Yesterday, I received another email from Kropotkin who seems to hold the position of spokesman for the Blind Panther Party (BPP). Of course, he may actually also be its only member so he potentially wears many hats in the organization. This time, my net hacker friends could trace his email back as far as Austria and there it dead ends. Like his previous communication, Kropotkin shows through his prose that he subscribes to the anarchist school of writing as well as of political action.
Kropotkin reminded me that today’s date, May 1, means “labor day” in all parts of the world outside of the US. He also reminded me of the large scale demonstrations, national boycott and general strike planned by immigrant groups around the US today. Finally, he suggested that we blinks do something similar.
In my reply, I suggested that we choose a day on which fewer other groups had planned events or risk getting lost in the publicity sauce. I also agreed, upon threat of retaliation that I would write about the subject in Blind Confidential today. I don’t allow a whole lot of people to push me around but I’m uncertain (but have suspicions) as to the identity of Kropotkin and others who may also have joined his BPP effort. Although they claim to embrace non-violence and use a lot of rhetoric from Gandhi and Martin, I don’t want to take any chances. What if the BPP is the political wing of a more sinister Red Blinkgade or Badder-Blinkhoff terror group? Could Kropotkin be the blind version of Jerry Adams suggesting pacifist, political solutions but, in reality, just stand as the front guy for a band of violent Blinks?
What if we blinks chose a day, the birth day of Helen Keller, Louis Braille, Eric Weinmeier, Ray Charles, or some other blind hero (did history leave us with a known date for Homer’s birthday?) and decided we would all stay home or attend rallies on that date. Would the 1.5 million people n the US classified as profoundly or totally vision impaired generate the critical mass to get the media to actually listen to our concerns about unemployment, underemployment, poor transportation and the general discrimination we are subject to as oppressed people? Or, would a few media outlets send along a camera crew to show how adorable it is that a bunch of blinks, armed with white canes and cute dogs, came out for a day of protest for some obviously precious little reason?
Ok, what if the estimated ten million others labeled as having a moderate to severe vision impairment joined us? Would 11.5 million BLV individuals cause the same ruckus as 12 million undocumented aliens? This many people might actually raise the eyebrows of some media outlets, most of whom would probably cover the demonstration as a curiosity but maybe Amy Goodman and Bill O’Reilly would find us notable or bizarre (respectively) enough to bring a quote or maybe even an interview onto their programs.
What if we invited the tens of millions of Americans with other disabilities, our comrades in wheelchairs and with hearing impairments, to join us for a general disability day? Would they take notice that so many of us are unemployed, underemployed, veterans and patriotic Americans who feel like the big dream has left us behind?
Then, I start pondering the problems. As the unemployment rate among blinks and people with other disabilities is large, which employers would even notice? Freedom Scientific has a bunch of blinks working there, so does Federal Express and MCI. There are a lot of us at SSA and other government agencies but would anyone miss a bureaucrat for a day? [Author’s Note: to all of my friends who work for the government, I am just kidding.]
As our constituency has a lot of unemployment and underemployment and many of us who have jobs work in call centers and other fairly poor paying positions, would a nationwide boycott be noticed? Do people with disabilities spend enough in any given day to show a difference on Wal-Mart’s take for a 24 hour period?
Then comes the other problem of many blinks having been co-opted by the oppressor. Many blind people of European ancestry simply refuse to accept that we are a minority group and have far more in common with our black, Latino, gay, Asian and other minority neighbors than we do with our own white families. I can’t count the number of blinks who have told me (to paraphrase), “Sure, W. is horrible on disability issues but he is sure tough on those miserable faggots/immigrants/welfare queens/minorities of all sorts…” Then, when I ask them about their SSI check, they claim some kind of superiority over the poor fifteen year old black mother who, due to the liberal Bill Clinton’s reforms, must work at McDonalds to ensure she has milk money for her baby. Some of these SSI blinks have good educations and, rather than using the safety net for emergencies (I do agree that it is much harder for a blink to attain gainful employment and that the community should have some kind of safety net for rainy days) but many have turned the Federal welfare system into a lifestyle decision.
