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Friday, November 01, 2013

Excerpt from an e-mail to Lewis Perry, regarding his book: Civil Disobedience–An American Tradition (Nov. 1, 2013)

I feel somewhat excited that you featured the 2006 Unity for Gallaudet (UFG) protest in such a prominent way in the beginning of your new book on civil disobedience, so I don't mean to be overly critical. Just putting us front and center like that feels very satisfying, and so my subsequent thoughts of a critical-negative nature are something that I hope you take as being secondary.

That being said, I feel you missed out on some very important points of contextualization. The first major point is that we UFG protesters did not perceive our protest in 2006 as being substantially different from the 1988 Deaf President Now (DPN) protest, in terms of its ultimate import and purpose. I think you are wrongly interpreting the events in a too-shallow fashion by categorizing the two protests as being primarily related to campus politics and on top of that by classifying the 1988 and 2006 protests as being fundamentally different in purpose. Campus politics is not the fundamental context at all.  The fundamental context is one of Gallaudet University being a cultural institution as part of Deaf culture. Gallaudet, in fact, plays a large role in creating Deaf culture. So the larger, more fundamental context for both the 1988 and 2006 protests involves the theme of self-determination on the part of Deaf people (i.e., deaf people who use a natural sign language in the US).  If you don't grasp the meaning or reality of Deaf culture, and feel the need to put it in quotes as something to be disputed, then you're not going to grasp the significance of what I am saying here. To learn more, you should read: The People of the Eye–Deaf Ethnicity and Ancestry, by Harlan Lane, Richard C. Pillard and Ulf Hedberg.

So it is not correct to criticize us 2006 protesters for supposedly not giving a sufficient theoretical justification to the public for what we were doing, precisely because we perceived the 2006 protest as being a continuation and necessary follow-up of the 1988 protest. The very first speech given during the 2006 protest was given by Tawny Holmes at the front gate on May 1, 2006, and she rallied the crowd by signing "Better President Now! Better President Now!" In the first days of the 2006 protest, many were referring to it as "DPN 2", i.e., meaning: DPN Part 2. In that sense, everything that was presented in 1988, ipso facto, carried over to the 2006 protest as justification for it as well (including all the formal lessons given to the 1988 student protest leaders in their government class, which was taught by Mary Malzkuhn and is well documented).

For my part, I participated in the 1988 protest as well. Before we knew we had achieved victory on that Sunday (March 13, 1988), we were planning a major march on the Lincoln memorial for Tuesday, March 15, 1988, in part because of that being the location of King's famous I Have a Dream speech. I myself had put together a flyer quoting major portions of the speech and we had run off hundreds of photocopies. We didn't need to use them or have that march, because we won the protest and it became unnecessary. Later, in 2006, I personally took it for granted that it was understood by most protesters that there was a connection between the Black Civil Rights Movement (including the famous lunch counter sit-ins/sit-downs, etc.) and the 1988 and 2006 protests at Gallaudet. In 1988, after the protest, I myself had written a long, two-part article that was titled "Deaf Civil Rights" to emphasize this connection.

Another very important point that you are missing is that the Gallaudet community is a bilingual community and ASL is not a written language. So it's simply not accurate to take a survey of things published in English and then claim there was little or no presentation of theoretical justification for the civil disobedience in 2006. What you were reading in the blogs, though abundant in the number of words, was actually just a tiny tip of the metaphorical iceberg of all that was communicated in total. Obviously, 99% of what was communicated in ASL was not recorded in any permanent form. We did, in fact, have theoretical discussions of civil disobedience. Suzy Rosen Singleton, a UFG protester who herself is an attorney, in fact gave lessons to protesters on the nature of civil disobedience and techniques on how to "go limp", and so forth, when being arrested. This was just before Black Friday. That's only just one example. I'm sure there are many more.

I better stop now, but I hope this brief note helps you to gain a deeper appreciation of the historical context involved.  By the way, as a PhD student at UC Davis, I was also a protest organizer during the Occupy UC Davis movement in 2011 and also played a pivotal role during the Pepper Spray Incident as to what transpired, so I am bringing a long perspective and a lot of experience to what I say here. I completed my master's in linguistics at Gallaudet in 1987, then enrolled in a PhD program at UC Davis in 2008.

You might be interested to know that Tawny herself just completed law school and has already written about the Unity for Gallaudet protest. [LINK]

I should mention that I am simplifying the social situation involving deaf people for the purposes of this e-mail. Just to give you a brief idea of the complexities involved, think of culturally Deaf people (those who use sign language) as being the "core" of a larger group that includes those hard of hearing people who lean more toward speaking, and some deaf people who rely less on sign language and more on lipreading. I myself am part of an unusual category of people who have experienced a vocational hearing injury who can sign fluently, doubly complicated in my case from having longstanding hearing "endurance" issues from childhood.

Thanks for reading.



"Justice for Gallaudet" (Oct. 11, 2006) [LINK]
"Jordan Poised to Make Worst Mistake of His Life" (Oct. 13, 2006) [LINK]
"Manifesto" (Oct. 16, 2006) by DPN student leaders  [LINK]


Blogger Zoltan said...

In my view the Unity for Gallaudet protest erupted for the social cause, all other circumstances were purely accidental. I was able to identify three major undercurrents that defined the progress of the movement, the maturation in its goal setting and methods and in the eventual outcome.

1. empowerment
2. self determination
3. social justice

These undercurrents manifested themselves in increasing clarity and in increasingly broad understanding. The demand for empowerment was prompted by oppressive decision making that excluded the Gallaudet community from participation. The claim for self determination intended to restructure democratic participation in a way that could express majority view in decision making. The stand for social justice successfully exposed the deeper roots and embedded structure of unjust decision making. The demand for social justice became the most powerful factor that propelled the protest forward and guaranteed victory.

January 4, 2014 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues said...

Thanks, Zoltan. I should have also mentioned Robert E. Johnson's "Note to Colleagues" from October 25, 2006. One of his points in the note is that DPN and UFG had a similar purpose. On page 8 he stated: "From my perspective as a cultural analyst, the similarities could not be more striking. It is true that the Unity for Gallaudet movement is not just about having a president who is deaf, but neither was DPN, really. Both are about deaf emancipation and self-determination. In my view, the DPN movement was simply the first step." See:

January 4, 2014 at 11:22 PM  

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