People with Muscular Dystrophy Protesting Jerry Lewis
People from outside the disability community, and even some people with disabilities, often wonder what people with muscular dystrophy themselves think of all the protests against Jerry Lewis’ annual telethon and Jerry’s upcoming humanitarian award. After all, Jerry’s fund raising efforts are meant to help them–aren’t they?
Some people with muscular dystrophy, and their families, do in fact support the telethon. But it may surprise some people to realize that people with muscular dystrophy are consistently among the most out-spoken leaders in the protest movement against Jerry’s annual telethon. And they are once again in the forefront of protesting the choice to give Jerry a humanitarian award this February 22, 2009. The person who founded the Facebook group coordinating the current protests, Laura Hershey, used to be a poster child in Jerry’s telethon. Some of the people signing the petition protesting Jerry’s award have identified themselves as people with muscular dystrophy, or as people who know someone close to them with MD.
Follow the links below to various blog posts and newspaper articles to hear the voices of people with muscular dystrophy themselves explaining why they feel that Jerry’s telethon–and the pity that it generates–does more harm than good. At the bottom, I have also collected some quotes from people signing the petition protesting Jerry’s humanitarian award.
From Poster Child to Protester
Once, Laura Hershey was a little girl with muscular dystrophy and one of many “poster children” in Jerry’s annual telethon. Now she is one of a growing number of former poster children who has worked tirelessly for years protesting the manner in which Jerry promotes pity. Read her story, which she wrote in 1993. And, no, her involvement with the protests didn’t stop there: Laura Hershey happens to be the woman who established the Facebook Group coordinating protests against Jerry’s award in December 2008.
The Kids are Alright
Mike Ervin was a “Jerry’s Kids” poster child in the 1960s. Today, he protests the way that the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Jerry’s telethon, have portrayed people with muscular dystrophy in the quest for charitable donations. Read about a half-hour documentary analyzing how pity makes it harder to advance true social equality.
Disability Activists Demand an End to Jerry’s Labor Day Pity Party
This article shares more about the story of Mike Ervin and his sister–both of whom were used as Jerry’s “poster children” in the 1960s, and both of whom are now active in protesting the telethon.
No Longer One of Jerry’s Kids
A former poster child, Ben Mattlin, explains why he now protests against the same telethon he had appeared in when he was six years old.
Telethon’s Cost is in Dignity
Harriet McBride, who had a muscle-wasting condition, was one of the key leaders of protests against Jerry’s Telethon until she died last year age age 50. This article tells the story.
Jerry Lewis’ Unforgivable Harm to Young People
Diane Coleman, a woman with a neuromuscular condition who is the founder and President of Not Dead Yet, writes about how Jerry Lewis has promoted the idea that people with disabilities are simply better off dead.
From a place of love
A young woman with muscular dystrophy writes about the evolution of her identity as a person with disabilities and why she opposes a telethon “drenched in pity.”
Guest blogger at “If the World Had Wheels”
A young competitive swimmer with muscular dystrophy shares her thoughts on Jerry’s telethon in this guest blog spot.
Tom and Jerry and other Telethon Stories
Dave at “Chewing the Fat” shares several stories related to Jerry’s annual telethon; among them are comments he once heard about the telethon from a young boy with muscular dystrophy.
Signatures in the Petition Protesting Jerry’s Award
A number of people signing the petition against Jerry’s humanitarian award have indicated that they themselves have muscular dystrophy, or were once one of “Jerry’s kids,” or are close to someone with muscular dystrophy. Here are a few examples I’ve noticed:
The comment with signature #1060 says: “As a person with muscular dystrohpy, i strongly object to the presentation of any humanitarian award to Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lewis and the MDA have actively fought against the progress of the disability rights movement and have acted only in self interest to appear as “humanitarians”. He is protested against by people with muscular dystrophy themselves every year. Could we be any more clear?”
The comment with signature #911 says: “I personally know people with MD. They are hardworking and intelligent people who deserve to be viewed as contributing members of their communities. If the telethon producers want to be supportive they need to show how the money can be used to purchase equipment or services which will enhance independence. Adults with disabilities are sick and tired of being viewed and treated as “kids”. Stars like Jerry Lewis have a strong influence on public perception and opinion. They need to use that influence to help reverse stereotypical thinking. It is this type thicking which promotes fear and subsequently, discrimination”
The comment with signature #656 says: “My son was considered for National Poster child – he knew Jerry Lewis, Bob Ross, Jerry Weinurg – when he passed away there was nothing from them- no acknowledgemnt at at.”
The comment with signature #626 says: “I have muscular dystrophy and I am offended at the way jerry lewis has characterized and caricatured those of us who have this disease. Jerry is a bigot. Raising money, in the manner he does, and using it for a humanitarian cause DOES NOT make him a humanitarian!”
The comment with signature #586 says: “I have a form of muscular dystrophy and I am gay therefore iI cannot possibly support this award going to someone who perpetuates pity and inequality to people like myself.”
The comment with signature #544 says: “As a person with MD I abhor Jerry Lewis’s negative stereotyping of my people and his belief that we are useless”
The comment with signature #344 says this: “As a former “Jerry’s Kid” I know first-hand the harm that Mr. Lewis has done to people with disabilities! He deserves no reward for humanitarian efforts and instead should be more scrutinized for his de-huminizing attitudes towards people with disabililties (and other groups.)” (The emphasis is added.)
The comment with signature #292 says this: “I am a 64-year-old woman with muscular dystrophy, and I have found the telethons humiliating since I was a young woman. They give false hope to parents and turn individuals with disabilities into childlike, charity figures. I’m retired, but managed to work all my life.”
The comment with signature #267 says: “If Mr. Lewis thinks tyhat people with MD cannot work, then he needs to meet my friend with MD who is an electronic enginerr for the Air Force designing radar and weapons systems. She is far from stupid.”
The comment with signature #236 says: “My boss of two years has MD. Attitudes and comments like Jerry Lewis’s diminish the the capabilty and accomplishments of people with MD in the eyes of the public. His work is NOT humanitarian.”
The comment with signature #190 says: “I personally know several people with Muscular Dystrophy who are gainfully employed. Jerry Lewis is wrong and paternalistic.”
The comment with signature #126 says: “As someone with a neuromuscular disability, I am among the many Jerry Lewis has labeled “half a person.” Someone who denies the full personhood of others does not deserve to be recognized as a humanitarian.”
The comment with signature #88 says: “Jerry Lewis treated me like crap while I was an MDA ‘poster girl’ in 1977. He never stopped smoking around his ‘kids’ and refused to talk to us or give an autograph. He treated us like prop objects to make his image look good instead of kids who adored him. It was a crushing momment for a seven year old.”
The comment with signature #82 says: “As a disability advocate (for the past 35 years) and a person with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (a form of Muscular Dystrophy) I find the tactics and rhetoric used by Jerry Lewis personally offensive and degrading.”
Read “Cancel Humanitarian Award for Jerry Lewis Petition” at http://www.petitiononline.com/jlno2009/petition.html
Sign the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/jlno2009/petition-sign.html
Join the Facebook Group, “Tell Oscar — NO humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis!” at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=40538392681