The Trouble with Jerry Lewis

Posted on 2 February 2009. Filed under: Advocacy, Announcements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Subject: The Trouble with Jerry

Dear members of the Facebook group “Tell Oscar — NO humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis!” —

The Oscar Awards ceremony is now just 20 days away. As it approaches, “The Trouble with Jerry” campaign is mobilizing disability community leaders, activists, and allies to protest the “humanitarian award” to Jerry Lewis.

Here’s the latest news:

*We have a newly-designed, easy-to-navigate, super-jazzy website! Go to http://thetroublewithjerry.net and then tell everyone you know about it, post the link on your Facebook page, link your blog to it, etc. Remember, that’s
http://thetroublewithjerry.net

*We are seeking organizations to endorse The Trouble with Jerry campaign, and in particular the letter we sent to the Motion Picture Academy. Does your organization want to lend its official endorsement to the letter? If so, please message me back. You can read this letter at http://thetroublewithjerry.net%2Fletter-to-the-academy

*NOW is the time to start organizing an Oscar protest in your town. Contact me if you are thinking about doing this, and I’ll help you get started.

*Also, let me know as soon as possible if you’re planning to come to LA for the national Oscar protest actions on February 20, 21, and 22. We are holding a limited number of accessible hotel rooms, so let me know if you need lodging.

In solidarity,
Laura



The above letter was recently circulated to the Facebook group Tell Oscar — NO humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis!

People who have a Facebook account will want to follow the above link to join the Facebook group organizing protests against Jerry Lewis’ homophobia, sexism, and pity-drenched attitude toward people with disabilities. But if you don’t have Facebook, you can still get involved by visiting http://thetroublewithjerry.net/, or by sending an email to info@thetroublewithjerry.com.

Visit Bloggers Protesting Pity to learn why bloggers are protesting pity.

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Updates on Protests Against Jerry Lewis’ Humanitarian Award

Posted on 18 January 2009. Filed under: Advocacy, Announcements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Subject: Four Important Items

To members of Tell Oscar — NO humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis! —

I have four important updates to pass along to you:

1. HOLLYWOOD PROTESTS: We are still planning protests during Oscar weekend in Hollywood, on February 20, 21, and 22. If you can be there for any or all of those days, now is the time to start making travel arrangements. Airfares are still pretty reasonable. If possible, find lodging somewhere near the Metro’s Red Line, so you can get to the protest locations more easily.

2. DONATIONS: The Disability Rights Center has agreed to accept donations to support this campaign. If you want to contribute money to help with protest materials, or travel expenses for lower-income participants, it would be greatly appreciated! You can make a tax-deductible donation payable to the Disability Rights Center, and mail it to: Disability Rights Center, P.O. Box 313, Rhododendron, OR 97049.

3. LOCAL PROTESTS: Some people are starting to organize Oscar protests in their local communities. If you want to organize an action, feel free to use “The Wall” on our Facebook group page. You can post a message as simple as, “Anyone interested in an action in [your city’s name]?” And check the wall to see if anyone is doing anything in your area. Use this resource to connect with each other. You can also send me announcements about your plans, and when I get several, I’ll send out another message with that information. (Don’t rely just on Facebook, though…. Contact your friends and colleagues, urging them to join you in voicing opposition to this humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis.)

4. WEBSITE: We now have a website at http://www.thetroublewithjerry.com where we will be adding some information and resources in the weeks to come.

That’s it for now. Feel free to send Laura Hershey a message if you have questions, ideas, resources, or announcements.

In solidarity,
Laura Hershey

Join the Facebook groupSign the petitionread a short text about the protests that can be copy/pasted into an email message to your friends … Read what is being said by various bloggers protesting pity … or write a letter of complaint directly to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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Deaf ASL-Users Are Protesting Pity!

Posted on 18 January 2009. Filed under: Advocacy, Announcements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Culturally Deaf people are standing in solidarity with people with disabilities protesting against pity.

No one likes it when others pity us for who we are: pity demeans us and de-humanizes us. At best, pity may trigger a momentary impulse to donate a few dollars to charity—for example, via Jerry Lewis’ annual US telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. But the pity remains entrenched long after the fundraising events are over. And people don’t just pity the people they give money to. They usually end up pitying any one who they think have disabilities, including people who may not even identify that way—for example proud, ASL-using, culturally Deaf people.

