I have lived and could vote in two presidential elections, and am now actively engaged in the process of a third. During the first two, I proudly cast my vote for the candidate of my choice, largely guided by idealism and the democratic blue. I wouldn’t consider myself having been actively engaged in the political process during the 2008 and 2012 elections, but I did take part; I am proud of that fact as well.
However, now being an active member of the recovery community and because of past transgressions, unable to vote in the state of Texas (archaic laws and restrictions can be saved for another discussion), I find myself more engaged in the political process that I ever was before. This could be attributed to my age perhaps, statistics would show that as we increase in age, participating in civic duties also increases proportionately. However, I am a firm believer that it has less to do with growing up, and much more on the social communities I now belong to.
Throughout this country we have many communities, or voting “blocs” – we always have. Whether it be voting based on party, union status and involvement, the energy sector, or others, many in this country vote a specific way based on stead-fast beliefs in a priority issue. As we move into the 2016 election cycle, the evidence of a new “blocs” has become increasingly prevalent and noteworthy. If you watched the history-making CNN/Univison Democratic Debate last night, the first to be simulcast in two-languages, you saw the importance that immigration is playing in the political sphere. While this issue is not new, the emergence of voting power that centers on the issue will be. Another emerging bloc is here for the 2016 season as well, largely driven by the surge in accidental drug poisoning deaths, and the proclaimed “opioid crisis” in the United States – the “recovery” bloc.
The recovery bloc is probably more appropriately described as the “social justice” bloc, however, those constituents who desire re-imagined criminal justice systems, mental health reform, and substance use disorder advances are largely in the same camp. However, as we see with the passing of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 in the United States senate today, the recovery bloc is truly gaining momentum. What proponents of the recovery movement have called for since the 1940’s finally seems to be coming to fruition. members of the 23 million recovery community voting and advocating for legislation that will change the country’s landscape for the additional 25 million who do not have access to treatment and support services needed. It hasn’t stopped there though, as addiction and deaths have been a top-5 issue in many north-eastern states, as shown by the air-time and policies from candidates such as Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, among others.
For years, largely spurred by the ground breaking work of Faces and Voices of Recovery, we have seen the stickers stating “I am in Recovery, and I vote”. It seems we may be moving past placards and symbolism though, and moving into the territory of progress and momentum. Members of the recovery community need to continue to become a well-positioned bloc of voters, carrying the success of CARA, media coverage, and grass-roots exposure far past this legislative session. Advocates must continue to press candidates into proposing practical solutions to the country’s lack luster behavioral health systems and recovery support infrastructure; and not just presidential candidates but local and national representatives at all levels of government. We not only have momentum, but the reality of a true bi-partisan issue that does not divide this voting bloc in a way that there cannot be republican, democrat, or independent candidates that are committed to true and meaningful change.
For some time, we have demanded a right to be heard and use our voices. It seems that time has come, and with momentum on our side it is time to push and pull more forcibly than ever. CARA is but the first stop on this train, and I for one hope that come 2036, the “recovery bloc” can truly capitulate the 23-million people in recovery, their allies and supporters, into true voting and political power. The time has come where our demands to be heard are realized. What will we continue to say now that it has?