An Address Delivered by Kenneth Jernigan
President, National Federation of the Blind
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Kansas City, Missouri, July 3, 1986
"Go, sir," said Napoleon to an aide. "Gallop! And don't forget that the world was made in six days. You can ask me for anything you like except time."
"Time," said Sir Walter Scott, "will rust the sharpest sword, Time will consume the strongest cord; That which molders hemp and steel, Mortal arm and nerve must feel."
T. S. Eliot said: "Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future is contained in time past."
Plato said, "Time is the image of eternity"; and Pythagoras said, "Time is the soul of the world."
Sir Francis Bacon said, "What we call the age of antiquity is, in reality, the youth of the world. These times are the ancient times, when the world is ancient, and not those which we call ancient by a computation backward from ourselves."
The progress of a people toward civilization can probably best be measured by the degree to which it is concerned with time. Primitive cultures treat time casually, day slipping into day and season into season with grand imprecision; but when the calendar comes, medicine and mathematics comeand soon come poetry, art, and compassion.
Mathematics and concepts of time are, of course, involved in the making of terrible weapons and vicious systems of torture and control, but the urge to kill and the compulsion to maim are not products of science and learning. Exactly the opposite. They come from earlier times and are softened by technology and civilization. While it is true that Adolph Hitler tortured Jews, it is equally true that Good King Richard in Medieval England did likewise. His agents, on one occasion, rounded up all the Jews they could find, locked them in a large building, set it on fire, and burned it. Yet, King Richard was regarded as good and universally admired, while Hitler was regarded as evil and universally condemned. The difference can be found in the culture. In the Middle Ages King Richard's behavior was so commonplace as to go without remark; in the twentieth century, only 700 years later, Hitler's behavior (in many respects the same behavior) was so noteworthy as to provoke worldwide outrage and revulsion.
Time is not only a yardstick of civilization but also a dimension of intelligence. Viewed in the present, intelligence is three dimensional. To the extent one can change the environment, to the extent (when this is not possible) one can adapt to the environment, and to the extent one knows when to do which--to that extent one is intelligent. When time is added, we have the fourth dimension, and we call it maturity. To the extent one ranges backward in time to understand the causes of present conditions, and to the extent one ranges forward to anticipate future consequences of present acts, one is mature. Maturity is intelligence in depth.
The National Federation of the Blind was founded in 1940. I joined in 1949, during the first decade of the movement. In the 1950's (the second decade of the movement) I became a state president and a national board member. In the 1960's (the third decade of the movement) our founder, Dr. tenBroek, died; and I was elected President. In the 1970's (the fourth decade of the movement) I began conducting regular leadership seminars; we achieved the goal of having chapters and affiliates in every state; and I moved from Des Moines to Baltimore to establish the National Center for the Blind. In the 1980's (the fifth decade of the movement) I was present with many of you at a convention (the one last year in Louisville) attended by over 2,000 registered delegates. It was the largest gathering of blind people ever held in the history of the world. At the present convention (in 1986) I cease being President. Let me, then, from the vantage of the years, talk to you about our movement.
I attended my first National Federation of the Blind convention in 1952. I have never missed one since, so this is my thirty-fifth consecutive convention. What shall I say to you on this last night of my presidencywhat that I have not already said many times before? Perhaps we should test the fourth dimension of our intelligence by ranging backward and forward in time. This is 1986. The Federation is forty-six years old. Let us divide that time into two twenty-three-year periods and consider each of them. Let us also consider the next twenty-three years. What will it be like for the blind and for this organization in the year 2009? What will the new century bring?
When the National Federation of the Blind came into being in 1940, the situation was about as bleak as it could possibly be. It was good enough to make the blind hope, and bad enough to kill the hope. Those few who broke out of the system to gain recognition and success did not, for the most part, really break out of the system at all. Their failure can be summarized in a single false concept: "I have made it on my own, without any help from anybody." They shunned other blind peoplepretending not to think about blindness at all and dismissing the subject (when they could not avoid it) with so-called "humor" or embarrassment. They made an outward show (reinforced by family and friends) of being superior and not like other blind people. Simultaneously they had an inner fear (in fact, at times a certainty) that they were exactly like other blind peopleat least, exactly like what they thought blind people were likejust as inferior, just as dependent, and just as inadequate. They felt complimented when a sighted person said: "You do things so well that I forget you are blind and think of you as being just like the rest of us." I say this not to condemn those blind people (indeed, some of them are still with us) but to catalog their behavior. Not censure but understanding is required.
