Today Biffle, Maybelle, and I took part in the 20th annual Jerry Lewis Telethon Protest in downtown Charleston. The protest here was initiated in 1990 by Harriet McBryde Johnson, who I've written about before. She's no longer alive, but the protest continues--small, as it's been every year, but important. In fact, I think Charleston may have the longest-running telethon protest nationally.
We were only there briefly since Maybelle decided she was protesting not being able to have a nap. But while we were there we had our choice of signs, and we held one that said
The reason for this slogan is that Jerry Lewis has repeatedly used his telethon to talk about people with muscular dystrophy as pitiful "half people," as people who "cannot go into the workplace. There's nothing they can do." When he was confronted with this argument about his telethon, on CBS Sunday Morning he said, "Pity? You don't want to be pitied because you're a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!" These messages are appalling, and I take them all personally now in a way that I should have for years.
I love the whole person message. There are a variety of arguments out there--voiced by Jerry Lewis and others--that suggest that people with disabilities aren't really fully human, fully citizens, fully worthy of dignity and respect. Often this dismissal of full humanity takes the form of pity, which isn't always immediately evident as offensive, but it is (such as the "bless your heart" commentary we've blogged about a couple of times). Maybe I'll make some "WHOLE PERSON" t-shirts for our family.
If you'd like to know more about what's wrong with the Jerry Lewis Telethon, click here--and you'll notice that the top link is to a piece written by Harriet McBryde Johnson.