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Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City, by F. Joseph Spieler

22 Jun

Village Voice Logo

The following article is from a 1969 or 1970 issue of the Village Voice and concerns the Blind Power Movement reported on in the prior post written by Lynne Koral. She is the “Lynne” in this article. The article was reprinted in the 1970 issue of the Braille Monitor, the Voice of the National Federation of the Blind. It was digitized by the Internet Archive in 2010 with funding from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). http://www.archive.org/details/braillemonitorju1970nati

Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City
F. Joseph Spieler

A rainy day can be a drag for the blind, for the sound of tapping umbrellas is the sound of tapping canes.

“Hey, someone’s coming,” called Pat Logan, as a rapping sound came down the stairs of the elevated subway at 90th Street and Elmhurst Avenue in Queens. “No, it’s just an umbrella.”

“Darn,” she said, and continued her wait with others for more blind people whom she would escort to her home for a meeting of the Blind Power Movement.

A movement of mainly high school and college students, it wants to stimulate and serve–at first–the youth of a blind population that numbers 40,000 in the city. Somewhat to the left in individual persuasion, though non-partisan in its goals, it sees itself in confrontation with the stereotype of the blind as sub-human or super-human (“Oh, look at that blind man, how sad and empty his life must be”–“I know this blind girl, it’s fantastic, she plays the piano and 12-string guitar, and she’s only 16!”), with an industrial society that assumes it has less use for the blind than did Homer’s Greece, and with New York’s state and private service organizations, which, after standing pat on their pioneering efforts years ago, have become top-heavy and self-serving bureaucracies that bind the blind to a system that rewards conformity and punishes dissent, but whose greater evil is to effectively segregate its clients from sighted society.

Walking from the subway to the apartment that 20-year-old Pat, a student at New York University, shares with her mother, seven blinks (“that’s our own sub-culture word for ourselves”) talked about President Nixon, the Moratorium, drugs, rock records, and various goings-on at the institutions for the blind. Jerry, a black high school student, talked with a sighted (their word for you) about being blind.

“Maybe I was kind of up tight with you before, but you have to understand that sighted people have so many preconceptions about us that it can get to be a pain in the —.” In addition to being blind, we’re supposed to be emotionally disturbed, too loud, picky, helpless. It always messes them up to find that we’re like them, that we’re involved in the same things they are, have the same bags and hangups–except that we have no vision.”

The last is important, for the lack of vision in the blind does not imply the inability to “see.” Pierre Villey, a blind psychologist, once wrote: “Sight is long-distance touch, with the sensation of color added. Touch is near sight, minus the sensation of color, and with the sense of rugosity added. The two senses give us knowledge of the same order.”

Soon gathered in Pat’s room–any young woman’s room, with the addition of two tape recorders, a television set (“I like to watch Johnny Carson”), and other sound equipment–were sixteen persons involved in pre-meeting pleasantries. After a few minutes, Lynne [Note: See the prior two posts on this blog by the same Lynne Koral. Ed.], a diminutive seventeen-year-old high-schooler, began axing private conversation by calling it “irrelevant,” and the movement’s third meeting began.

Fitfully chaired by Jerry, the gathering sifted legitimate from personal grievances, split into contentious factions, and then unified itself and put a series of goals on Braille.

The agencies for the blind received the heaviest specific criticism. These institutions, of which the largest in this city are the Jewish Guild for the Blind, The Industrial Home for the Blind, and the Lighthouse (the New York Association for the Blind), provide, in part, mobility lessons (how to travel), evaluation programs for students, Braille, typing, sensory training, manual dexterity instruction, home economics, and reader services. Some run “sheltered workshops”–where blind workers make simple handicrafts for varying rates of pay. Some receive money from state agencies–mainly the Rehabilitation and Counseling Service–for mobility lessons and evaluation testing.

The meeting was unanimous in its anger over what it felt is the arbitrariness shown by the agencies in their dealings with clients (the agencies’ word), their closed mouthedness about information (Wesley D. Sprague, executive director of the Lighthouse, when asked recently how many blind workers were employed by his agency, replied with a long and windy discourse on the meaninglessness of statistics), and the narrowness of their job training programs (the Lighthouse, for example, will train people, regardless of talent, for only three jobs–piano tuning, transcription typing, and newstand vending).