Most of the apparently "successful" pre-1940 blind people were taken over by the agencies and placed in positions of high visibility, either on the staff or the board. If their function had been to guide or oversee, the results could have been healthy and constructive, but the time was not right, the perspective not sufficient, the culture not ready. As it was, the "successful" blind of that day were (for the most part) fronts and puppets for the agencies. Those who did not join the agencies tended to shun their fellow blind. That some of them neither succumbed to the agencies nor tried to hide in sighted society is a greater testimonial to their spirit and maturity than has usually been recognized.
From the ranks of such as these came the founders of our movement. When Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and the handful who joined with him organized the National Federation of the Blind in 1940, they did what every minority does on its road to freedom. They shifted emphasis from the few to the many, from enhancement to basics. In the pre-1940 era those who thought about blindness at all (the blind as well as the sighted) put their major effort into helping the gifted and promoting the exceptional. The Federation took a different course. It started with the premise that until there are food, decent clothing, and adequate shelter, there can be no meaningful rehabilitation, real opportunity, or human dignity. It was not that the few or the superior were to be neglected but rather a recognition that none can be free as long as any are enslaved. The Federation's top priority in the early 1940's was to get (not as charity but as a right) sufficient public assistance to provide a basic standard of living for the blind who had no way to provide for themselves.
There was something else: The Federation said that the blind had the right to speak for themselves through their own organization and that no other group or individual (regardless of how well-intentioned) could do it for themwhether public agency, private charity, blind person prominent in the community, or blind person heading an agency. The right was exclusive, and only those elected by the blind could speak for the blind. The test was not blindness, and it was certainly not connection with an agency. Instead, it was representative democracy and self-determination. That is what we stood for in 1940; that is what we stand for today; and that is what we will stand for in the year 2009. From the beginning there has been opposition to this conceptfrom members of the general public, who have feared and misunderstood blindness; from some of the blind themselves, who have clung to the security of custody and care; and especially from many of the governmental and private agencies, who have felt a vested interest in keeping us passive and seeing that we remain dependent. But on this principle there can be no compromise. It is the bedrock of Federationism. We want no strife or confrontation, but we will do what we have to do. We are simply no longer willing to be second-class citizens.
As the decade of the 1940's advanced and drew to a close, the blind in growing numbers joined the Federation and learned to work together for common good. As the 1950's came and went, we were well on the way to realizing our goal of basic support for the blind who had neither the means nor the opportunity to do for themselves. By 1963 (the end of the first twenty-three years) rehabilitation and job opportunities were emerging as the top priority. The ranks of the first generation of Federationists were thinning, and the blind of the second generation were advancing through the lines to take up the banner and carry it forward.
In the 1940's, when the National Federation of the Blind was young and weak, and when the agencies still hoped to subvert or ignore it, there was relatively little conflict. By the 1950's the situation was different. The agencies launched an all-out attack in an effort completely to destory our movement and discredit its leaders. By the 1960's the agencies were in full line of battle, and the blind of the second generation stood forth to meet them. It need only be said that we did not die and that we are stronger today than we have ever been. We have never wanted strife or confrontation, but we will do what we have to do. We are simply no longer willing to be secondclass citizens.
In 1963 we were still concerned with securing subsistence for needy blind persons (as, indeed, we are today), but that battle was well on the way to being won. Our focus now broadened to include a prime emphasis on rehabilitation. We sought education, training, jobs, and career advancementand not just through government but through private means and, increasingly, through our own initiative.
