Joining the Anti-Pity Movement

Posted on 12 January 2009. Filed under: Advocacy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

An increasing number of bloggers are encouraging their readers to sign the petition protesting Jerry Lewis’ humanitarian award, and also to join the Facebook group coordinating protests against a man who has helped entrench negative stereotypes of all people with disabilities–and Deaf people.  Here are a few of the most recent examples below.  Or, read the full list of links by clicking on the page Bloggers Protesting Pity in the top navigation bar.

Confused what this is all about?  Jerry Lewis, the man who runs the annual telethon raising money for research into Muscular Dystrophy is about to receive a humanitarian award.  Many Deaf people, Autistic people, people with Muscular Dystrophy, and people with all disabilities strongly object to this decision.  Has Jerry raised money for charity?  Yes, lots of it.  But these funds come with a heavy price tag: the manner in which Jerry raises these funds generate pity for people with disabilities in ways that reinforce outdated stereotypes.  These stereotypes make it harder, among other things, for job applicants to be judged on their genuine qualifications for the job instead of on mistaken beliefs about what people with disabilities can and cannot do.  Read on to learn more …

Petition regarding disabilities and their perceptions…
http://specialparents-exceptionalchildren.blogspot.com/2009/01/petition-regarding-disabilities-and.html
Has a few links to web pages and blog posts that explain why some people with disabilities dislike Jerry’s annual telethon and quotes some of the negative things Jerry has said (such as referring to wheelchair users as “half a person,” etc.)

Jerry Lewis the Humanitarian?
http://www.philosophercrip.com/2009/01/12/jerry-lewis-the-humanitarian/
Includes the full text of the petition (and a link to it). The introductory blurb, among other things, says: “How many of us cringe when someone feels “terrible” that we are LPs/deaf/chair users/learning disabled/autistic/etc? That cringe is what this petition is giving voice to.”

Jerry Lewis to be Presented with Humanitarian Award
http://thecurvature.com/2009/01/12/jerry-lewis-to-be-presented-with-humanitarian-award/
Encourages people to sign the petition, saying “… [I]t seems kind of strange and wildly offensive that someone might receive a humanitarian award after having referred to the people he “helps” as not fully human ….”

Petition to cancel humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis
http://whatsortsofpeople.wordpress.com/2009/01/12/petition-to-cancel-humanitarian-award-for-jerry-lewis/
In addition to presenting the text of the petition, this author also recommends a book to read analyzing how telethons promote discrimination and negative images of people with disabilities.

Please do remember to  sign the petition protesting Jerry Lewis’ humanitarian award.  And please also join the Facebook group coordinating the protests against this “humanitarian” award.  Also, check the full list of links about the protests by clicking on the page Bloggers Protesting Pity in the top navigation bar.

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People with Muscular Dystrophy Protesting Jerry Lewis

Posted on 11 January 2009. Filed under: Advocacy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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
http://www.cripcommentary.com/frompost.html
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
http://www.thekidsareallright.org/
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
http://www.niagarafallsreporter.com/croisdale294.html
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
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/31/AR2007083101273.html?hpid=opinionsbox1
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
http://www.thestar.com/article/489291
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
http://notdeadyetnewscommentary.blogspot.com/2007/09/jerry-lewis-unforgivable-harm-to-young.html
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
http://crip-power.com/2007/09/02/72/
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”
http://karasheridan.com/?p=165
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
http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com/2007/09/tom-and-jerry-and-other-telethon.html
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

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Protest Pity!

Posted on 10 January 2009. Filed under: Advocacy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Whether you’re Deaf or hearing; old or young; poor or rich; have muscular dystrophy or not; gay or straight; male or female; have disabilities or not—chances are, you would never want someone to pity you. Yet, too many of us think pity is okay as long as we do it to someone else. Meaning someone who leads such a pathetic life that they “deserve” pity. And, not so incidentally, charity.

Jerry Lewis is someone who perpetuates pity against all people with disabilities–and, yes, against Deaf people and Autistic people as well, even if not all identify as having disabilities–every time he runs his annual telethon for people with muscular dystrophy on Labor Day weekend. For his annual task of attacking the dignity of millions of people, Jerry is about to receive a humanitarian award.

There is now an on-line petition campaign against Jerry’s humanitarian award. If you already know you want to sign it, then skip the rest of this post and follow this link to the petition signature page! (Be sure to use the Comments line to explain, in your own words, why you support the petition. This will vastly strengthen the impact of your signature.)