The young people made a special point of telling a visitor how they felt about being talked down to, and being “tested, tested, and re-tested.” They said that the agencies’ subtle, invidious message was that the social and vocational freedom of the blind was severely limited and that they were not to forget how dependent they were on agency support.

“Of course,” said Jerry, “they’ll deny everything and call us paranoid when we say that.”

In fact, a sighted executive near the top of one agency’s hierarchy came close to labeling the movement’s sentiments in just that fashion.–“Sure, they think they’re being given a raw deal,” he said, “but they’re just youngsters. Why I remember I rebelled as a kid myself, and in a way it’s good for them.”

Yet a recent study of the blind, “The Making of Blind Men” by Robert A, Scott, discussions with sympathetic professional workers in the agencies, and a talk with William Underwood, an educational specialist for the American Foundation for the Blind, a national consultative agency that carries Helen Keller’s legacy, indicate that Jerry and others in the movement–who, like many blind clients and agency workers, are fearful that full identification will lose them their services and jobs–are neither paranoid nor juvenile.

Scott’s work, published this year by the Russell Sage Foundation, says that self-conceptions of the blind contrast sharply with those held by workers for the blind, who regard blindness as “one of the most severe of all handicaps,” “Socialization” of the agency’s client, a process that Scott describes as learning “the disability of blindness (as a) social role,” depends on “changing his views about his problem. In order to do this, the client’s views about the problem of blindness must be discredited.” The client “is listened to attentively and sympathetically. However, when concrete plans are formulated, the client learns that his personal views are largely ignored.” A blind person who simply asks for help with reading can wind up facing a battery of psychological tests. If he asks for medical aid, he may be asked to involve himself in a long, complex series of tests, training classes, and re-tests.

Blind persons acceptable to the agency, Scott says, “will often find that the intake worker listens attentively to their views but then dismisses them as superficial or inaccurate.” The result of such treatment, Scott says, is that the client’s ability to act and think independently is severely diminished. Because “the workers have a virtual monopoly on the rewards and punishments in the system,” he continues, the client ends up by conforming to the worker’s conception of what a blind person should be.

Underwood agrees. “To get the services of the blind agencies, the blind individual must conform to the system, and let’s face it, blind kids entering high school and college need their services.”

One woman who holds a responsible position at the Lighthouse, afraid that the use of even her first name would lead to her detection and firing, confirmed Scott’s description in detail. “The thing I absolutely can’t stand is the way they pretend to like blind people–the hypocrisy is sad, it’s sickening.” She recalled an incident in which some blinks, after meeting at the Lighthouse with a psychologist, asked the doctor out for a drink at a nearby bar. Some staff people heard about it and, horrified at the possibilities, rounded up the imbibers into cabs and sent them home.

But beyond the textbook understanding and occasional good intentions of agency staff lies the fact that a small, intelligent, energetic, and growing Blind Power Movement has entered what social scientists anesthetizingly refer to as “the revolution of rising expectations.” The foremost of their goals is “the education of the public to break down stereotypes about the blind, with particular emphasis on the consideration of individual intelligence and talent by educators, employers, and blind agencies.

Second is “increased and diversified job placement, with research into new areas where blind people can find challenging and stimulating work.” (Perhaps nothing gives the young blind the sense of paternalistic manipulation as much as the agencies’ vocational training classes, such as those run by the Lighthouse.)

The Blind Power Movement makes several other demands:

–A large increase in the number of blind staff workers in the agencies. (The movement members and their staff sympathizers speak of agencies’ systematic placing in middle-management jobs of blind Uncle Tom workers who dead-end any innovative and experimental impulses among the clients. One revealing figure is that only one blind person sits on the Lighthouse’s thirty-eight-man board of directors. Imagine all but one of the board of directors of the NAACP in 1969 being white.)

–“Expansion of self-help programs tied to public schooling to eliminate the need for special schools for the blind, which tend to reinforce the segregation of the blind.”