As the 1960's advanced and the 1970's and the early 1980's came and went, our focus again broadened, and our emphasis once more shifted. Now, in 1986, we are still concerned with adequate subsistence and with jobs commensurate with ability, but the agencies are no longer as important in our lives as they once were, and we are devoting increasing attention to the civil rights and full realization of citizenship which the founders of our movement originally envisioned as the long range goal. We who are blind are like all of the rest. When we are hungry, we want to eat; and until that need is satisfied, we have difficulty thinking about very much else. But food is not enough. As I have said, we are like all of the rest. After we have eaten, we want jobs and useful occupationjust like the rest. And after food and jobs, we want equal participation and human dignityjust like the rest. It was the task of the first generation of our movement to deal with hunger; it has been the task of the second generation to deal with jobs; it will be the task of the third generation to deal with civil rights.
As we survey our situation in 1986, looking back to the founding and forward to the new century, how far have we come and what still remains to be done? My first response is that we have come a long way, probably farther than any of us would have thought possible in the time we have had to do it. My second response is that we still have a long way to go. It is as simple and as complex as a conversation I recently had while riding a train. The sleeping car attendant was a woman, and she was neither as tall nor as physically strong as I. She was having trouble reaching high enough and at the same time applying pressure enough to turn a lock to move a partition. I asked her to give me the wrench, and I turned it for her. She was willing to accept the assistance and seemed grateful to have it, but as she was leaving, she asked if I wanted a wheelchair when we got to the station. Twenty-three years ago she would probably not have been permitted to have the job, and I would probably not have been permitted to help with the wall.
Twenty-three years ago the battle we are having today with the airlines would have been unthinkableand in 2009 (twenty-three years in the future) I believe it will be equally unthinkable. In the early 1960's comparatively few blind people were traveling, and the battle for civil rights was still largely aheadat least for the rank and file, for the average blind person. Twenty-three years in the future (unless we and the blind of the third generation totally default on our responsibilities) the airline battle will long since have been won.
It is not just workers in the transportation industry who misunderstand or block our progress. As we have learned to our cost, our battle for freedom and first-class status is not helped but made more difficult by the actions of many of the governmental and private agencies established to give us service. Earlier this year a top official of the American Printing House for the Blind answered an inquiry concerning the Braille edition of the Lutheran Book of Worship. He said: "The only source for this book which I know of is the Fortress Church Supply Store of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We produce the Lutheran Book of Worship for Fortress Press. The reason for the handwritten ink numbers is so that sighted people can pull the pages which are going to be used in a particular worship service so that the blind reader does not have to search through the book for the pages."
The picture which this conjures up is not very hopeful. One would think that the blind person who is able to read the hymn from the Braille page might also have the dexterity and initiative to read the number from the Braille pageand might prefer to do it. The scene is not hard to imagine. The custodialism is virtually total. The sighted keeper opens the book to the appropriate page, places it on the blind person's lap, and says: "Here it is. Sing it." The interchange would probably make most of us in this room feel more like swearing than praying.
But bad as this is, it fades into insignificance when compared with the behavior of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Incorporated, of San Rafael, California. Toni Gardiner is a mature, selfsufficient adult, who holds a responsible job and leads a busy life. When she applied to the San Rafael school for a guide dog, she was (to say the least) not pleased with the response she got. It was not that they rejected her application, for they did not. It was the proposed contract and accompanying material which caused the trouble. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the nature of the problem is to review with you a document entitled: "Suggested List of Items You Will Need for Your Four-Week Stay With Us." You will have no trouble understanding why Toni Gardiner was unhappy. Here is what Guide Dogs for the Blind sent her:
All I can say is this: Maybe the arrangements are made by the same people who find the appropriate page of the hymn book and say: "Here it is. Sing it." Maybe the guide dog officials say: "Here it is. Wear it." Be that as it may, Toni Gardiner wasn't having any. In a letter to me she said: "I have never been an agency person and resent many of the clauses in the San Rafael contract."
Her letter to the school was straight to the point. It said:
This is to inform you that I am withdrawing my application for a guide dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc...
I have been a guide dog user for the past seventeen years and have had only two dogs during that time. Both worked until death claimed them...