Not sure yet? I will explain more about the petition and why all Deaf people, Autistic people, and people with disabilities should sign it. But, first, I will share a few words on why we all should take a stand against the destructive force of pity where ever we find it–whether it’s perpetuated by Jerry or by someone else (see “Protest Pity“). Then I will talk about why Jerry does not deserve a humanitarian award (see “Protest Jerry’s Pity-a-Thon“). Last, I will explain about the humanitarian award and the effort to protest it (see “Join the Petition Campaign!“)

Protest Pity

Those of us who are Deaf, or who are Autistic, or who have muscular dystrophy, or who have disabilities, all know first hand how pity can damage lives. It undermines our efforts to seek out access to our environment; to full, independent lives; to our basic human rights; and to our fundamental freedoms. People who “pity” us don’t think about things like supplying us with closed captions (for Deaf people), or a quiet, dim environment (for Autistic people with sensory issues), or ramps (for wheelchair users). People who pity us are more interested in putting a quarter or two in our begging cup (because, surely, we must have one, don’t we?) so they can go away feeling good about themselves. Never mind whether our lives are truly improved by the charity they bestow upon us. Because, unlike empathy, pity doesn’t really have anything to do with providing the kind of help that people necessarily want and need to receive. Pity, and the charity it triggers, is really about the giver and their need to see themselves as kind and generous. By definition, it is never about the recipient.

Pity can frequently masquerade as more benign emotions such as “sympathy” or (better) “empathy.” But unlike empathy, pity dehumanizes the target. We feel empathy with our equals: empathy implies that we identify with the pain of someone we perceive as being mostly like ourselves. Empathy also implies that we believe the target deserves all the same kind of support we would want for ourselves if we were in the same situation. But we feel pity only for people we perceive as being, not just different from us, but beneath us. Maybe even contemptible, or less than human. Empathy binds people together and drives people to fight for things like justice, equality, and human rights. Pity separates us and stratifies us into “superior” beings (people who should never be pitied) and “inferior” beings (people who should be pitied, or who should be passive recipients of charity).

When we empathize with someone, we recognize their fundamental dignity. We may not necessarily share all their values and interests, but we acknowledge that they deserve to have access to all the same services, human rights, and freedoms that we do. If someone we empathize with is denied the right to informed consent to medical care (because they are denied the interpreters they need to understand the treatment options being offered to them), or the right to read an important brochure on HIV/AIDS prevention (because it is not available in Braille), then we become enraged on their behalf. We take as a given that they deserve the same things that we do. And we stand in solidarity with them when they fight for their human rights.

However, if we pity them rather than empathize with them, then it doesn’t occur to us that the barriers they face to full participation in society are a travesty of justice and human rights. Instead, we simply say, “How sad that they have disabilities.” Then perhaps we throw a few dollars in their general direction so we can move on and forget about them. Pity does not inspire people to support enduring equal access to the environment. It only inspires short-term, feel-good charity.

Protest Jerry Lewis’ Pity-a-Thon

If pity is such a terrible thing, then why do some people, like Jerry Lewis, do so much to encourage it? It can be tempting to fall into the trap of promoting pity for two reasons. One, too many people still confuse pity with its more productive counterpart, empathy. Two, pity does happen to be very effective at luring people to donate millions of dollars, in charity–which can do a lot of short-term good, even if the pity itself can do so much harm.

Hence, Jerry’s annual “pity-a-thon,” which has raised enormous amounts of money to support medical research. However, many people question whether the harm caused by Jerry’s pity-a-thon justifies the ends. They point out that events such as Jerry’s telethon can generate massive amounts of pity that last well beyond the event ends, with all its destructive implications. Last year, dozens of Deaf people, hearing people, Autistic people, non-autistic people, and people with various disabilities wrote about why they oppose Jerry’s telethon: you can read those blog posts at http://karasheridan.com/?p=164. And in case you were wondering: yes, there are people with muscular dystrophy who don’t like Jerry’s telethon either.

Join the Petition Campaign!

So what about Jerry’s upcoming humanitarian award, and the petition campaign protesting it? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that it will give Jerry Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscar Awards ceremony on February 22, 2009. This is largely for his work raising money by entrenching negative, stereotyped attitudes toward people with disabilities. Most people with disabilities do not oppose the need for more medical research into muscular dystrophy, or for services for people with muscular dystrophy. What we object to is the destructive means by which Jerry raises these funds.

Read and sign the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/jlno2009/petition.html. Please be sure to use the Comments line to explain, in your own words, why you support the petition. This will vastly increase the impact of your signature (because it shows you feel very strongly about this subject.)

If you’re on Facebook, you can join the Facebook group organizing efforts to protest Jerry’s award at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=40538392681

(If you’re not in Facebook yet, it’s pretty easy to set up an account for yourself, and it is free.)

Please do blog the petition campaign (be sure to link to the petition and to the Facebook group!) And please do twitter it as well.

You can increase the visibility of this blog post by “Digging” it–go to http://digg.com/arts_culture/Deaf_and_disabled_people_urge_others_to_Protest_Pity, then click on where it says “Digg it” (if you don’t already have a Digg account then you may need to create one, which takes just a few minutes).

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