, such as application assistance programs. A similar program in Texas raised $50 million.
Despite the significant legislative victories and respect he has earned --Mark’s advocacy prowess is not limited to the dome. Mark is involved with numerous public policy issues. At the request of the Senate President he served on the famous (or infamous) 208 commission, he was one of two people not paid to be there. He served at the request of Senator Carroll he served on the legislative workers compensation reform committee. He also has made it possible for many young people with disabilities to experience hunting, made state parks and fishing open to people with disabilities and has helped dozens of businesses comply with the law so they could avoid litigation. He also served as a volunteer with his local rural fire department and has been actively involved in serving his local community in the mountains.
Mark says he does not do individual advocacy, but people call him all of the time for help with problems with Medicaid, social security, special needs trusts, issues with landlords over disabled parking, and much much more. He holds the record for getting someone on social security benefits in just a few days. When his brother got cancer Mark figured out the one place with pioneering treatment, advocated for his brother to get this treatment through Medicaid and went with his brother on the journey to get the treatment. He saved not just the leg but the life of his brother. I could tell a hundred stories about Mark going out on a limb for people. Mark is one of the most loyal people I know. He makes friends easily. Even those that are on the other side of his advocacy become his friends because anyone can see behind the fierce advocate is someone that passionately cares about justice, combatting discrimination and making sure the most vulnerable have their basic human needs met. He is a strong believer in leaving no one behind and assuring that public policies protect civil rights for all.
Mark is also an encourager. Originally he was the only person with a disability at the Capitol. As more people with disabilities got involved, Mark was always eager to show new people around and orient them. Mark has mentored many of today’s leaders of the disability rights movement---he has taught our advocacy class on engagement with the political process. So many people are reluctant until they hear Mark—he puts people at ease with doing something new—whether that is joining a board or committee, testifying on a bill, or going hunting. His supportive enthusiasm is a great antidote for what disenfranchised people so often face when we dare to move in certain circles—such as government involvement . It is well known that most disabled activists involved in state level public policy have been positively influenced by Mark in some way.
Some people get involved for a defined period of time, maybe they get a political appointment after doing some campaign work, or get involved with a ballot initiative or neighborhood group. All of these things are good but what makes Mark unique and so deserving of this award is that he has not just gotten involved in an issue, rather he has dedicated his life to justice ---not for money, not for recognition, but because it is the right thing to do.
I am pleased to have been nominated and selected to receive such a prestigious award. It is an honor to be counted among those distinguished folks who have received it before me.
With persistence, determination and patience one can move a mountain with a teaspoon. A little OCD doesn’t hurt either. What is an advocate? I believe it is someone who always put the best interests of those they represent first, regardless the potential negative impacts on themselves. They will use all tools available to them they ethically can to help those they claim to represent, as, such is my case, given the issues I work on, representing the most vulnerable and most discriminated against in our society, should I fail people literally can die, or lose their freedom for nothing more than the crime of being disabled!
In doing what we do, we build good allies, find other real advocates, and it is a community effort to be effective and successful. And I have to say I am part of an incredible community, who has become one of the most powerful grass-roots interests in CO. We have passed legislation every session for more than 10 years, and even gotten new money when everyone else was being cut. We have prevented every single bill we strongly opposed from becoming law for 15 years. In 2014 we passed 9 bills, a new record for anyone! I have watched the effort grow. When I started on Capitol Hill it was pretty much me, by myself chasing those folks down the hallways, some of whom would just run for the stairs. But I could not be successful without the support, backing and hard work of many others in my community, some of whom are sitting here today. This award is for us all!
We also encounter people who will delay, obstruct, interfere, undermine or tear down our efforts, or just tie things up with bureaucracy. It does not matter how important the issue is, how much it will impact the lives, for good or bad, of those most affected. It is about power and control, showing they are in charge, or it is about not-invented-here, it is because it is out of the box thinking and scares them, it is about not wanting to take on the work or put forth an effort to solve problems, whether it be for an individual, or systemic change, regardless of how badly they mess things up or may hurt others. They know what’s best for “US”. Or they just see us as loud-mouthed cripples and don’t like us!
They should be ashamed of themselves. It should not be tolerated, we must push back and persevere. To quote Sun Tzu, “sit by the river long enough and you will see the bodies of your enemies float by.”. Having done this for more than 30 years I can attest to the truth in that, and we shall be around long after many of them.
Persistence, determination and patience, with a bit of OCD thrown in, and we shall prevail. WE can and will make this a better world for those who most need our advocacy, for us to be their voice, and to make every effort to assure those who do have the power make good decisions, do not cause harm to others, and are held accountable when they do. We also must be vigilant to assure the gains we have made are not lost over time, and given the current climate it is now even more critical.
I hope this award, not me, inspires all of you to work a little harder to do the right thing for those less fortunate, to do a mitzvah (Hebrew for “a good deed”) a day, and to hold those responsible accountable, or show them the door. None of us can nor should accept the status quo, it is our responsibility to seek change, to leave this world a better place than we found it, and to support a better life for our fellow man, especially those who have not had the advantages many of us have had for a better life. Thank you on the behalf of ALL the advocates.