... Your school's custodial attitude is revealed and reflected in your suggested clothing list. Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., is providing a service for adult blind people ... Your clothing list is so patronizing as to list sanitary napkins as a necessary item for the month's stay. Do you presume that blind women need such specific information?
I have purchased a Golden Retriever and am paying an ex-Guiding Eyes trainer to train her for me. Although this is a costly proposition, it frees me from having to deal with an institution that assumes that I am a mentally deficient blind person who must be cared for by the "professionals" in the field of guide dog work. Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., has a good reputation for turning out well-trained dogs. The time has come to modernize your condescending thinking and to realize that you are providing a service for blind adults who do not require custodial care.
The attitude of Guide Dogs for the Blind of San Rafael is not unique, and it is not limited to the agencies which work with the blind. It is widely pervasive throughout society. Under date of July 1, 1985, the Project Coordinator for the National Council of Teachers of English wrote to me asking that I send material about blindness so that English teachers throughout the country could help their students learn proper attitudes. Naturally I was pleased. However, my enthusiasm was considerably dampened when she went on to say that she felt it was important for the children to learn compassion while they were young.
Then, there is a booklet which came to me last summer in which the author (a woman who is partially blind) described her limitations. She said: "Everything takes more time and effort, plus five pairs of glasses in a flower pota small price for independence. Some things I can't do, like distinguishing traffic lights, cutting my toenails, or recognizing a face except when close up. I've learned to accept limitations."
The problem, of course, is the mixture of fact and foolishness. She is right: She cannot visually recognize a face, but if she listens, she can determine the flow of traffic and, therefore, know when the traffic light changes. As to cutting her toenails, most of us (including the totally blind) have done it since we were children. The overall message attempts to be witty, comes off as only "cute," and is totally false.
In September of 1985 members of the Baltimore Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind went to a local t.v. station to take part in an audience participation talk show. They wanted to make an announcement about our annual walk-a-thon. In order to make such announcements an organization must bring at least twenty people so that there will be a large audience. On this particular day the guests were a pilot, a flight attendant, and a fired air traffic controller. Questions from the audience were encouraged. Therefore, since the topic was air safety, one of our members raised her hand. The producer approached a sighted member of the group to ask whether he or some other sighted person could speak for the blind and present their questions. The producer was referred to Patricia Maurer, who insisted that the blind be allowed to speak for themselves and ask their own questions. The producer said he was afraid to have a blind person walk to the microphone, and (despite protests from the group) he refused to let them speak. During the program the cameras showed the faces of other sections of the audience but only the backs of the blind. Finally the producer undertook to ask the question for the blind himself. I probably do not need to tell you that the question was watered down and poorly stated. In such an atmosphere our public service announcement was a mockery.
The occurrences I have cited are not isolated but typical. They happen every day. A random list from the last few months makes the point. A woman writes to say that she has devised a way for the blind to play bingo without stress. An inventor wants us to promote a special stair rail for the blind. A corporation writes to ask what kind of hotels should be built for the blind. A court takes a baby from its blind mother and refuses to give it back unless she will agree to feed it in a highchair instead of on her lap, the argument being that the highchair will foster independence while the lap will be messy. A blind woman in the District of Columbua, being arrested for disorderly conduct while under the influence, is taken not to the local jail but to the local mental hospital. A pamphlet on diseases of the eye says that people with macular degeneration cannot safely boil an egg. A prosecutor tells a judge in Missouri that the accused is obviously lying about being blind since his neighbors have observed him playing cards, mowing his lawn, and repairing his porch. A Sioux City blood bank refuses to let a blind man sell his blood, claiming that U. S. Department of Agriculture regulations prevent it. And, then, there is the letter I received from a man from Colorado. He said he was facing a moral dilemma. He had made a contribution to our organization to help disseminate information to the blind, but now he was having second thoughts. He wondered whether he had done the right thing. Maybe, he said, the day's news should be withheld from the blind in their own best interest.
What a dismal catalog! Yet, with all of the discrimination and lack of opportunity, the blind have never had it so good. We are better off today than we have ever beenand the best is still ahead. I have a faith amounting to certainty that during the next generation we will go most of the rest of the way to full participation and equal status in society.