–The creation of “instruction groups in which blind instructors would teach parents how to provide their blind offspring with more mobility–and hence independence–at an earlier age.”

–Tutoring in such special areas as science and math so they may achieve competitive status with sighted students.

The movement is not heady. As well as taking on the agencies–which in the public image have halos around their offices–there is the problem of what Richard Adcock, a seventeen-year-old who attends Grover Cleveland High, calls the “unorganized blind”–those frightened of losing their agency’s services if they join the movement, those who are unaware of the movement (publicity and meetings pose special problems for the blind), and those who feel they can do it on their own.

Joseph Ciccone is one who would like to do it alone. Though he earned a B.A. degree in economics from City College in 1967, he has, at twenty-five, been trained as a piano tuner. He has also taught himself electronics, holds a general-class ham license, and is attempting to start a business as a free-lance recording technician, using his own impressive equipment. “It’s not easy, you always have to fight against the same thing–‘a blind recording technician?'” Though his own experience with blind agencies would have enabled him to write much of Scott’s criticism, Ciccone feels that energy on behalf of the blind should be directed at prying open the job market. Unable to get a job in his academic field, he qualified himself for work as a radio announcer and studio technician–but not one station in this city’s progressive media consented to offer him even a tryout. “It was always ‘we can’t hire blind people’ or ‘we’ll put you on our list and get back to you before not too long,’ but they never did.”

He wishes the movement well but is pessimistic. “Numbers,” he says, “that’s the whole thing about organizing the blind–the numbers aren’t there.”

But the movement doesn’t think so. Its activists say the meetings–which are open to sighted people–are drawing a growing membership, and that they are earning sympathy and tacit support from progressive agency workers. “What we need now,” said Pat Logan, “is publicity, publicity, publicity.”

*************

Editor’s note:  If you are interested in the response of the president of the National Federation of the Blind to this Voice article, then read on. The Village Voice article was reprinted the same year, 1970, in the Braille Monitor, the organ of the NFB, as part of an article by its president, Kenneth Jernigan.

“BLIND POWER”–DIALOGUE AT A DISTANCE
by Kenneth Jernigan, President, National Federation of the Blind

Recently Mike Ewart of Maryland sent me an article from “The Village Voice,” an underground newspaper published in Greenwich Village, New York. Not only did I find the article interesting but I wondered whether these people were part of our movement and what they were really doing to improve the condition of the blind.

Then follows the Village Voice article printed above. Following the article Mr. Jernigan informs the readers of the Braille Monitor what he did next:

After reading this article I wrote to Bill Dwyer, President of our New York affiliate, The Empire State Association of the Blind, and to Sam Wolff, President of the Triboro Chapter of the Empire State Association of the Blind:

April 3, 1970

Mr. William Dwyer
94 Third Avenue
Rensselaer, New York 12144

Dear Bill:

I am sending the enclosed article to you and Sam Wolff to ask whether you know anything about this “Blind Power” group. If they are any good, we ought to get hold of them and bring them into the movement. Maybe they are in the movement. If so, I have never heard of them.

Sam, do you know these people? Can you get in touch with them and see what they are like?

Cordially,

Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind

Then Mr. Jernigan writes:

Almost immediately I received a response from Sam Wolff, who said in part:

“This is in response to yours of April 3rd regarding the blind power movement; I have just gotten off the telephone with the party I believe is their leader. She is intelligent, young, and one of the people who I have placed two years ago; she called to tell me of a job opening for another blind person in the hospital where she works. The young lady and her group have little liking for “talk” or organizations. It is unfortunate that their opinion of the Triboro Chapter is one of “all talk and no action,” and this group feels similarly to the ESAB Inc. and the New York State Commission for the Blind as well. The blind power movement is a revolt against apathy and inactivity.

“I happen to have good dialogue with some of the people in the blind power movement, but they want no part of the … much talk and no accomplishment.”

Mr. Jernigan continues: 

I replied as follows:

April 13, 1970

Mr. Sam Wolff, President
Triboro Chapter of the ESAB
11 Park Place
New York, New York 10007

Dear Sam:

If the members of the blind power movement, as they call themselves, are really interested in action, then they should join the Triboro Chapter and, thereby, the Empire State Association and the NFB. Otherwise, regardless of their protestations, they will do more talking than acting, or they will waste their effort in an isolated, fragmentary demonstration, which will end up by doing more harm than good.

