AFSCME: Day Four (and five)
The end of Day Three - I forgot to mention - had me going to the information booth with Lorraine where a wonderful member named Georges had been helping us coordinate interpreters and everything. Lorraine always approached him with her fighting look in her eye, but I was impressed by his motivation to help out.
Anyway, Georges promised a terp for the PEOPLE run on Thursday morning. Now this was at 6 AM, and I was under the impression interpreters didn't turn into human beings until 10 am, 9 at the earliest (and with two vats of coffee.) I was nervous they wouldn't come, so I spent some time at Grant Park playing deafie and saying hi to people. A lot of them were also first-time runners (some were walkers) so conversation was pretty predictable (which means easy, which means good for Deafboy...)It was with pleasure that I saw a terp dressed in appropriate running gear get off the bus on Thurs with Lorraine! They had come over together from our hotel.
The run started way too quickly and I think I could have paced myself better. My slow shutdown of smoking has been helping but I could feel the straining in my lungs. Nonetheless I finished the 3.5 mile run 18th out of 158 (not too bad: I was hoping to be in the top 20.) Altogether we raised over $30,000 for PEOPLE! Then back to the hotel, then back to the Convention Center for the large Town Hall meeting.
This meeting was different from any of the past four days; where before we had sat with our Locals and states, now we were stirred up and re-configured. We were assigned randomly to tables... thousands of members got to meet new people. The goal was to work through a variety of questions, issues and concerns and brainstorm on ways to actively strengthen our Union. How do we recruit new members? How do we combat misconceptions the public has about us?
Today also people finally paid attention to my statements and Lorraine's (and, it turned out, the interpreters) and my communication situation was MUCH improved. We had three interpreters (they could take a break for lunch!) sitting at my table (no more nasty monitor and eye strain) and the facilitator seemed to have some experience with interpreters (but whether she did or not, she made sure everyone spoke clearly so everyone could be involved in the discussion.)
We came up with a lot of powerful ideas. One thing I realized is any public organization must be a hell of a lot more accountable than, say, the government (which has slick commercials and donations from big companies to do its advertising.) Another thing we discussed often - really a lot of things, but they all boiled down to the concept of mentorship - was how to bring in new people, and more importantly, how to make people active - how to get them involved. We also want to get more members voting, and set up a training institute to help people become leaders. All this is part of the 21st Century Initiative for AFSCME, much of which is based on principles set out in Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's Crashing the Gate, which I read the day it came out (who else loves pre-ordering? Mmmmmm...) This is a great book. Since I read a lot of Kos' website, I knew what was coming, but any liberal or progressive interested in political organizing should check it out.
I would really love to make an online network of Deaf union members... We have heard from Moi, who is a shop steward in their Union, but are there any others? Moi, would you be willing to comment about how you got involved? Lorraine and another leader in our Union suggested I bring other Deafies next time - they were concerned because the other Shop Steward where we work who is deaf is a woman ("We have to work out the living situation so it's not improper!") but I explained this doesn't really matter, because, to be honest, we all know each other and in my experience Deaf people are pretty casual with each other. And also, sometimes it's so much easier to be with another Deaf person! An example:
That night, legs still shivering from the run this morning (I really need to get back in shape!) I passed out in bed while everyone went to some big dinner (who needs food when you have exercise?) I woke up around 10 grumpy at my roommate Gerard putting on the light. Well, the next morning I felt bad about being grumpy, ran out to get some breakfast. Eddie passed me by and started talking about the night before. Apparently Tired Joe had put on the door latch like a good New Yorker... and Gerard had been unable to get into the room! They were banging and (yes, seriously) CALLING my room (I'm Deaf... but Lord and Lady, some people take a while to see the implications!) Now I do sleep with my Blackberry, so they could have called or texted that, but poor Gerard had to go get security, which let him in. Of course I went back to my room and apologized - he laughed it off. Like I say, with these guys, when you're part of the team, you're part of the team. But I think another Deaf person would have known just how to wake me up. Still - learning experience, and the guys knew to get someone to text or e-mail me to wake me up at the end of it.
Not much to say about Friday. The excitement over terrorism was pounding at us from all sides on the television, so we decided to miss the closing ceremony (check out the AFSCME blog if you're interested) to re-pack all of our bags without liquids and go off. I was more annoyed than upset: this "red alert" struck me as funny. For starters, the perpetrators were arrested, and we panic AFTERWARDS? The whole thing was very politically motivated. Pam's House Blend and John Aravoisis are on top of this. I have to say that either it's BS or just really badly organized. Either way, is it really the President's job to PANIC rather than reassure and lead? All I saw 24/7 was CNN and FOX blaring terror-and people no longer taking it seriously. Which is even more of a concern: how long does this go on before people just stop listening to the Bush cry wolf? (For some Deaf POVs: breenie at Urban vs. Rural is on it, and so is Erin Himmelman at DeafDC.com.)
I'm gonna write some closing thoughts in a succeeding blog. I do want to say that I was pleased that people kept working to improve the ability for everyone to be involved in this Convention. We tried new things (monitorts), it didn't work out (serious eye strain), they gave me what we decided was best for now: an interpreter at my table. The interpreters were heroes, working in a weird situation without a lot of support and under my VERY demanding usage (I do NOT use terps in a typical way, preferring to look at everything as much as I can to get atmosphere as well as information.) And I really, really wish there had been more Deaf people there.