Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Q&A with Amanda Siebe

Below is a Q&A with Amanda Siebe, a disabled candidate running for US House of Representatives in Oregon’s 1st District. For more, check out her website: https://siebe2020.com/

Tell us a little about yourself!

My name is Amanda Siebe. I was raised in Beaverton, Oregon where I attended Raleigh Hills Elementary, Whitford Middle School, then Jesuit High School. After high school, I moved to Monmouth, Oregon and attended Western Oregon University. I originally studied International Relations, Spanish, but was forced to switch to Sociology when Western dropped its International Relations major. My studies were primarily focused around Immigration between Latin America and the United States and grassroots organizing.

In 2008, my son Keagan was 9 months old and I went through one of the scariest experiences of my life. Keagan started to choke on a piece of finger-food. Even though I had been certified in First Aid and CPR since I was 12 years old, I still had a difficult time dislodging the food and getting my son to breathe again. I was lucky that I had that training because we had just moved into a new house and I had no way to call 9-1-1 for help. It was after that experience that I decided to make the career change I’d been contemplating for years. I decided to become a paramedic and firefighter. It seemed like the best way I could serve my community.

By 2010, I had my EMT-Basic and the only thing I lacked to start the paramedic program I wanted to attend was the $10,000 in tuition. I was working as a restaurant manager in Mill Valley, California to earn it when I fell at work. What should have been a simple injury and 6 weeks of recovery turned into full-body Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) because my employer placed more value on their profits than they did on my health and functionality.

I’ve spent the last 7 years fighting for treatment, benefits, and recognition for my community. I’ve seen what injured workers and patients are faced to go through just to get our basic rights and how little our elected officials care about the 1 in 5 voters who live with disability. So, I decided to run for office to give patients and injured workers the representation we desperately need. 

Why did you decide to run for US House of Representatives? 

I always wanted to be in politics, but I was raised in a family that believed the closest a woman should come to politics was as a politician's wife. There always seemed to be a reason why I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, get elected. Wrong education. Wrong family line. Wrong socio-economic standing. I was just wrong. 

Until 2018, when suddenly, I wasn’t.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar showed me anything was possible. Suddenly, my background, poverty, lack of ivy-league education, and wheelchair no longer held me back. Instead, they pushed me forward.

I realized there are so many who, like me, feel underserved and underrepresented in The People’s House. 1 in 5 voters nationwide are disabled and over half of them are women, yet we have no disabled women in the US House. It’s time we change that and have a representative who is ready to stand up for the disabled community and patients to fight for the change we need to see.

What are some of the issues facing your district and state overall?

The major issues affecting my community are the same issues affecting all communities. Those issues are the environment, healthcare, immigration, and justice reform.

I’m proud to come from a progressive, green district that recognizes the climate crisis, which is quickly starting to endanger our life, safety, national and economic security, and future. But, as a planet, we are running out of time. If we have any hope of living a healthy and secure life, then we need to be able to breathe clean air, drink clean water, eat healthy, fresh, environmentally sustainable food, just to name a few of the radical changes we need to make, which is why I support the Green New Deal. Every year we put this policy off is another year of additional human-impacted climate change we must counteract. If we don’t make the changes we need, then we’ll continue to see people getting sick, suffering, and dying, which brings me to the next issue: healthcare.

While people are quick to point out that no one escapes life without paying taxes and dying, they forget that all people also get sick and injured. Especially with the increased rate of toxic chemicals being dumped in our waterways and seeping into our groundwater. We all get sick. Our bodies all break down. It’s time we start treating healthcare as the fundamental human right it is. We need to have guaranteed healthcare that covers all conditions, all medications, all treatments, and all people. No patient should have to spend the valuable time and energy they have left fighting with insurance companies and government agencies for the care, treatment, and benefits that should be guaranteed. We have patients, right now, suffering as they fight for care and treatment, going bankrupt due to sickness or injury, and being forced to divorce their spouse just for government benefits to survive financially. It’s no wonder so many end up homeless when people suddenly go from earning a living wage to being forced to survive for the rest of their life on less than $900/month. It’s wrong and people deserve so much better.