One of the most tiresome aspects of the so called “power” movements (whether black, blind, student, or something else) is their seeming arrogance, apparently based on lack of historical knowledge. As Roy Wilkins of the NAACP put it, there were people working to achieve civil rights (and with some effectiveness) before 1954. Otherwise, the first desegregation decisions of the Supreme Court would not have occurred in that year. These things did not happen by accident.

Likewise, the difference between the condition of the blind now and in 1940 when the National Federation of the Blind came into being is profound. Such rehabilitation as now exists (and it is considerable); Aid payments and exempt earnings; and the whole range of improved public attitudes, can all in substantial measure, be traced to the “action” of the organized blind movement, including the “action” of the Empire State Association of the Blind. Even so, many of the agencies for the blind have made real contributions, and some of them are working as constructively and progressively as could be hoped. While we are on the subject, Robert Scott is not a complete paragon of virtue but has some of the grossest misconceptions I have ever met. Things are just not as simple as the “blind power” group would apparently like to have them. However that may be, the real hope for the future of the blind lies in the organized blind movement–the National Federation of the Blind.

It is true that organizations often flounder, that we very often bicker, that local chapters some times do not even have enough talent among their membership to carry on a meaningful or worthwhile meeting. It is true that, despite all of our efforts, more blind people are rehabilitated than employed and that more of the unemployed are living on starvation welfare checks than adequate grants. It is true that most of the comparatively few blind persons who have been successful still think they are superior to the rest of the blind and feel that they made it on their own and that they want to identify and associate with the sighted–except, of course, when they deign to do something “to be of help to other blind persons since I don’t really need anything myself and there is nothing the organization can do for me.” In fact, if all of these things were not true, we would not have the pressing need which we have to build and strengthen our organization. The very fact that so many blind persons are inactive and apparently more interested in recreation and talking than in political action, that they submit to custodialism with seeming gratitude, that they want the emphasis to be on coffee and cake (very often provided by somebody else) at their local meetings—-this fact illustrates and emphasizes the need.

All of the idealism, brains, courage, objection to hypocrisy, and just plain guts do not reside in that segment of the population under thirty. No age group has a corner on these virtues, and it constitutes arrogance and hypocrisy to delude oneself into believing that such is the case. The so called “power” movements often emphasize “rights” to the exclusion of responsibility and, in childlike innocence, blandly ignore long-range consequences, thus doing more to damage than help the cause they profess to support.

Yes, we need action and not just talk, and the NFB is where the action is. If the disability bill passes (with 180 million dollars in the pockets of blind persons the first year) it will be the organized blind who bring it about–the sheltered shopworkers, the welfare recipients, the unemployed, the uneducated–the people who, despite all odds, had the courage and the sense to stick together and work for a goal. If (and it will come) the climate of public opinion changes so that the average blind person can be judged on his individual merit, can be accepted for what he is instead of being victimized by prejudice and discrimination, it will be the organized blind (with all their shortcomings) who bring it about. It will not be the individual “successful” blind person, who thinks he is too good to associate with the rest of us; it will not be the agency for the blind; and it will not be the small, snobbish, elite groups, who think they are too good to associate with their intellectual inferiors, who think they are above going to a routine chapter meeting and helping to plan a Christmas party or talk about the humdrum details of here and now.

We need the members of this “blind power” group in New York City, as we need all blind persons in our movement–the old and the young, the stupid and the wise, the employed and the unemployed, the rich and the poor; but we need them with some humility. They should realize that they (all of them) have benefited tremendously by the efforts of the organized blind movement, even if they have never heard of it. The job opportunities and the social climate are better today than they were a generation ago because of what has already been done, and the blind of our day have some responsibility and obligation to make it still better for themselves and the coming generation. However, they also have the obligation to be grateful for what they have already received from those who have been on the firing line before them.

