Tuesday, August 08, 2006

AFSCME Convention: First and (beginning of) Second Day


I landed Sunday night and went to the reception on the Navy Piers for a couple hours with our President and the rest of the gang-was fun, but exhausted from my flight, so didn't stay long; back to the Palmer House for a good long sleep, then up at 6 am to head to the Convention Center. I'm going to be brutally honest about my experiences because I believe (and you'll see why below) this needs to be a process of education for everyone to benefit.

The morning was a little stressful. Very exciting since we had two senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama speak-but they had the interpreters standing on a stage and I was seated with my local in back of the (huge: think airplane hangar) room. We tried to have them move the interpreter to sit with my Local, which is how I found out I was the only Deaf person at this convention; convention organizers said they thought there might have been another woman; being unsure they could not move the interpreters. I sat on the floor in front to see Senator Obama who (despite me being skeptical) gave a very convincing and supportive speech encouraging people to keep marching, but I didn't see him actually commit to any course of action to support us, so in a sense he was just promoting exercise. Of course the interpreter difficulty meant I may have missed a lot.

I admit I was really upset at discovering I was the only Deaf person at this important convention for worker's rights. I wrote a page-long complaint. Where are Unions for Deaf schools? Do Deaf teachers not deserve protection? What about other Deaf organizations? Ridor reports on his blog stories of abuses at various places-a Union would get to the bottom of these problems (if they really are problems) and help promote good relations between staff and management. It would also help connect Deaf and Hearing people in the workplace. Let's face it-we have a ton of problems working in any organization; I've talked about the devil at the bottom line in my blog in the past. We need to have an organization to help Deaf people hold their heads up and remember our intrinsic worth in the face of being told we cost too much. We need to remind people, for example, that interpreters are there just as much for the boss to have access to the employee as for the employee to have access to their boss. Otherwise we might all just fall into the pit of employment despair and give up and collect SSI. (It's occurred to more of us than like to admit it.)

During the break I sorted out that I had to keep coming back to find out about interpreters; I took time to wander through the booths. The food was ridiculously expensive; I found a cheaper meal at the neighboring Hyatt and came back. A gay and lesbian booth was visible with resolutions to oppose anti-gay amendments, and I was pleased to see DailyKos very visible (copies of a recent Kos article were copied and placed liberally, haha, everywhere.) Kos trumpeted how the AFSCME President, Gerald McEntee, was adopting the principles he came up with for reenergizing the Democratic party: while he was speaking, however, most of McEntee's effort focused on getting support for his amendments which do include these principles without explaining them.

At 2pm they confirmed I was alone and I had the interpreters for a workshop on mobilizing young people. However-they had Chicago accents (so many people don't realize Signed languages have accents just like spoken languages) and didn't understand my NYC accent initially. But I was determined to participate and benefit from the workshop so I threw myself into it despite the problems; it helped that I'm studying to be a CDI. We did come up with a lot of cool ideas about getting shop stewards to mobilize youth by mentoring two or three new members to become active and we did make some progress identifying different and sometimes conflicting focuses of older and younger members. Then I was done for the day at 430; I was exhausted despite feeling I had achieved something. I went to the bus dispirited and bumped into Cora from our group in NYC. We agreed the buses were crowded so why not walk back to our hotel in Chicago? This was fine with me; we had an adventure passing by the water and seeing some sights. It turned out she is like me and prefers exercise and healthy food so we had a lot to talk about. Grabbed some fresh made berry and banana juice with her and just got in and in much better spirits! Hillary Clinton is speaking tomorrow; looking forward to it.

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