August 31, 2012
Eric Harris’ 2012 speech to College Democrats
My name is Eric Harris. I am here today, speaking on behalf of the Americans with Disabilities for Obama caucus. I am a second year law student at the University of Oregon. Many people say that I fit into a lot of categories. I am African-American. I am an American with a disability. I am an athlete. I am a law student. I am a PROUD DEMOCRAT. The truth is, that Democrats cannot be placed in a box or categories. We are diverse, intelligent, and we continue to work hard to make this country the best that it can be.
President Obama is the only choice for the present and future of America. He has shown a strong effort in making sure that young Americans, especially those of us with disabilities have a voice in his administration and that our needs will continue to be addressed. The President recently spoke with young people with disabilities about three major issues that are vital for all of us. He spoke about employment, accessibility and education. He continues to show that he genuinely cares about our needs.
The President has made policies that improve services, education and health care for those of us who have disabilities. The President understands that disabilities are part of a more diverse America that makes its citizens who we are. It makes us unique and gives the American people added perspective that is important for us to share with others.
This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to intern at the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C. I was one of about 80 interns working hard to help the Democratic Party in any way that we could. We were from all over. We were from California, New York, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida even Puerto Rico. We all grew up in different situations, with different backgrounds and have different beliefs. We all came together to work for one common goal and that was to reelect President Barack Obama.
The energy at the DNC this summer was electrifying. Everyone from the most experienced staff members to the 19 year old interns were excited to do anything we could to help our president get reelected. As an intern at the DNC, I couldn’t help but get thrilled being around such positive energy toward working hard to make our country as great as it could be by keeping President Obama in office.
I experience a life that is different from many. I was born with congenital hip dislocation. This is an unusual disability and gave me nerve damage in my left hip, knee, ankle and foot as well as my right ankle and foot. Only about one in a thousand people have congenital hip dislocation. This is something that I didn’t understand as a young child, but have continued to develop knowledge and wisdom about as I’ve gotten older.
Most people would view my “situation” as being unfortunate or unlucky. I DON’T. I believe that I am here to teach others the importance of appreciating the gifts that we DO have and the positive impact we can make on others lives. I believe that I am here to help as many people as I can, DISABLED or ABLE BODIED in any way that I AM able to.
As Americans with disabilities, it is important that we continue to help others change the frame of mind behind the views that come with not understanding what it means to have a disability. It is important that Americans understand that a disability is just something else that adds to the diverse culture that is America. The President and the Democratic Party have shown that they understand this. They have shown that they understand that people with disabilities are a group who can do many amazing things for this country. The President wants to make sure that people with disabilities are heard and that changes continue to be made on behalf of all Americans, including those of us who have disabilities.
As a student with a disability, in an era where education is more important than any other time in our history, I am so thankful that I have the ability take out loans to pay for my education. That is why it is so crucial that President Obama doubled Pell grants—whereas the Ryan plan could have cut Pell grants by an average of $1000 per student. This is still the best way for us to have a society of equality. I understand that the competition in 2012 has stretched beyond the state of California or the state of Oregon. It has stretched beyond the West Coast, and even beyond the United States. The President has made sure that we are all able to prepare for and work toward competition with others from around the world. This will continue to help America be the best country in the world.
Both of my parents are educators and continue to have positive impacts in the classroom with young people. My Godfather is the former Mayor of Oakland, California. I have interned for an amazing public servant in United States Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California. I have helped on the Kevin Johnson for Mayor campaign in Sacramento as well as the Allen Warren for City Council campaign.
All of these people have instilled in me in both their words and actions that as young people, we must remain involved in the political system. For most of us, that means we must get out and VOTE, and tell all of our friends to VOTE! I must continue to let my colleagues know that it is US, the young people of America that will make the decisions necessary for our country to remain the greatest in the world. As young Democrats, we must understand that we hold our future in our hands, and that in November, we must reelect the President so that he can continue to move our country in the direction that it must go, FORWARD!!