I hope you will contact your friend who is in the blind power movement and read her this letter. She may not like it, but perhaps it will cause her to do some thinking. The NFB is on the move, and we need all active blind persons of good will to join in the battle. Tell her that if the organization (whether at local, state, or national level) is not what she would have it be, she should join and make it better, not simply gripe about it from the outside.

Cordially,

Kenneth Jernigan, President
National Federation of the Blind

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Blind Power, by Lynne Koral, Part 2 of 2

17 Jun

Lynne Koral

Lynne Koral is the owner of Koraling Genius Consultants, www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com, and has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for almost 22 years. She has a Masters in Social Work and in Public Administration and Policy Analysis. Disability issues have occupied her all her life. She is blind. You can read part 1 in the prior post.

Part 2

One of the early activities I was involved in was a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy, where we read poetry and sang songs by Rob and Gretchen, folksingers who seem to have disappeared from the face of the earth. I met a lot of blind kids on school buses, at school, and in recreation programs. As blind people we began to have issues. I joined the disability-rights movement with my friends Pat and Caryn. In 1969 we formed the Blind Power Movement. We were in a recreation program through the Lighthouse (New York Association for the Blind). Later we became more aware of some of our grievances against this organization. We wrote signs such as “Bread Not Breadcrumbs” and picketed in front of the building. We were asking for education of the parents of disabled kids and better treatment as blind kids. They had rules such as we couldn’t be friends with the counselors. We felt that the rules were condescending, judgmental, and arbitrary. Also, teachers had told us we couldn’t get jobs, that we were psychologically damaged; they were  constantly assessing us with all kinds of written and psychological tests.

At a park we met a journalist who wrote a fantastic article in the Village Voice about our group and our goals; it was reprinted in the Braille Monitor, the paper of the National Federation of the Blind. They only reprinted the article because they wanted us to be subsumed under their group and not go off on our own. [Note: I unearthed this Village Voice article from 1970 called “Rallying of the Blinks in a (Short-) Sighted City” by F. Joseph Spieler. Look for it in the next blog post. Ed.]

Caryn and I played violin, and I played piano too. Pat, Caryn, and I formed a musical group called “The Peace Sign.” We sang original songs.

In 1972 there was a class of kung fu for six blind students, taught by Ron Rosen, who wanted to prove that blind kids could do this. He taught us how to use our other senses. I enjoyed the discipline.

I also took a childcare class for infants. One of the Braille teachers taught a class in her home for five or six of us including Pat, Caryn, and David, my boyfriend. We wanted to be as normal as anyone else so we jumped at the chance to take this class.

In 1973 I went to Europe with David, who would later become the father of my baby. He was also blind. We were gone for 3 ½ weeks. Upon arriving in Amsterdam, we stayed at a youth hostel. We got lost and met a journalist named Ronald Sweering. He introduced us to other people, and we stayed at his house for a day or two.

We also visited the guide-dog school there. We met other blind people at an agency for the blind and visited their library. It was at that time that I realized that the Nederländers were more advanced in their equipment for the blind than the U.S. was, and they had accessible (to the blind) guilder notes; i.e., the notes had embossed dots on them. It was awesome! Traveling is so much fun because you get an enlarged view of the world. For example, you see that the U.S. is not the best country in the world in every way. I got to experience food I’d never eaten before like couscous. We tried all their food such as brotje (a little sandwich). It surprised us that they ate dinner at 10 pm in the summer.

The Watergate Hearings were going on at the time. We were able to get impressions about John Dean and Jeb McGruder9 from people from around the world who were staying at the youth hostel.  I remember sitting in the youth hostel and listening to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

Watergate figures

The Anne Frank house was impressive. The steps were so narrow, you had to put your feet sideways. In Holland we got a sense of how empty some places were because of the effects of World War II and the German occupation. The aura was so different from the U.S. Just walking on the cobblestone streets, there was a sense of the difference of it all.

Anne Frank house

Anne Frank house

On the tram we held onto the leather hand stirrups. We had large framed backpacks which turned out to be a mistake because we couldn’t hear what was behind us. We hung out with other visually impaired. When we were at Ronald’s house we met other Nederländers who were smoking pot—legally.

