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Thoughts on protests

Jesse the K alerts us to Joe Shapiro's NPR story of yesterday, NPR : Blogs Capture, Amplify Gallaudet Protest.

I mentally file this under the title "The revolution will be blogged." Things are changing rather exponentially, as William Loughborough likes to remind us, and the blogging of the Gallaudet protest is a good example. I'd made that point in an earlier post, but now, weeks later, it's even more obvious.

I recall a story of long long ago -- well, long long ago in cyberspace terms -- about the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the role email played in getting the word out to the larger world. Back then, email was in the heyday blogging's now in. The story, as I recall it, told about how young Chinese protesters and observers were sending messages and almost reporting in real time via email.

The story's sketchy now and I'd have no idea how to even find it. I think it was a New York Times story but actually I'm not sure.

Joe Shapiro's story on the blogging about Gallaudet made me think of that older story, and then I thought of something else:

I thought about how my local newspaper (a mere shadow of its former glory, back in the day when it was independent and not owned by the bottom-line driven Gannett chain), and about how it's not reported a word about the Gallaudet protest.

And then I go back to Google News a lot to see who's reporting what about the ongoing meltdown at Kendall Green. And I see that there's really not all that much reporting. It's going on in DC, but not too much is being picked up by outlets outside the Beltway.

In other words, it's not a national story.

Even though I suspect it's pretty historic to have an entire university arrayed against a new president -- the faculty, the students, the alumni.

Imagine the stories and discussion if this were Harvard!

Or a big state university.

Or -- I wonder? -- any university other than Gallaudet. Gallaudet, after all, is a "special" place -- for The Deaf. (And by capitalizing "Deaf" here I'm not merely conforming to the Deaf culture's preferred usage; no, I'm making a point that many people see this as another Them group -- you know -- The Blind or The Deaf or The Disabled. One of the "The's.")

I also find myself thinking about the 504 protest that lasted 28 days in San Francisco's federal building back in 1977. (Joe Shapiro did a good 25th anniversary piece on that one, too -- here.)

And I find myself sort of comparing the two, in the sense that they are major protests that seem to occur not exactly out of the public awareness, but on its fringes.

More to the point: it seems that the mainstream media don't see them as "important to society." The public -- and the mainstream media -- find them interesting, of course, and worth a story or two. But they seem to be about "them" and not "us" -- whereas such a protest at Ohio State or even Colby or Centre colleges -- small private colleges -- would seem to be about "us." You know, "our kids" at colleges -- not The Deaf.

Maybe none of this makes much sense. And I'm not sure that what I'm sensing is really correct. It's more of a feeling, and although there's probably some way to really determine if it's an accurate perception or not -- with news searches, etc -- I don't have time to do that right now.

I think that probably at the bottom of all this musing, though, is a kernel of something about "special."

A couple of weeks ago blogger Elisa Abenchuchan reported that the Gallaudet administration was "refusing to allow its interpreters to work at the protest sites."

That got me to thinking about the concept of free speech when the speakers are perceived as "disabled." I know there's this big debate about whether "Deaf" equals "disabled" and I'm not going to get into that now. But the point is this: free speech for someone who needs an interpreter because they're seen as ... well, let the gallaudet protests blog explain it:

From A Suggestion to the Media:

what strikes me about this issue is that the administration, and many of the protesters who are outraged at the denial of interpreters [seem to consider] interpreting services as something that deaf people need in order to accommodate a deficit. when deaf people accept this perspective as fact, it is internalized audism and linguicism, tacitly asserting or believeing that hearing/speaking people are normal, and deaf/signing people are impaired, and in need of special help. think about it who is handicapped when hearing news reporters want to interview students but don’t know sign langauge? the hearies!!

why, in god’s name, don’t the news stations and newspapers hire their own interpreters? ADA, anyone? they certainly have the funds, and if they really want to get a story with actual content in it, they need to be able to communicate with protesters. therefore, they need to start bringing their own sign langauge interpreters. note that i do not refer to them as “interpreters for the deaf.” they are interpreters for EVERYONE who does not share the same language/modality as the person they want to talk to. hearing people, especially when arriving onsite where there are hundereds, thousands of sign language users, are the ones who are handicapped. i’d wager that, as hearing people, their communication skills - the ability to make themselves understood visually and find a way to understand and clarify what someone is saying - gravely pale in comparison to deaf people, who have spent their whole lives refining the art of communicating with people who have poor visual communication skills . . .

There's more to that entry and it's all very good stuff. Read it all.

I focused particularly, though, on this line:

"why, in god’s name, don’t the news stations and newspapers hire their own interpreters?"

Yep; that's the right question to be asking. I often think about this issue when the source is someone with CP, too.

And I always think it interesting that the way the interpreting is handled is often so different from when, for example, the reporter is interviewing a source from, say, an African nation. Usually the listener KNOWS an interpreter is speaking -- the convention has often been to have the source begin speaking in their own language, followed a few seconds later by the interpreter's voice.

And rarely, it seems, does the reporter note that "So-and-so talked to us through an interpreter." Or maybe they do that more now than they used to.

In my opinion, handling an interpreter should be the same whether the interpreter is for somebody speaking a "foreign language" or someone using ASL or a letterboard or with a CP accent. The treatment should be the same.

Here, the Gallaudet students are making the point that the hearing people need an interpreter so the Deaf folks can understand the reporters. A subtle but good distinction, which shifts the dynamic.

The blog entry continued,

get cracking, all you hearing media mavens! you owe it to your readers/viewers to make yourselves understood, and to understand what interviewees are telling you. when covering the events at gallaudet, bring a sign language interpreter with you.

I should find out whose interpreter NPR used.

NPR is better than any other U.S. media at covering disability issues. And they get another kudo for telling website visitors that the Shapiro story is a "full transcript" of the audio.


I wish I could remember who it was, but I have to share this rousing disability-rights rant I read from a Deaf advocate. His message: don't pull out your pad & pencil when you meet a hearing person in the public square: just start signing! Then the hearing person (99% of the time) must realize and admit, "Sorry, I don't know sign."

Few news watchers/listeners/readers realize that almost all reporters working outside their own country hire "fixers." These are local folks who know the area, serve as translators/navigators/drivers, and often determine whose story is told. Editors don't acknowledge their contribution with a byline -- unless they're killed.

What sort of fixers are the hearing reporters at Gallaudet using? Certified sign-language interpreters who adhere to the RID Code of Professional Conduct would make lousy fixers, since they promise impartiality.

Mr Sandman, blogging from LA, explores the so-far effective spin that Fernandes has used to limit the discussion to "identity politics" (is she 'deaf enough'?). He advocates that protestors switch the focus to faculty politics -- trying to ride right over the "us/them" fences and move media attention to a larger group of "us," "people who attend colleges."

A search at the Chronicle of Higher Education (essentially the trade journal for colleges) shows a print article re: Gallaudet datelined 10/27. Maybe that piece would let me know if they used a good fixer, as well as how fast the spin cycle is turning. However, I don't have $82.50 handy for a year's subscription.