Baby Steps

A woman! With a disability! On the floor of the Senate! With a newborn!

What if she weaponizes the baby?* What if there are 10 babies?** Can’t she just vote from the non-accessible cloakroom?***

Senator Duckworth yesterday made history—unbelievable because it shouldn’t have taken until 2018—by bringing a baby onto the floor of the Senate for a vote.**** All that needed to change to make this happen, in chronological order was: (1) women getting the right to vote; (2) non-white women getting the right to vote; (3) women being elected to the Senate; (4) pregnancy and childbirth; and (5) a rule that non-Senate members/staff were not allowed on the floor during votes, even if they are under the age of 2 weeks.

What is special about this list I just made? Everything except number 4 involves people changing barriers. What is holding women, people of color, and people with disabilities back from equal participation in our country? It’s not them – it’s the barriers we place on them. Some of these barriers are seen as neutral to some people, but when applied to a more inclusive group, they turn out to operate as exclusionary. Barriers do not need to be physical. Barriers do not need to be something that is put into place to stop a specific type of person or activity. Barriers may be lack of accommodation.

Sen. Duckworth arrived at the senate with her little tiny baby—10 days, people, 10 days!—and took a vote. She was ready to do it. It just took a bunch of stuck-in-the-mud folks being told they were being ridiculous not to adjust an overly broad rule and being embarrassed if they didn’t, to allow her to do so.

What I love most about this moment is that it combines multiple aspects of anti-discrimination law. It intersects gender, ethnicity, race, disability. It involves accommodations and equal access. Senator Duckworth, in one small moment, with one adorable little human, taught a master class on anti-discrimination law. Onward to bigger barriers and more inclusion.


*So many thoughts. (1) Have you ever met a baby? They’re already weaponized! (2) What does that even mean? (3) Are you afraid she’ll pressure people to actually think about babies when they’re making policy? The horror!

**Sounds pretty awesome. That would also mean multiple people of childbearing age, or heavily involved grandparents, or adoptive parents, and that’s pretty awesome too. (The linked article reports that Senator Hatch meant this as a joke. I’ll choose to believe him.)

***So, we’re back to segregation? I know we’ve never left it in practice, but explicitly? Not a nice look, Senator Cotton.

****Don’t be silly; the baby didn’t vote.