Then we went to Paris and England. We met and stayed with people in both places. It was the first time I had gone through customs, and we flew first class on KLM for $223 round trip. We brought tulips and chocolate back with us. I loved this trip. I regret that I haven’t done more traveling abroad although I’ve certainly done my share of domestic travel..

in 1973, a while after we arrived home,  I moved in with David, and we were together for two and a half years. We were young and idealistic. Neither of us wanted to get married; it was bourgeois, we thought. We listened to a lot of Latin American and Puerto Rican music. I got pregnant sometime in March of the same year. I was determined to read everything I could about pregnancy and childbirth. With my Optacon (optical to tactile converter) I read “Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth” by Elisabeth Bing, and of course  I read Dr. Spock.

Optacon

I never liked milk but was drinking two to three classes a day. I learned about Lamaze and the Bradley Method11, rooming in (where the baby stays with the mother). My parents wanted me to have an abortion; they were afraid they would have to raise my child. Not so!

I loved being pregnant, partly because I was warm all winter. The baby’s first kick from inside the womb was a thrilling experience. I was in two improvisational theater classes while pregnant and shortly thereafter with someone who was in a feminist improvisational group called “It’s All Right to be a Woman Theater” and part of the Pennywhistlers10. I remember their music from the album “A Cool Day and Crooked Corn.”

Pennywhistlers

Pennywhistlers

PennywhistlersCoolDay

A Cool Day and Crooked Corn

It's All Right to be Woman Theater
While pregnant, I also took a jujitsu class in New York at the women’s center. There I got to know several lesbian women for the first time. That’s where I became introduced to the Radical Lesbians and Lesbian Feminist Liberation in New York in the 1970s.

During my second trimester I went to California to get my first guide dog. I also took Lamaze classes and sought out the services of a nurse midwife. I was in labor for about 36 hours, and never did get the urge to push. I was given Pitocin [to induce labor], and finally they had to break the bag of waters. I was so glad to just have a healthy baby, a son I named Dimas. They were, as usual, not sure what to do about a blind new mother. I did have rooming in. I breast fed, but Dimas was a little jaundiced at first. He grew very fast though. We had a visiting nurse service. I learned how to hold him and support his head. He breast-fed very well.

In 1977 when my son was almost three years old, David and I split up. He moved to Los Angeles and I followed so that my son would be close to his dad. But David left Los Angeles six weeks later. I didn’t want to return to New York; David and I were no longer close and he had been fooling around. So I stayed and attended LA City College. But I was depressed and lonely.  Until third grade my son was in cooperative daycare centers in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles called Playgroup and De Colores.

In the late ‘70s I took a class at Cal State Northridge on black literature. We read the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines and Roots. I was the only white person in the class.

I met my friend Caryl in 1980. “You looked like an interesting person,” she told me later. There are three types of lesbians: the born again, the life-long, and the lesbian come-latelies.  I belonged to the latter type. But I had always been attracted to women to some extent. (As well as to guys.) Throughout the 1970s, I had been somewhat confused about my sexuality.

From my experiences in the 1960s and 1970s, I learned a lot about human interaction, and about respect and dignity for all people. I never understood why certain people who themselves were disenfranchised would disenfranchise others who were different or “the other.” I am now married, but I have always been a free-spirit. I hope to keep learning and growing as the years pass on.

[Note: You can read more about these blind issues at Lynne’s blog: www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com.]

Notes

1.   John Dean served as White House Counsel to United States President Richard Nixon from 1970 until 1973. He became deeply involved in events leading up to the Watergate burglaries and the subsequent Watergate scandal cover-up. Jeb McGruder was Deputy Director of Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President who pled guilty to conspiracy and served time in a federal prison as a result of his participation in the Watergate affair. The Watergate scandal was a political scandal that occurred in the United States as a result of the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration’s attempted cover-up of its involvement. The scandal eventually led to the resignation of President Nixon. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

2.  The Pennywhistlers were an American singing group founded by folklorist and singer Ethel Raim and popular during the 1960s folk music revival. They specialized in Eastern European choral music. They toured throughout the 1960s, appearing at the Sing Out! hootenanny at Carnegie Hall, the Fox Hollow Festival, and the Mariposa Folk Festival, among others. They shared the bill with performers such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Reverend Gary Davis, Leonard Cohen, and many others. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