I also hear blinks say that immigrants “are taking our jobs.” I would like to meet the last blind person who lost out on a job to an immigrant, documented or otherwise, at a farm picking fruits and vegetables, working in a hotel changing bed linens, on a construction site, mopping up piss in a hospital or sewing clothing in a San Diego sweatshop or any of the other crappy jobs our ancestors did when we were kicked out of respectable European nations to seek the American dream via Ellis Island or the Golden Gate.
I hear blinks tell me that outsourcing has caused them to lose their call center jobs. At the same time, they will defend President Bush’s tax cuts for companies who outsource work to Asia as being stimulating for our economy. I think the only people “stimulated” by these tax cuts are those who screw American workers by taking jobs to third world nations.
Then, I hear more from the blinks who support the GOP for religious reasons, the “any day now” rapture, the Intelligent Design folks who, according to their “expert” testimony in Dover also accept that astrology meets the burden of proof to be a scientific theory taught in our schools and those who care about the nativity scene on the City Hall lawn as if that would help them find a meaningful occupation.
Next, there are the racist blinks. I heard from a lot of them during the flood in New Orleans. They supported babs Bush’s claim that the Astrodome is probably the best those people ever had it. They decried any claims made that, while the evacuation got most white people out of the city, it was only the poor blacks who had to sit in piss, blood and raw sewage at the Superdome for a few days.
In the racist comments, the worst I’ve heard include the, “some of my best friends,” at the beginning and continue to describe how none of their black friends use the verb “aks” in place of “ask” and they “have jobs” and “contribute to our society.” Hearing this from people who collect SSI and do little to improve their own skills so they can get a good job feels a bit hypocritical to me. Also, the “aks” pronunciation, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is an acceptable pronunciation of the word “ask.” You can go to the OED, the closest thing to a canonical source about our language and look it up. The etymology of the “aks” pronunciation goes back to Scotland, where it is still in common use, spread to Northern Ireland with the immigration of what would become the Scotch Irish, who would later immigrate to the US and, whether rich folks who owned slaves or poor, “white trash” who worked in conditions worse than the slaves, brought many of their pronunciation habits to the American south, including “aks.” The OED includes it among accepted alternative pronunciations for “ask” as it is in popular use among people in Scotland, Newfoundland, among rural American southerners and African Americans. It is part of our language, deal with it.
Finally, I’ll include people like me and some of my blind friends in the group of blinks who have, in the past, present and future, held their tongues when they witnessed an action or event that might be good for their personal wealth and well being but might not serve our community in an optimal manner. We know who we are and some of us feel guilty about having made certain decisions in the past or having not spoken out at what we perceive as an injustice. At other times, I include myself in this group, we rationalize our behaviors in the same ways as Shelby Steele and Justice Thomas, by telling ourselves that through our intense hard work, our long resumes and the contributions we’ve made in the past, that we deserve our six figure incomes, nice homes, killer fishing gear and other trappings of the upper middle class. We will say to ourselves, “If I can do it, anyone can.”
I have a couple of blind people close to me who, a year or so ago, pulled down six figure salaries in the fast paced technology sector and who now receive a disability check as their situations went badly in the past twelve months. Like many of our sighted colleagues, the technology industry ain’t what it used to be and, for us blinks, it’s a lot harder to secure a good job. I had the advantage of a bit of celebrity, a known record of notable publications and a bit of infamy for speaking my mind coupled with a great resume and contact list that finding my next situation required little more than a phone call. Others, including the friends I refer to above, have fewer advantages and, due to our lack of true discrimination protections, must answer the question, “Can a blind person write programs using a visual environment?”
Thus, even those of us who do well should be speaking up, if not against the specific injustices we are willing to swallow for our salaries or organizational misbehavior, for the general discrimination and oppression we blinks endure under a system that has law that explicitly excludes us from certain rights every other American accepts as a birth right.
So, we clearly have reason to do a general strike, a boycott and to demonstrate our displeasure with our second or third class status in this nation. Can we, however, overcome our different political biases and leanings on issues other than blindness, employment and civil rights or will we perpetuate the counter-productive sectarianism that keeps people with disabilities from being noticed, can we start an invisible fifth column like the one in my “1986,” happy ending sequel to the Orwell classic?
If we can come together on a day of disobedience, demonstration and solidarity, what should we demand? Could we imagine an answer to this question?