Our government is not just torturing and killing patients, they are also doing it to immigrants and asylum seekers down on the southern border. Our government is, once again, running a modern-day version of the Japanese Internment Camps. What was once seen as a stain on our nation’s history, has been reinstated and revamped down on our southern border. So far, at least 7 innocent children have lost their lives. Children and families are being kept in a cage without blankets and are forced to sleep on the cold, hard concrete floor. Individuals are not provided with basic necessities and supplies for health, hygiene, and wellness. We still have children who have not been reunited with their families. There are infants and toddlers who are forced to represent themselves in immigration court. What we are doing and how we are treating people is wrong. No matter the legal status, we are all human and we all have rights and freedoms. We all deserve a life of dignity and respect.

Those rights and dignities must also be extended to the ever expanding percentage of our population who are incarcerated and used as slave labor. We need to stop the poverty to prison pipeline that has trapped so many minorities and poor people. We need to ratify the 13th amendment and put an end to the last legal form of slavery. We also need a bill of rights to ensure all incarcerated people have basic human rights, including the right to a minimum wage, adequate healthcare, not to be put in solitary confinement, pay reasonable prices in the commissary, communicate with their family, and more. We need to start charging legal fines and fees on an income-based sliding scale. A $200 fine is much different to a person who lives on $800/month than it is to someone who earns $10,000/month. It’s time to level the playing field, including ending the cash-bail system, the system of justice that pressures innocent people into accepting plea deals, and policies and laws that allow police officers to break the law without repercussion and accountability.

These are the issues that unite us all and the issues I plan on fighting for them with the determination and priority they deserve.

How does your activism in a number of social justice issues tie in with political participation and your decision to run for office?

Personally, I believe every politician should have a background in activism because you learn so much as an activist. Not only do activists hear the stories that are often left out of the mainstream media and the political conversation, but we understand how hard it is to make change happen in this current political climate and what’s at stake. A majority of the representatives that we have in office were businessmen, CEO’s, legacy politicians, and those who are independently wealthy. Not only do they not understand what it’s like to have no power and no voice, but they don’t understand what it’s like to have to fight tooth and nail for what they need just to survive. I understand what it’s like to have to fight for everything you have. I know first hand how hard it is for those who don’t have wealth and power. We need to elect people who are willing to fight the status quo to get the people the rights and benefits we all deserve. Nothing is going to change when we keep electing people who aren’t willing to do things like establish term limits for all elected officials, reduce the annual salary for members of Congress and the president, and get publicly funded elections. Until those things happen, people are going to continue to be left out of the conversation. I think my activist heart and background would put me in a unique position as a member of Congress. I will always do what’s right over what’s personally profitable.

What are some issues central to your platform that you’d like to share with us?

The issue I believe is affecting the largest number of people across our country yet isn’t being discussed at all is the pain management crisis. We have millions of patients suffering from chronic and debilitating pain who cannot get access to the opiate pain management they need to function and maintain quality of life. Opiates are still the most effective means of controlling debilitating pain yet patients are being denied this life-saving medication because people are obtaining the medication illegally. No matter how much media and politicians want to say otherwise, less than 1% of chronic pain patients become addicted to their medications and those who do become addicted had problems with addiction prior to their onset of chronic pain. Our government is trying to solve addiction by a straight reduction in the number of opiates being prescribed. This is resulting in millions of legitimate pain patients being forcibly tapered from their opiate pain management and given nothing to replace it. They are being driven to the bottle, the street, or suicide as means of pain management while others are dying from stroke or heart attack as a result of their severe untreated pain. We are leaving patients to die. Those doctors who are continuing to treat their patients’ pain are risking the DEA, FDA, and CDC legally prosecuting them or ruining their careers and threatening their license to practice medicine. We are denying doctors the ability to practice medicine as they see fit and adhere to the hippocratic oath leaving patients to suffer and die. At the same time, insurance companies are profiting by denying patients these life-saving medications and politicians are scoring political points by appearing ‘tough on addiction’. We need to elect politicians who will stand up for the innocent victims being slaughtered for the sake of private profits, greed, and political points. Who will stand up and demand public hearings on this issue, make public how patients have been impacted, and hold accountable those who knowingly put patients with debilitating pain lives in jeopardy for the sake of profit and politics. 