3.  The Bradley Method of natural childbirth, also known as “husband-coached childbirth,” is a method of natural childbirth developed in 1947 by Robert A. Bradley, M.D. (1917–98) and popularized by his book Husband-Coached Childbirth, first published in 1965. The Bradley Method emphasizes that birth is a natural process: mothers are encouraged to trust their body and focus on diet and exercise throughout pregnancy; and it teaches couples to manage labor through deep breathing and the support of a partner or labor coach. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Blind Power, by Lynne Koral, Part 1 of 2

12 Jun

Lynne Koral

Lynne Koral is the owner of Koraling Genius Consultants, http://www.koralinggenius.blogspot.com, and has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for almost 22 years. She has a Masters in Social Work and in Public Administration and Policy Analysis. Disability issues have occupied her all her life. She is blind.

Part 1

I was a premature twin; my brother was brain-damaged and I became blind after a few months. Doctors aren’t sure why this happens; perhaps it’s because of receiving too much oxygen as a preemie or the use of the wrong kind of lighting. From my birth in 1952 until the early 70s I lived in Queens, New York. My parents were progressives. They met at a folkdance group and both went to Camp Wochica1 in New York. The International Workers Order (IWO)2 sponsored it. My grandpa was secretary of the Jamaica Branch.

 I was bussed to an all-white elementary school (PS179) but there was one African American, who was also blind. It was very difficult for her because she was scapegoated, but it was the only school in the borough that had a braille class. Her brother was gay and committed suicide. The choir sang a Negro Spiritual and her mom wouldn’t let her attend the performance. That was in 1962, before the Civil Rights Movement really took off.

Boycotts of de facto segregated institutions were common. I remember that some of us boycotted junior high school to protest discrimination.3

Grover Cleveland High School in Queens was integrated; there were Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and whites. There was also a lot of unrest. Black students had meetings and teach-ins. Some white teachers were part of SNCC4. I was in Honors English in 1968. My teacher, Mrs. Bruno, was involved in the civil rights struggle. My parents and aunts and I went to anti-war demonstrations.

I was often scared in high school because of the anger of some of the African Americans. People were always talking about the issues of the time. I was riveted to WBAI [listener-sponsored Pacifica Radio], listening to accounts of Selma; Montgomery; Martin Luther King; Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney.5

Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney

Julius Lester6  had a show on WBAI and I listened to his folk music. I loved folk music since childhood. My parents took me to concerts: I met Pete Seeger and Freddie Hellerman at one of them. Around 1972 during the time of the Democratic National Convention (George McGovern won the Democratic nomination and later ran against Nixon),  I went to  concerts with friends and heard Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs (at a Washington, D.C. anti-war demo), Harry Chapin in Central Park, and Arlo Guthrie, among others. I attended the Sloop Clearwater Revival7 to protest the pollution of the Hudson River.

Phil Ochs Washington DC

Washington, D.C. demo with Phil Ochs

Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton

Pete Seeger

My friend Caryn was introduced to me by our Braille teacher because she had only recently become totally blind. The school thought it would be useful for her to meet me. She wrote a satirical song about George Wallace,  and I put music to a couple of her poems, which included one about me. We are still good friends.

My older friend Pat was the one who turned me on to good books and early demonstrations, to Julius Lester and WBAI. We used to eat chicken and drink sodas in her bedroom.

In 1968 when I was about sixteen I was sent for nine weeks to a progressive “work camp” called Twin Link Camp8. The older kids—from 14 to 17—had the job of maintaining the camp. I was Jewish but there were all kinds of religious views there including atheists. We learned about conflict, struggle, class, and race, and had constant meetings. We were assigned roles; some would be working class for a day, others middle class, then switch roles. Morris Eisenstein from Brooklyn was the camp leader. He was autocratic, dictatorial, authoritarian. (I didn’t like him.) However, he was an effective leader. My parents didn’t like his attitude towards my twin brother Steven, who suffered from mental disorders. I learned the lesson that just because you are left-wing doesn’t mean you are nice.

