How did you get involved with Hand in Hand?
I got involved with Hand in Hand in 2011. At the time the chapter had just started in California and was building to pass the CA Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. I knew the author of the bill, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, and the chief of staff was Kimberly Alvarenga who called me into the office and told me about it and said that the disability community had some questions and concerns. She asked if I would go to a Hand in Hand meeting and read about the bill.
And so I went to the meeting and met the first Hand in Hand Executive Director Danielle Feris, who was amazing, and then I read the bill, and while I had some questions, overall I thought it was really good. As a person with a disability who requires support from personal assistants, I always knew that the quality of life and rights for domestic workers, and my rights were interconnected. I was aware of the power dynamic that exists within that relationship, and at times had felt uncomfortable by it. It was something that I had thought about, even before this bill. So that is how I became involved.
Can you talk a little bit about your disability rights activism and policy work?
I started from more of a radical place. When I was a young woman I was involved with ADAPT (American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today), and participated in actions and got arrested. When I first started we were fighting to make public transportation accessible. Then when the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) was enacted we shifted to fighting for Long Term Supports and Services (LTSS). I also got connected to people in Washington, and began giving testimony on LTSS, sharing my ideas and experience. For example, I talked about how our system prevents people with disabilities from working, which is really connected to access to support services. For much of my life, the main reason why I haven’t done paid work is because I need attendant care. I also advocated to support people with developmental disabilities as there is so much discrimination, even within the disability community.
In 2017 I got involved with the fight to save the Affordable Care Act. I participated in two protests and die-ins in San Francisco at then Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office with Hand in Hand and other disability rights organizations. At the first protest, a car tried to run people over, so we vowed to do it again. I posted information about the protest on Facebook, and Christine Pelosi (Nancy Pelosi’s daughter) saw it and said she would join us at the second protest, and would give greetings from Leader Pelosi.
That year I also testified at Kamala Harris’s office and Diane Feinstein’s office as well as Nevada Senator Dean Heller’s office who was a Republican who we thought might be moveable. During that testimony I doubled as a decoy for ADAPT; I played the part all dressed up in my little business suit, and then Monique Harris from California Hand in Hand and a few other people came in and occupied his office! I didn’t stay because of my health issues, because even though the protestors thought they wouldn’t go to jail, they couldn’t guarantee it. In 2018 when that Nevada Senator was up for reelection, I got to text-bank for his opponent Jacky Rosen, and we won.
What was your entry into electoral work?
Until the 2016 election, I was mostly focused on policy work. I had done a little campaigning; I remember I worked on Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s campaign because I liked his platform. I also leafleted for Kamala Harris’s run for DA, since it was all I could do at the time given that I use a wheelchair and have a speech disability as a result of Cerebral Palsy.
But my real entry was the 2016 general election. I volunteered doing data entry for the Hillary Clinton campaign. I got more involved because I believed that Donald Trump was trying to destroy our country.
After we lost the election I was often very depressed, but I knew some political and campaign people through the work that I did with Hillary and I also knew Christine Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi’s daughter, who knew me from my work to protect the Affordable Care Act and with my work on the Hillary campaign. In 2017, she asked me if I wanted to be a delegate for the California Democratic Party. So I was a delegate for Speaker Pelosi and that’s how I became super involved in electoral politics. This election I was a delegate for Joe Biden.
How has peer to peer text platforms changed your ability to participate and influence the political process?
I could talk about this all day! In 2016 I was doing data entry, and it was fine and it was helpful, but I didn’t really interact with voters. I would get very jealous when I would hear phone bankers. So in 2018 when text-banking really took off, I started doing it, and it has been amazing. I think it is the best tool for getting people out to vote. You can reach so many people in a short amount of time.
For me text-banking has opened up my electoral work. The scripts are simple, but I often customize the message in my own words, and if someone says something that resonates with me, I can respond, because I am a person and not a robot. Since I don’t have to speak or see people, I also don’t have to deal with people’s perceptions of my disability.
Sometimes when I’m recruiting volunteers, I’ll encounter someone who has a hearing or speech disability who will tell me that they can’t volunteer. I’ll share with them that I have a speech disability, and will convince them that they can also volunteer by texting.
Even though texting isn’t good for persuading voters, I have persuaded people.
This kind of a big question, but what do you think is at stake for people with disabilities this election?
This is actually not a big question, the answer is really simple. It’s about whether we are able to influence policy, influence the President to expand our rights, or if we are going to have to keep defending our rights. I mean I could go point by point, but that is really what it comes down to. In addition to disability rights, people should also think about who is in the best position to expand domestic worker rights, versus who will take them away. On a broader level it’s about saving the country and to be honest, I am not as focused on disability rights in this election.
For people who are not thinking about this election from a disability justice perspective, where should they go to learn more?
American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) Rev Up Campaign is a great place to start.
Are there any moments that stick out to you in your electoral or policy work that you are most proud of?
In 2011, I represented Hand in Hand at the White House in support of President Obama’s executive order that guaranteed government paid home care workers minimum wages and overtime. In California, we already paid minimum wage, but the overtime made a huge difference. In other parts of the country, I was appalled at what home care workers were paid. It was abusive and it was wrong so I was proud to represent domestic employers that day.
A little over a year ago, I was recognized by the California Democratic Party at the Democratic convention for my text-banking work in the district I represent.
I also helped win a pilot program in San Francisco to get middle income people to be able to afford home care.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I want to encourage everyone to volunteer in whatever way you can. Texting is great. Phone banking is great. If postcards is what you want to do, do it. If you do canvassing, wear a mask and social distance. And this year we all need to remember that we may not get election results on election night, and we should all be prepared for that.
Do whatever you can do to get out the vote! If you volunteer you can feel good and proud of yourself no matter what happens. After the 2016 election, I was really really upset, but I was also really proud of myself. I knew I had done what I could.
About Sascha Bittner
Sascha Bittner has been an employer leader at the San Francisco Bay Area Hand in Hand since 2011, and is a representative on her local Care Council. She is quadriplegic as a result of cerebral palsy, and domestic workers make it possible for her to be an active member of the Bay Area community. Sascha also currently serves as chair of the Regional Advisory committee on Developmental Disabilities, and is a past chair of the California State Council on Developmental Disabilities. She is a delegate to the California Democratic Party and a member of its Disability Caucus. In addition, Sascha has conducted disability awareness workshops for thousands of students in the Bay Area with KIDS (Keys to Introducing Disability in Society) Project. Sascha has been a disability rights activist for over 25 years, and has served on numerous disability-related committees and boards. She is committed to the mission of creating fair, equitable conditions for both domestic workers and those who rely on their services.