Patients and the disabled are the most underrepresented communities in our country--and not just politically, but in the media as well. It’s time we did more in this country to humanize the disabled and sick.

How is the campaign going so far and what have you learned while reaching out to voters and the public?

I’m thrilled by how well everything is going! I know I’m facing an uphill battle, but considering I started this campaign on my own while trying to survive on $735/month, I’d say we’re doing pretty darn good. Suzanne Bonamici is not only a 4 term incumbent, but she personally has $6,000,000 that she could sink into this campaign. At the same time, she still takes money from big companies, lobbyists, and Super PACs, so it’s intimidating knowing the resources she can muster. The thing that I’ve been most excited to see is how many people believe like I do and are ready for change. We need representatives who do more than just deal with an issue when it crosses their desk. We need someone who will actually go out and fight for change.

Have you encountered and barriers or challenges as a disabled candidate?

Being a disabled candidate has presented some major problems that other candidates don’t have to deal with. For example, door knocking is incredibly hard when you’re in a wheelchair and a majority of homes have stairs leading up to them. Or when you live in a big district but you barely have enough money to make rent, let alone own a car to drive around to all the different parts of the district. Shaking hands, too, is incredibly difficult with my condition since my skin and body are so sensitive. People have a tendency to squeeze my hand tightly or touch my exposed skin, which feels like my skin is being peeled off, and it makes it hard--and kind of scary--to meet a lot of new people who don’t understand disability. It’s hard finding a balance between being accessible, protecting my body, and overcoming the PTSD I have from being touched. Finances are probably the biggest challenge, though. I refuse to accept money from companies, lobbyists, and Super PACs so we’re relying 100% on small donations, volunteer work, and grassroots organizing. It makes running a campaign a challenge when the $10 I may need to donate for printer paper or something else can be the difference between paying a bill or not.

How are you paying for the cost of your campaign?

Through small donations and volunteer work. We’ve been very lucky, so far, that so many wonderful people have chipped in. It’s been enough to get us up and going, get my name on the ballot, and start to spread the word. Hopefully, as we pick up traction, we’ll get enough donations and endorsements that we’ll be able to launch an effective campaign.

What do you bring to public service that is different from the other candidates running for this seat?

I’ve lived on government programs and I understand the implication of budget cuts and the effects they have on the programs that people depend on to survive. I understand the importance of the issues that the majority of families face. Issues like, what do I do when my food stamps don’t last all month? What happens when my child gets sick and I don’t have money for the co-pay? How am I going to pay for my child’s college education? Is this water going to poison my family? How am I going to get fresh fruits and vegetables? How do I make ends meet? These are the questions that keep families up at night. They are the questions that keep me up at night. I understand how much these questions control our everyday lives and it gives me the unique ability to be able to put the focus and priority on these issues that they deserve. So many other candidates and politicians are in this for their personal wealth and fame, but I’m doing this to give my community the platform to finally get the change we so desperately need.

Why is civic and political participation important, especially for disabled people?

Right now in this country, patients with a history of physical and sexual abuse are having that abuse used against them to deny them treatment, pain management, and care. They are told their medical condition is a psychosomatic result of previous trauma and should be treated with therapy, not a medical condition.

A patient’s weight and race are being used as a reason to take a medical complaint less seriously and use it to deny patients care and treatment often resulting in unnecessary suffering and death.