At the camp we put on a play by Clifford Odets called “Waiting for Lefty” and also a Brecht play. We wrote songs. We learned about Sacco and Vanzetti9, whom I’d never heard of before. It was also the first time I met Native Americans: an Apache named Gil Gutierrez and a Choctaw or Chickasaw woman named Suzanne Heard. When I got back home, I was spouting camp rhetoric.

[To be continued]

Notes

1.  Wo-Chi-Ca (Workers Children’s Camp). This interracial, co-educational summer vacation camp was situated in Port Murray, New Jersey. Founded in 1934, it closed in the early 1950s, partially as a result of McCarthyism. It was one of many Communist camps (twenty-seven were run at one time in New York state alone). In 1943 black children made up 20% of the residents. Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie visited or worked at the camp during its existence. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

2.  The International Workers Order was a Communist Party-affiliated insurance, mutual benefit and fraternal organization founded in 1930 and disbanded in 1954. At its height in the years immediately following World War II, the IWO had almost 200,000 members and provided low-cost health and life insurance, medical and dental clinics, and supported foreign-language newspapers, cultural and educational activities. The organization also operated a summer camp and cemeteries for its members. The IWO also ran a Jewish summer camp, Camp Kinderland and the racially integrated camp Wo-Chi-Ca. While the leadership of IWO sections were members of the Communist Party, most of the IWO’s rank-and-file members were not party members. The U.S. Attorney General placed the IWO on its list of subversive organizations in 1947. (Source: Wikipedia)

3.  Boycott of junior high school to protest discrimination….those active in the New York City’s school integration battle of the 1950s and 1960 also exposed the limits of the city’s racial liberal image. The school integration movement exposed how those who ran the school system, those who lived in predominantly white neighborhoods and many of the members of the city’s liberal community opposed attempts at city-wide integration. New York’s failure to respond to the problems of its minority populations revealed the limits of its liberal reputation. (Source: Clarence Taylor, Professor of History at Baruch College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/justice/downloads/pdf/civil_rights_movement_in_nyc.pdf)

4.   The Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNCC) was one of the organizations of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It had projects in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Maryland, and played a major role in the sit-ins and freedom rides, a leading role in the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party over the next few years. It organized voter registration drives all over the South.. In the later 1960s, led by fiery leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, SNCC focused on black power, and then protested against the Vietnam War. It passed out of existence in the 1970s. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

5.   Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were murdered in Mississippi on June 21, 1964.  During the summer of 1964, they volunteered for Freedom Summer, a voter registration drive for African-Americans. On June 21, 1964, a County Deputy stopped the trio on traffic charges. They were jailed briefly and then released. But as they drove away, as many as 22 members of the Ku Klux Klan stopped the car, gunned down all three and buried their bodies, which were discovered 44 days later after an informant tipped off the FBI. (Source: Carl Ballard, PBS NEWSHOUR)

6.  Julius Lester is an American author of books for children and adults, and taught for 32 years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is also a photographer, as well as a musician who recorded two albums of folk music and original songs. (Source: http://members.authorsguild.net/juliuslester/)

7.  The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. is an organization based in Beacon, New York that seeks to protect the Hudson River and surrounding wetlands and waterways. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

8.  Twin Link Camp.Twin Link Camp (later Camp Hurley) was a summer camp in the Catskills purchased In 1958 by the community center of a New York City public housing project. It closed in 1987. The center that purchased it was  loosely modeled on the settlement house concept; it networked with many of the large social movements of the era, exposing young people to numerous civil rights and peace marches. Its political motto was “Think globally, act locally.” [Source: Issues in Teaching and Learning, Volume IV, online]

9.  Sacco and Vanzetti were suspected anarchists who were convicted of murdering two men during a 1920 armed robbery of a shoe factory in Massachusetts. After a controversial trial and a series of appeals, the two Italian immigrants were executed on August 23, 1927. Since their deaths, critical opinion has overwhelmingly felt that the two men were convicted largely on their anarchist political beliefs and unjustly executed. (Source: Wikipedia.org)