But in view of the fact that the National Federation of the Blind is forty-six years old and that the problems I have discussed still exist in such massive proportion, how can I feel such confidence? Here is where we need the fourth dimension of our intelligence. Progress always begins slowly. It takes time to create an organizational structure, train leaders, and recruit members. That groundwork is now behind us. We have an organizational structure second to none in the world, and we have leaders to match it. We have tens of thousands of knowledgeable members who know what they want and what they must do to get it. The reason we now hear more about the problems I have discussed than we did earlier in the century is not because there is more repression or exclusion at the present time than there was forty-six or twenty-three years ago. There is far less. It is simply that we are more aware of it and more prepared and able to do something about it.
Today we are winning on virtually every front. A little over a month ago forty-four United States Senators sent a letter on our behalf to Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole concerning the airline problemand this is not remarkable but symptomatic. We are receiving favorable press coverage; blind persons are finding new jobs; and our members are increasingly participating in public affairs and running for elective office.
But there is something elsesomething even more basicsomething which causes the optimism, gladdens the heart and quickens the spirit for the battles ahead. It is the underlying reason for the confidence and certainty. It is contained in what I said to you at last year's banquet. It is this:
"We say we are as good as the sighted, able to compete with them on terms of equality. We say that we deserve all of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship and that we are capable of exercising them. We say that it is respectable to be blind. When the time comes that a majority of us know for a certainty within ourselves that these things are true (know it so surely that we act and live it every day and do not even need to think about it or question it), our battle will largely be won."
That is what I said to you last year, and there is mounting evidence that the time I spoke of is at hand. The long years of struggle and preparation are bearing fruit. At first our philosophy was only understood by a few of the leaders, and it seemed to have little application in the daily lives of the rank and filebut year after year, on an ever- widening basis, it was discussed, assimilated, and internalized. Now, Federationism is an integral part of the bodies and souls of tens of thousands of blind Americans. It is personal, compelling, and alive.
A few weeks ago a Federationist from Pennsylvania wrote a letter which brings it all together. He is Terry McManus, who is at this convention. Terry is a quiet man. He does not seek confrontation, but when he was faced with decision, he found that it was easier to endure abuse and public humiliation than to go back to custodialism and secondclass status. As you listen to Terry's letter, remember that (though he was in a crowd) he was alone. Nobody would have known if he had ducked the issue or betrayed his principlesbut he would have known. He had done it before, but this time he could not. Without ever being aware of it he had crossed an invisible line to become irreversibly a new person. This is what we mean when we say: We know who we are, and we will never go back.
In what happened to Terry, and in his reaction to it, liberation takes tangible form. Diane McGeorge, Mike Hingson, Judy Sanders, Russell Anderson, and numerous other Federationists faced incidents of harassment and bullying on airplanes; and they resisted as best they couldsometimes standing their ground, sometimes ultimately bowing to the pressure, but always undergoing attack and humiliation. We wrote about their experiences in the Braille Monitor, and (at national conventions, at state and local meetings, and individually) we discussed what was happening to them. Each of us wondered what we would do if our time cameand the process of internalization continued. Going home from last year's convention (fresh from the discussions and the reinforcement) Steve and Nadine Jacobson found it better to go to jail (with all of the accompanying indignities) than to bend the knee and behave like slaves or wards. Their experience was written about and discussedand Jim Moynihan, Mary Ellen Reihing, Jacquilyn Billey, Ramona Walhof, Peggy Pinder, Marc Maurer, Steve Hastalis, and countless others listened and thought and took courage. And when their time came, they remembered and were strengthened--and they, in their turn, gave example and courage to others.
When Terry McManus rode on a city bus and the driver and the other passengers tried to make him play the part of the helpless blind man, he rememberedand refused. Here is his letter:
I am writing to relate a blatant incident of discrimination which occurred against me on Tuesday, January 14, 1986. I think you will find it strikingly similar to the outrages blind people have experienced at the hands of airline officials.