Patients living with chronic and debilitating pain are being denied life-saving opiate pain management, and as a result, are being forced to the bottle the streets and suicide as means of pain management.

Caregivers hours provided by Medicaid and Medicare to increase patient independence and functionality are being cut drastically, reducing a patient’s quality of life.

Family caregivers are forced to work addition jobs apart from caring for their sick and injured family member or risk condemning their families to a life of poverty.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, while a huge step for those with disabilities, has not been updated since 1994. There are still cities in the United States where it’s incredibly hard to get around in a wheelchair or with a disability. The act has not been updated to match technological advancements leaving much of the accessibility equipment out of reach of those who need it most.

The average Social Security Disability (SSDI) payment is $880/month leaving a majority of disabled Americans living well below the poverty level with no hope of improvement. It’s no wonder 40% of the 554,000 homeless individuals in the US are disabled when our government pays starvation wages as a living benefit. It’s time to make Social Security and Social Security Disability a living wage and cut our homelessness rate by over half.

The same private insurance companies that have ruined our healthcare system for private profit have also ruined our workers compensation system resulting in injured works being denied care and benefits for the sake of private profits and greed.

Even though there are already 2 disabled men in the US House of Representatives, neither of them are fighting for these changes or talking about these issues. It’s time to change that. That’s why I’m running for the US House and I encourage other patients to do the same. We’ve been systematically left out of the conversation for way too long. When politicians discuss the disabled, the only members of our community they’re talking about are the elderly and disabled vets. While both of those groups are incredibly important and valued members of our community, it’s so much bigger and more diverse than that. We need representatives who understand that. Who understands what it means to have to go on to Social Security Disability at a young age. The more people we get into office and the more we leverage the power of our united vote, then the more rights and benefits we’ll get. There are some major changes that our community needs and the only way we’re going to get them is if we come together and leverage that power. That’s why movements like #CripTheVote and #PainPatientsVote are so important.

What is your advice to disabled people who are interested in running for office?

Do it!! We need as many people speaking up for our community as we can. It’s going to take all of us working together to get the change we need. Find a good team to help you and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Our disabilities make us unique and special. We have a story to tell and a cause to fight for. Be true to yourself and don’t compromise who you are or what you stand for in any way.

Is there anything you’d like to share with me about your campaign?

Any help people can give would go a long way to helping the campaign. Everything from a like or share on Facebook or Twitter, volunteering to help out with phone calls and organizing, or even making a donation will go a long way. Anyone interested in helping, it would make a huge difference! Email campaign@Siebe2020.com if you’re interested in joining the fight!

Website: siebe2020.com


Amanda Siebe and her service dog, Dobby.

Amanda Siebe was raised in Beaverton, OR where she lived with her parents and three siblings. She attended Jesuit High School in Portland, OR and was a recipient of the President's Award for Community Service. After high school, Amanda attended Western Oregon University (WOU) where she studied International Relations, Spanish, and Sociology, focusing on Community Organizing and Immigration. In 2009, Amanda was awarded WOU’s Saul Alinsky Community Organizing Award for her work with the Monmouth-Independence Tenants Union. Amanda volunteered for the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts, and was a volunteer EMT at Polk County Fire District No. 1. In 2012, Amanda was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), following a work-related injury. Since her diagnosis, she has become a relentless advocate for chronic pain, patients, and disability rights.

Amanda has dedicated her life to improving her community and tries to teach her son, Keagan, to do the same. Since high school, she has been marching for police reform, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, government reform, women’s rights, and more. In 2016, she traveled to Standing Rock to stand with the Water Protectors against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In her free time, Amanda tutors and mentors local kids from ages 10 to 18, helping with homework, and teaching them to be better and demand more from our government. For her, there’s no battle too big or fight too hard to take on. Now, she's determined to take the fight for equality and justice to Congress.