Telethon 2000!!

photo: Jerry

This is a picture of Jerry from mrshowbiz.com, a not-exactly-reverent site where you can find all sorts of goodies about the Man Who Would Cure Cripples.

Try these stories:

Jerry Lewis Plays Vegas -- Until 2020
Jerry Lewis Disses Women . . .
Jerry Apologizes for Slur, Rex Explains Theft

Here are some more things about our Jerry: "I thanked them and requested a wheel chair," Jerry tells Carolyn Carpenter. "I am in awe of doctors," Jerry tells Thomas Jefferson College. "If the Ringling Brothers circus is 'the greatest show on earth,' then the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon has to come in a very close second," says this unabashed fan.

Of course, there's always the official MDA site at www.mdausa.org.


But for something more serious....

] It's time for Jerry Lewis to stop degrading us, says IcanOnline.com's SUSAN LOTEMPIO. | What's behind the telethon protests? JANINE BERTRAM KEMP explains, on AccessLife.com

FAQs about telethons

"We're Back!"
10th annual telethon protest being held in Charleston, S.C

Charleston, S.C., Aug 28, 2000 -- In 1965, comedian Jerry Lewis became host of the national Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Unless a cure is found, he said in one of his appeals, "These kids won't be alive in ten years." Thirty-five years later, some of those "kids" are very much alive -- and protesting the telethon. They object to stereotypical images of people with muscle diseases and other disabilities. In downtown Charleston, the tenth annual telethon protest will be held this Labor Day in the vicinity of King and Market.

"I was eight years old when I heard from Lewis that I had a 'killer disease,'" says attorney Harriet McBryde Johnson, Charleston protest organizer. "I believed I didn't have long to live. That's scary news for anyone, and especially for a child. Now I'm 43 years old and they're still telling the same distorted story. They still imply that our only chance of happiness is a cure. These stereotypes get in our way when we try to live our lives."

On Labor Day morning, Johnson will be out with a small group of friends picketing and distributing handbills. She is one of many people with disabilities around the US who are rallying opposition to the telethon. "I never know what other people are up to until it's done," Johnson says. This year, a protest is planned in Chicago. Other telethon critics are airing the issue on radio, in newspaper essays, and online. Also on Labor Day, Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights organization, will be protesting an international pro-euthanasia conference being held in Boston. "That is a different issue," says Johnson, "but there is a connection. We're all fighting the dangerous assumption that it's better to be dead than disabled."

"I'm astonished that this has turned into a ten year fight," Johnson says. "The first year, it was just my Dad and me out there for the first hour. Our numbers doubled -- to four -- later in the day. In recent years, around a dozen wonderful friends have given part of their holiday for this effort."

Johnson's father, Dr David D Johnson, has been attending the protest since its beginning. A retired Citadel professor, he now volunteers weekdays at the Charleston Branch, NAACP. "I like to tell people I'm Harriet's bodyguard," he says. "But in fact most people are friendly.

Some even try to give money, but Harriet always gives it back. I think the telethon ought to get rid of Jerry Lewis. He's called people in wheelchairs 'half persons' and says one outrageous thing after another and won't apologize. This is bigotry. The telethon ought to fade into history. It doesn't fit in with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the idea that people with disabilities deserve equal civil rights." Harriet McBryde Johnson will be available for interview at 11:00 Labor Day on the corner of King and Market or by appointment.


What's it about? The "Jerry Lewis" telethon of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The telethon feeds out-dated stereotypes about people with muscle diseases and other disabilities. For 21 hours, on 200 stations, it makes people think that we are doomed to sad and tragic lives unless they find a cure. In a 1990 magazine article, Lewis called us "half persons." He's called kids with muscle diseases "mistakes who came out wrong."

He's compared protesters -- like us -- to Nazi storm troopers. He refuses to apologize or change his ways, and MDA stands firm beside him.

What do we want? Right away, MDA should replace Lewis. It should stop using children on the air. But also, MDA should wean itself from the telethon. As a society, we should stop begging and demand a fair and rational system to pay for medical research, services, and equipment. We need civil rights.

Where does the money go? There's no detailed public accounting because MDA is a private corporation, not a government agency. We know that each year, over a quarter of a million dollars goes to MDA's Executive Director, Robert Ross -- whose well-paid duties apparently include writing silly letters to Charleston newspapers criticizing my protest. However, in fairness, we acknowledge that the money does some good. A substantial amount goes to medical research and programs that benefit people with muscle diseases. Our challenge is to find a way to do good without doing harm.

Don't we want a cure? Medical research is a worthwhile goal. Some people are passionate about cure; their desire for a cure outweighs everything else. For others, however, cures are far less important than you might think. We believe that disability is a natural part of life. It's part of who we are. Cures, if they come, will be in the future. We can cure prejudice and discrimination -- the real "killer diseases" -- right now.

What's our personal connection? Like most protest organizers around the US, I have a muscle disease covered by MDA. I have never walked. When I was a child, I expected to die young because I believed it when the telethon said I had a "killer disease." I do not want another generation to grow up under that cloud. I'm 43 years old and have been a lawyer for fifteen years. I'm reasonably happy and reasonably satisfied with my life. But every Labor Day, MDA attacks my dignity.

Aren't telethon protesters a minority? Maybe. But all movements for change start small. I'm proud to be on the same side with serious, thoughtful people here and around the country. Going public has taught me that I'm not alone. Charleston is learning that there are two sides to the telethon. Support has definitely been building.

How long will we keep it up? This is the tenth year of protests in Charleston. We'll do it as long as necessary. WE'RE NOT GOING AWAY.


© Copyright 2000 The Ragged Edge

This Website produced by Cliffwood Organic Works