People who pity people with disabilities—or Deaf people—usually never think to challenge the assumption that we should be passive recipients of charity. They don’t think to question why we must still confront barriers to full participation in society, for example the lack of captions or sign language interpreters in many contexts where we need them. Fueling pitying attitudes undermines progress toward social equality for people with ALL disabilities. And, yes, the same pity also hurts Deaf people, INCLUDING Deaf people who abhor the idea that Deafness could equate “disability.” Individuals who pity people with disabilities may be more resistant to explanations about Deaf culture and the important cultural and linguistic issues that affect Deaf people because they are too busy pitying Deaf people for being unable to hear. People who respect the fundamental dignity and human rights of people with disabilities will also be more likely to listen to Deaf people when we talk about the importance of ASL and promoting pride in Deaf culture. People who pity spend less time listening because they mistakenly believe that pity is a noble emotion that they need to preserve by distancing themselves from the real lives, feelings, and beliefs of the people they are trying to pity. (These people need to learn the difference between pity and empathy, https://reunifygally.wordpress.com/2009/01/10/protest-pity/)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that it will give Jerry Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on February 22, 2009. Both Deaf rights activists and also disability rights activists object to this award. During his decades of hosting the Labor Day Telethon, Jerry Lewis has perpetuated negative, stereotypical attitudes and pity toward people with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities. And, again, much of the pity that Jerry fuels has ALSO harmed progress for issues important to culturally Deaf, ASL using people as well.

Read and sign the petition protesting this award at: http://www.petitiononline.com/jlno2009/petition.html Strengthen the impact of your signature by using the comments area in the petition to explain in your own words why you support this petition. (Don’t be fooled by the tiny size of the comments window: if you wish, you can fit in several long sentences.)

Join the Facebook Group that is coordinating efforts to protest the award: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=40538392681

Read what other bloggers say about the award, and why both the Deaf community and also the disability community is angry, at https://reunifygally.wordpress.com/bloggers-protesting-pity/

And write your own letter of complaint directly to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at: http://www.oscars.org/contact/general.html. Polite, tactful letters usually work best.

Please circulate this text freely. Thank you.

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Time for Oscars to Support, Not Undermine, Deaf and Disability Rights

Posted on 14 January 2009. Filed under: Advocacy, Announcements | Tags: , , , , , , |

People in the Deaf, Autistic, Muscular Dystrophy, and Disability communities will be gathering in Los Angeles, California, USA, near February 22, 2009, to tell the Oscar awards organizers that human rights is more helpful to people with disabilities than pity or charity.

If you didn’t already know, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that it will give Jerry Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on February 22, 2009. This award primarily recognizes his years of work raising money through his annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Disability activists, including many who have muscular dystrophy, object to this award because Jerry has perpetuated negative stereotypes of people with disabilities. Yes, he also raised money for research–research that some among the protesters may support. But their message is that the end does not justify the means. Jerry could have, and should have, chosen fund raising tactics that would not do so much destruction to the efforts of disability rights advocates to gain recognition for the fundamental dignity and value of people with disabilities. By projecting us as pathetic, helpless creatures, Jerry’s tactics has made it harder for usto be judged on our actual merits for the jobs we apply for–rather than on other people’s mistaken assumptions about what people with disabilities can and cannot do.

Read more in the announcement below that was recently circulated among members of the Facebook Group organizing these protests against Jerry’s award. If you haven’t already, you may also wish to sign the on-line petition protesting Jerry’s award.

Subject: UPDATE: Oscar Protests Being Planned

Put it on your calendar! Actions are currently being planned to take place before and during the Academy Awards ceremony. Can you come to Los Angeles to participate in two BIG actions on Oscar weekend, February 20 and 21? Can you organize a local action in your community on or around February 22?

If you want to be part of the protest at the Oscars in LA, now is the time to make airline reservations and other travel arrangements. Plan to be in LA at least 2/20 and 2/21, and 2/22 if possible. We’ll send out information soon about a nearby accessible hotel, and about the specifics of the protest actions.

If you want to organize an action at a local Oscar party or other appropriate target, get the ball roling now! Find local Oscar events — perhaps sponsored by your local film society, charity, or media outlet. (Try a Google search with the terms “2009 Oscar party [your city name].”) Talk to local disability, LGBT, and feminist activist/advocacy groups. Even if you can only get a dozen or so people involved, you may be able to pull off a great action, and get some press coverage to raise public awareness. Stay tuned for more tips on organizing a local protest…

Jerry Lewis advised his critics to “stay in your house!” Whether you come to LA, or do a local action, you’ll be letting Lewis — and everyone else — know that you’re not going to let prejudice, ignorance, and shame keep you inside your house, OR keep you quiet!



