Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Day Two at the AFSCME international convention began early. I signed up for the PEOPLE run on Thursday morning; will be running 3.5 miles to raise money. (Got $90 - not a huge amount, but I didn't ask for more than small donations, and as you can see below I had to sit and... well, you'll see.)

Had lots of interpreter problems when I got to my delegation's table; the convention organizers decided to give me a tiny monitor which they sat right on the table. The camera this monitor was attached to focused on the far-away interpreters; as a result I had a splitting headache and bloodshot eyes in a few hours. My delegation was pretty concerned about this; they wanted to come up with something better but there wasn't much to do about it. They were fighting hard to try and improve the situation and my delegation's President, Lorraine Guest, wants to make a statement at some point about the issues of getting Deaf people in the union: in fact the whole New York delegation shows more and more concern as time goes on and the problem is visible. The more they see Deaf people the more they want to fight with us for our rights... Elba Serrano and Kim Medina are others who have been making special effort to improve the situation. We will learn from this and move on.

The interpreters themselves were frantic at not being booked properly-were told from 9-3 when it was more like 9-5, and not given any breaks. They had to eat lunch on stage while Clinton spoke. I felt bad for them. Compounding this if I wanted to make a statement about a resolution or an amendment- the terps were on the other side of the huge convention room-how could I make a statement? Was there a camera on me? And would the interpreters understand my NYC accent? My answer to that comes later.... but I tried to make myself an ally for everyone. Yes, it's more work, but it's a lot more productive than sitting there sceaming about my rights - this is ignorance we're working against, not audism; there is a difference.

I contacted Ridor today following my concerns yesterday and asked him about his thoughts about Deaf people and Unions. He mentioned CSD-Riverside school which had problems in the past and 'got the union' to represent them. It seems to me there's a lot of places where a hearing person comes into the Deaf organization to 'fix' the situation but maybe not a lot of Deaf people representing themselves in Unions. I think it's great to have the Union there to help but my experience here says Deaf people need to be involved and visible to everyone for people to really be motivated to work with us.

The day went back and forth between speeches from people and voting on amendments and resolutions. McEntee gave a great speech on a lot of hot button topics-Medicare, Social Security, what the Government is doing to hurt American workers. Clinton was a big hit with a lot of people and said something I'd never seen before-that BP was responsible for their pipeline and should be responsible for the cost of repairing it. They shouldn't put that cost on the American people. It made me think of the way Republicans try to get rid of people on welfare-they say it's the responsibility of poor people to take care of themselves. The difference is poor people often aren't responsible for what happens to them-getting fired, sick, etc. And the cost of welfare is a hell of a lot cheaper than the cost of oil. Not everyone liked Clinton-some people felt she was trying too hard to make herself look like one of the ordinary people. One woman said "Clinton said she knows what small children in Lebanon feel, running from bombs. When has she run from a bomb?" Such is politics. But how would a Deaf person feel with a hearing person claiming they know how Deaf people feel? Or vice versa? We should only claim ownership of our own experiences.

At the end of the day a resolution about American education came up. There's a Republican drive to mandate each school spend 65 per cent on education solely. This is based on bad researtch which shows the best schools spend 65 per cent of their budget on education. However I know from reading Jonathan Kozol's book Savage Inequalities that schools get different amounts of money from our government (so much for separate but equal... Schools in rich (often white) hoods get 8,000 or more per student, poor schools in minority neighborhoods get one or two thousand. It seemed to me we needed to add a resolution to make sure the government was spending the same amount on each child before they had the right to tell us how much to spend within schools... What, they want NYC public schools to go without basics like electricity and food so they can pay for the same things rich schools in Connecticut get for their kids? Elba Serrano showed me how to phrase it as a friendly amendment, but since the interpreters speak Chicago-style ASL, I decided to write down my thoughts and give them to Lorraine Guest, our President, to read; I thought this would make it clearer. They put us both on the camera and people seemed to get my point and it will be added to the resolution. I was nervous as a lame cat in a dog pound but it went fine and I'm happy I got over my nervousness to try and make a contribution-and glad people saw a Deaf person up there helping work on the issues. We need more visibility (isn't that ironic, considering we're a visual people?)

I don't have all the answers on how to participate but I know if we don't make an effort it's not going to happen... I also know I wouldn't be here without President Lorraine Guest reaching out. It takes effort on both sides. I'm looking forward to a march tomorrow and of course the run on Friday!


Elissa said...

"We should only claim ownership of our own experiences." Absolutely.
I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately - both as a hearing person who wants to work with deaf kids and in my personal life. I can share many similar experiences/background with an individual - but we can still feel/respond to those experiences vastly different. And there will be experiences that I will never even be able to begin to grasp because they aren't my experiences and as such I can't ever truly understand how they affect someone else. All I can do - is try to understand. Okay, someone had way too much coffee today. :)
And, I loved the serialized fiction story.

Tomato said...

Dear Joe,

congrats to see you're trying out the Union life. It's a whole different world.

When I was elected to the national committee of students with disablilites (a subunit of the UK national union of students), it took me pretty near a whole year to just learn my way around, how to structure resolutions, voting structures, and conference proceeding structures.

If you think that's a lot of structures, you're right. Sometimes its a right pain in the arse and makes change almost impossible to meaningfully achieve. Other times it comes in useful to stop several years of progress being thrown away on a half-baked idea...

I had constant struggles, including battles with terp funding, booking and provision right through my 2 year term, turf wars with other committees and personal conflicts between one of my best friends on the committee and the chair. It got to the stage where they were passing motions censuring each other, invoking discplinary tribunals and storming out of meetings threatening to sue.

I learn a lot but I'm also glad I'm no longer involved. Two things that made life harder : not having other deafs to sign with in conference break times, just so that I could be a bit more VISIBLE; and not having terps outside formal hours.

That made it very hard to build up personal contacts, access informal meetings, and generally barred me from taking part in and learning about the hidden web of politics/ friendships/ blocs and power relationships that all organisations, especially unions, have which are crucial to making any kind of change.

That said, overall, most people were very positive, and in annual conference tended to vote for anything that I spoke on, just cos they liked seeing me signing from the floor.

I did find it really hard to fufil my formal duties that I'd been elected to do as I felt isolated outside of meetings. I think you'll find that part of it easier than me.

Good luck!