On that afternoon at about 5:15 I boarded a standing- room-only Port Authority Transit Bus. Just as I stepped through the door, the driver shouted, "Handicapped passenger; give him a seat." I explained to him that blindness did not in any way limit my ability to stand, that I had good balance and preferred to stand. At this he became quite irate and proclaimed that if I didn't immediately take a seat, he would not move the bus. calmly told him that I would continue to stand. He began apologizing to the passengers for the inconvenience I was causing them. Then, he spotted a supervisor on the street and got off to consult with him. Meanwhile, the other passengers began bitterly attacking me, calling me "crazy," "inconsiderate," "ignorant," "arrogant," and a few other things which are not printable. One man sarcastically said that he hoped I would sleep well that night. I tried to explain to them that it was not I, but the driver, who was inconveniencing them, and that it was a matter of discrimination and a violation of my civil rights that was involved. They didn't want to listen and grew angrier. I was frightened but knew that I had to continue standing.
You see, this was not the first time I had been harassed by a bus driver in this manner. It had happened a number of times in the past, and on each occasion I sat down after a violent argument. Each time I was embarrassed and humiliated and felt that I had sold out my blind brothers and sisters, who were courageously battling similar discriminatory actions. The last time it happened I promised myself that it would never happen again.
The driver returned with the supervisor, who said he concurred with the driver's decision not to move the bus if I didn't sit. I told him I would stand. He said the seats in the front of the bus were reserved for handicapped persons. I told him I was not handicapped in my ability to stand. I said that if I was breaking some law, he should have me arrested and that if I was not, he should order the driver to move the bus. He obviously knew that I wasn't doing anything wrong because he did not call the police. He said there was an empty bus behind the one I was on and that I could get on that one and sit without feeling that I was being discriminated against. I said I would stay where I was. The driver and the supervisor conferred a bit longer and then decided to take all of the other passengers off the bus and put them on the one behind. They all filed past me, continuing to pour out abuse and make disparaging comments, until only an elderly woman and I remained on board. She explained that she was not able to stand on the other bus. The driver went to see if there was space and returned to report that there was room but that he didn't want to inconvenience the passengers by asking one of them to stand for her. How ironic! He created a major incident by harassing a blind person who was perfectly capable of standing but would not ask passengers to stand for someone with a legitimate reason for requiring a seat. Finally, another bus came, and the elderly woman left.
The supervisor returned, and he and the driver continued to badger me with excuses for their actions:
Since, as the supervisor put it, I didn't have the "privilege of seeing," I wouldn't know when people wanted to get past me and thus would create an obstruction. (They obviously had no trouble filing past me to get to the other bus.)
People are crazy and might knock me down. (I weigh close to 200 pounds, so that is not likely.)
I was standing too close to the driver and obstructing his view. (Other people were standing as close to him as I was, and I would have been happy to move; but the bus was jammed, and there was nowhere to go.)
I had been standing there for about thirty minutes and was beginning to fear that I would spend the rest of the evening on that bus, being badgered to sitor something even worse. Finally, believe it or not, they decided to take the bus out of service for the general public and drive me to my stop. In retrospect I guess that this is no more unbelievable than cancelling a flight to get rid of a blind passenger. Of course, I continued to stand as we drove to my stop.
The driver went on harassing me about what an ignorant and inconsiderate person I was. I again repeated that it was a question of civil rights. I explained that this was just a small part of a large pattern of discrimination faced by blind people every day. He said that, as a black man, he had been facing discrimination for four hundred yearsbut of course this was different since sitting down would have in no way prevented me from reaching my destination. I explained that this was precisely the argument used against blacks who dared to object to being forced to sit at the back of the bus, but he refused to see my point. I told him that all of the employers, landlords, insurance carriers, airline officials, and other service providers who practice discrimination feel that their situations are also "different." He informed me that if he ever saw me waiting for a bus again, he would pass me up, and he hoped and anticipated that other drivers would do the same. He further stated that I might have "signed my own death warrant," because the passengers I had inconvenienced would remember me and take action against me on the street. I asked for his bus number, and he sarcastically replied that I should "go out and look at it." Finally, we reached the stop, and I bade him good day. He said I had already ruined it.