Learn about protest planning and other activities through the Facebook group organizing action against Jerry’s humanitarian award: http://www.facebook.com/groups.php#/group.php?gid=40538392681

Sign the on-line petition protesting Jerry’s award. You are encouraged to use the comment line in the petition to explain why you have chosen to sign the petition: this will strengthen the value of your signature: http://www.petitiononline.com/jlno2009/petition.html

See what bloggers have been saying about Jerry’s award:
https://reunifygally.wordpress.com/bloggers-protesting-pity/

Learn more about why people with disabilities object to the tactics Jerry uses to raise money via his annual telethon: http://www.cripcommentary.com/LewisVsDisabilityRights.html
And also see many excellent blog posts from last year at: http://karasheridan.com/?p=164

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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! Sign the Petition!

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

PROTEST PITY!

Deaf people, Autistic people, people with Muscular Dystrophy, and people with ALL disabilities are joining forces to take a stand against PITY. At best, pity may trigger a momentary impulse to donate a few dollars to charity–for example, via Jerry Lewis’ annual US telethon for Muscular Dystrophy. But the pity remains entrenched long after the fund raising events are over. People who pity people with disabilities usually never think to challenge the assumption that we should be passive recipients of charity. They don’t think to question why we don’t have better access to full participation in society. Fueling pitying attitudes undermines progress toward social equality for people with ALL disabilities. This same pity also harms Deaf and Autistic people, whether or not they consider themselves as people with disabilities.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that it will give Jerry Lewis its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on February 22, 2009. Disability rights activists object to this award. During his decades of hosting the Labor Day Telethon, Jerry Lewis has perpetuated negative, stereotypical attitudes and PITY toward people with muscular dystrophy and other disabilities.

Read and sign the petition protesting this undeserved award at: http://www.petitiononline.com/jlno2009/petition.html

Join the Facebook Group that is coordinating efforts to protest the award: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=40538392681

Read this blog post on the petition campaign; on the important difference between “pity” and “empathy”; why Jerry’s brand of pity is destructive; and why real empathy is more likely to lead to human rights: https://reunifygally.wordpress.com/2009/01/10/protest-pity/

Read what other bloggers say about the award, and why the disability community is enraged, at https://reunifygally.wordpress.com/bloggers-protesting-pity/

Please circulate this text freely. Thank you.

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Bloggers Protesting Pity

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

A growing number of bloggers have been joining the protest against Jerry Lewis’ humanitarian award. If you didn’t already know, Jerry is receiving a humanitarian award for his work in fueling pity against people with disabilities–pity that has undermined progress toward social equity and human rights. (Of course, what they say is that the award is for his work in raising money for charity. But it works out to the same thing.) Read and sign the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/jlno2009/petition.html, or join the Facebook Group coordinating protests against his undeserved award at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4053839. Follow the various links below to see what other bloggers have said about Jerry’s award. The oldest links are at the bottom, and the newest are at the top.

https://reunifygally.wordpress.com/2009/01/10/protest-pity/
Here at ReunifyGally, I discuss the difference between “pity” and “empathy” and why pity is always harmful whereas empathy is not. Links to the petition campaign.

http://media-dis-n-dat.blogspot.com/2009/01/petition-available-to-protest-jerry.html
The Media dis&dat blog has come out in support of the petition. Explains how Jerry has been consistently derogatory, not only toward people with disabilities, but also gay people and women.

http://autism.change.org/blog/view/petition_to_protest_hersholt_award_choice
Author Dora Raymaker appeals to people on the Autism spectrum to support the petition campaign also.

http://dawgoregon.blogspot.com/2008/12/jerrys-kids-or-jerrys-orphans.html
Written before the petition was available, DAWG Oregon protests Jerry’s award.

http://badcripple.blogspot.com/2008/12/protest-jerry-lewis.html
“Bad Cripple” writes about how Jerry’s pity undermines the search for social equality.

http://www.patriciaebauer.com/2008/12/11/jerry-lewis-oscar/
It’s worth checking Patricia E Bauer’s post for its multiple links to more articles on why people with disabilities have been so consistently enraged toward Jerry and the manner in which he fuels pitying attitudes toward people with disabilities.

http://www.laurahershey.com/?p=53
This is the earliest blog post I could find on this topic. Not surprisingly, its author, Laura Hershey, is the woman who created the Facebook group dedicated to protesting Jerry’s award.

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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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