BY OCTAVIAN ROBINSON
A response to Joey Baer's open letter
Joey Baer recently created an open letter to the NAD regarding Governor Daniels’ appointees to the Board of the Indiana School for the Deaf. In short, he wondered what action the NAD was going to take. So far, on Twitter, Facebook, and the NAD website, there has been no response.
In the past, Bobbie Beth Scoggins, President of the NAD, has commented that the NAD could not be all things to everyone and that the states [organizations] would have to take the lead in effecting change rather than rely upon the NAD to do the ‘work.’
To address Scoggins’ comment that the NAD could not be all things to everyone: I imagine I understand why the NAD has not responded. Pedagogical methods in deaf education is a highly polarizing issue and the NAD seems reluctant to take a position that might favor a particular method above another. However, I believe that the NAD can and should have responded to Governor Daniels’ appointments by framing their response in a way that highlighted the issue as one of exclusion. The exclusion of input from the very population that Governor Daniels’ decision affects the most is simply inexcusable. The exclusion of the deaf and hard of hearing community in this decision making process reeks of paternalism and political cronyism. These two points can be used effectively to appeal Governor Daniels’ appointments without wading into a pedagogical debate.
The second portion of Scoggins’ comment centers on the most effective sites of deaf activism. History supports Scoggins’ position. The majority of changes throughout the 20th century that benefited deaf people came from state and local action, not national action. Preserving deaf people’s right to marry; the right to drive; the right to insurance; the right to education for deaf children, the right to an interpreter in court; protections from employment discrimination; labor bureaus; and so on forth happened because of the activism of state organizations. To continue to gain greater rights and access to citizenship for deaf people, it is crucial that state and local organizations remain vigorously active and to be proactive about creating opportunities to act for change rather than reacting to circumstances. State organizations, especially in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and California were largely responsible for expanding deaf people’s access to citizenship and equality during the first half of the 20th century. States have been, for a long time, and continue to be where change takes place. States serve as laboratories for social policy for the federal government (and not just in terms of deaf-related legislation). For this reason, it is important that state organizations be powerful, active, and engaged in any and all political processes available.
Although state and local action are the primary drivers of legislative successes, this early activism happened because of effective leadership on part of the NAD. The NAD took advantage of correspondence and the silent press [deaf newspapers] to mobilize the rank and file, coordinate state and local activism, tie the activism of state and local organizations to the goals of the NAD, and provided crucial resources to local and state activists. The NAD may not have had its officers ‘on the ground’ and at the scene of every legislative fight but it acted as a leader. That leadership is absent today. Part of this is because the NAD has backed away from divisive political rhetoric that shaped the NAD during its early history. Part of this is because the NAD is poorly organized and is not structured in a way that encourages a cohesive approach to achieving the changes we desperately want to see take place: especially in the arenas of employment, education, and communication.
In terms of leadership, one of the most important strengths of the NAD throughout most of its history were its Calls to Action. Those Calls to Action mobilized the rank and file across the country, motivated hundreds of local and state leaders to take action, guided those leaders in creating effective strategies, and developed a coherent agenda that best served the interests of the deaf community as a whole. Those Calls to Action also served as models of success to state and local organizations that wanted to emulate the legislative successes achieved in other communities and states across the country.
The NAD has failed miserably in this regard. Most glaring is its failure to use social media efficiently. Their Twitter and Facebook accounts are filled with pretty bits of public relations and self-laudatory remarks. There are no CALLS TO ACTION. There is no clear sense of leadership—no clear sense of agenda, objectives, bringing issues to our attention, and so on forth.
Readers, compare the NAD’s Twitter account to those of the ACLU, NAACP, and other premier civil rights organizations. When something goes down in a state or a locality, those organizations tweet about it-without necessarily taking a political position. When things went down in Indiana regarding the ISD board, the NAD didn’t peep although it could have done so without taking a political position. In this day and age, timeliness and efficient use of technology matters more than ever. We shouldn’t wait so long for the NAD to respond.
The NAD’s resources are admittedly limited. They may not be able to take on all campaigns for expanding our access to citizenship in all localities but it is their job to lead, direct, mobilize, and inspire.
ABOUT OCTAVIAN ROBINSON
Octavian Robinson graduated from Gallaudet and is currently a Ph.D candidate at Ohio State. He lives in Ohio with his Weimaraner and three angry felines.