As I began walking up the hill toward my home, the shock began to take full effect, and I felt badly shaken by the brutal and dehumanizing treatment I had just received. At the same time I was grateful that my involvement in the National Federation of the Blind had given me the courage to endure such an experiencenot only for myself but for all blind people. I was also grateful for the hard work of the members of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania in securing passage of the amendments to our state's human relations act, which outlaws this type of behavior. I determined to file complaints with both the city and state human relations commissions, requesting the following relief: 1) The Port Authority be required to issue a clear policy statement indicating that its drivers may not order blind passengers to be seated on buses when no seats are available and when other passenters are permitted to stand, and that drivers may not in any way treat blind passengers differently from others; 2) The driver be required to publish in the newspaper a public apology for his abusive behavior; and 3) the Port Authority be required to pay me fifteen hundred dollars in personal damages.
I also decided to bring the matter to the attention of the media. The story received coverage on radio, television, and in the press with varying degrees of support. At first the Port Authority refused to comment, saying that I had threatened legal action. (I never made such a statement to them.) Later they began to claim that I had refused to stand anywhere but in the front of the bus and that I was obstructing the driver's view. (As I have already said, this is not the truth.) The company refused to have a representative appear on camera, but they issued a written statement to the media which claimed that their policy was that elderly and handicapped passengers could stand on buses, provided that they did not interfere with the operation of the bus. In the opinion of the driver, I had done just that. Later, on a call-in talk show, the president of their board of directors indicated that it was the company's policy that handicapped passengers be required to sit. This further demonstrates the need for a clear policy statement. About two weeks later their director of public relations appeared on a talk show, gave a total fabrication of the incident, and poked fun at me.
Thus far, the pain I have suffered has borne some fruit. I have been on several buses since then where the drivers have allowed me to stand. They may have learned something.
People with whom I have discussed this matter are surprised that I was willing to pay such a large price for such a small privilege. One friend observed that I was "all alone on that bus." I explained to him that I was not alone, that there were more than 50,000 people standing shoulder to shoulder with me as I bore the indignitiespeople like Judy Sanders, Russell Anderson, the Jacobsons, and Mike Hingsonand I was with them when they faced their ordeals. As I read the recent account of what happened to Jim Moynihan, I heard once again the ridicule of the passengers ringing in my ears. We all continue to derive strength from the collective pain, and love is our motivating force. My sympathy goes out to those blind people who have not had the courage and perception to stand with us. By daring to stand and fight together, we insure eventual triumph. Some day all of this will be a thing of the past.
Yours in Federationism,
To me this letter symbolizes the coming together of the second and the third generations of our movement. As we range backward in time to understand the causes of today's conditions, and as we range forward to anticipate the consequences of our present acts, the experience of Terry McManus and all of the others I have mentioned is pivotal. We have assimilated and internalized the philosophy of our movement, and no force on earth can stay our progress.
I leave the Presidency of this organization knowing that our movement has come of age and is fully mature. Make no mistake: We will go the rest of the way to freedom. I know it as surely as I know that the blind are as competent as others. I know it as surely as I know that the sighted are capable of accepting us as the equals we are. We of the second generation of the movement have kept faith with the first generation. We have treasured the heritage, expanded the opportunities, resisted custodialism, fought where we could with the weapons we have had to advance the cause, supported each other, nurtured our fellow blind, and sacrificed and planned for the future. We have also kept faith with our children, the third generation. We have transmitted to them a powerful movement. We have trained them in the ways of freedom. We have shared with them our beliefs and our understanding. We have wanted better for them than we have had for ourselves. And, above all, we have loved them. We do not seek to make them like us, for in our strongest imaginings we cannot go to the house of their ultimate tomorrow. We seek only to go with them as far as we can on the way.
At this convention we have elected a new president. Marc Maurer will make
a good president. He will lead with a firm hand, and he will lead with love
and maturity. My brothers and my sisters, come! Let us move together into the
third generation of the movement.
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