Braille Monitor                                                July 2013

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Singing Our Story
Federation History in Song

by Barbara Pierce

From the Editor: Barbara Pierce has been involved with this publication for at least twenty years, and for most of that time she served as the editor—looking at every word, touching ever so lightly to add the special shine we have come to expect from the Braille Monitor. In this issue we feature her tribute to songs of the Federation as our lead article, and, for those receiving the recorded edition, we have included performances in lieu of the text. Songs performed in the audio edition are marked with stars for the convenience of those who wish to go to the web to enjoy them. Here is what Barbara has to say about our Federation history in song:

For almost forty years I have been a Federationist. While a number of organizational traits have endeared the NFB to me—care for individual blind people, the passion to fight injustice and discrimination, and the mutual devotion of the Federation family, to name a few—the role and importance of NFB songs in our life together is virtually unique in the blindness field.

In the seventies and eighties we were still defining our movement and establishing our voice. The first songs I became aware of were those that identified and defined what we began calling “the organized blind movement.”

** Battle Song of the NFB
Tune: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”
Words by Floyd Fields and Josephine Huff

1. Blind eyes have seen the vision of the Federation way.
New White Cane legislation brings the dawn of a new day.
The right of the blind to organize is truly here to stay.
Our cause goes marching on.

(Refrain:) Glory, glory, Federation,
Glory, glory, Federation,
Glory, glory, Federation,
Our cause goes marching on.

2. We have seen it in the action of four hundred chapters strong.
Good leadership and courage have righted many a wrong.
Let’s aid NFB’s program and join in its battle song.
Our cause goes marching on.

3. TenBroek has sounded trumpet which shall never sound “retreat.”
We have sifted out the hearts of blind before our judgment seat.
Oh, be swift all blind to answer, and be jubilant your feet.
Our cause goes marching on.

4. To aid the blind’s long struggle we have formed the NFB
To free them from their bondage of workshop and agency,
To give a hand to all the blind wherever they may be.
Our cause goes marching on.

We Shall March Together
Words and original tune by James Omvig

We shall march together to gain equality.
Through our common effort we’ll make opportunity.
When we reach our goal of security, brave effort we’ll applaud.
We shall march together “Within the Grace of God.”

At about the same time as I learned these songs, a group of workshop songs and what one might characterize as songs about ineffective rehabilitation began appearing. These resonated in the hearts and minds of thousands of Federationists, so we sang them whenever numbers of us got together.

**I’ve Been Workin’ in the Workshop
Tune: “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad”

I’ve been working in the workshop
All the livelong day,
And with the wages that they pay me
It’s just to pass my time away.
And when I ask about more money,
They give me the big lie.
“We’d like to give you lots of raises,
But you’d lose your SSI.”
“Work is therapy,”
They keep telling me.
I’ve heard it till I’ve had my fill.
‘Cause if it’s therapy,
I wish they’d let me be.
This therapy’s a bitter pill.

**Blind Workshop Blues
Tune: original
Words by Arthur Segal

1. When you’re working in the workshop, you’ve got no money in your pants,
For the bosses in the workshop don’t give a blind guy a chance.

(Refrain:) Baby, I’ve got those blind workshop blues.

2. You’re dining on steak and salad like a mogul at the Ritz.
Blindness lands you in the workshop, and you’re eatin’ greens and grits.

3. The bosses in my workshop drink champagne before they sup,
But the workers in the workshop wind up with an empty cup.

The Rehab Song
Words and music original

Today I am happy. Today I am glad.
I finished my five-year course in rehab.
I’ve learned chair caning. I’ve learned basketry,
And now there’s not a damned soul who wants to hire me.
Rehab, I’m glad, rehab.

**The Bureau Song
Tune: “In the Garden”
Words by Ted Young

1. I went to the bureau alone
Straight from school and a little bit nervous.
I asked for a job, then the counseling slob
Signed me up for two years rehab service.

(Refrain:) Then they tested me, and they rested me,
And they told me there was some hope.
With the anger I bear as I tarry there
No blind guy should have to cope.

2. I took all my medical exams
And the best eye tests I could get.
Then they tested my means, which was four cans of beans,
Three cans of beer, one cassette.

3. I finally got a job on my own
Breaking loose from the bureau’s long tether.
I called and said, “I found work,” and the counseling jerk
Said, “Close case, ‘cause we’ve done this together!”

Though it was written much later and comments on unwise use of technology as powerfully as it does on inept efforts at rehabilitation, “A Technology Song” also belongs in this category. By the way, this was one of Dr. Jernigan’s favorite songs. He was especially moved by the ending.

A Technology Song
Tune: "The Marvelous Little Toy"

1. When I wrote my rehab plan, my counselor promised me
The hottest screen access program of the twentieth century.
I waited for six months, then gave my counselor a call;
He said, "Our budget's frozen; you must wait until next fall."

(Refrain:) It went zip! when it moved and pop! when it stopped, and whir! when it stood still.
I've never done a thing with it, and I guess I never will.

2. When my equipment finally came, my counselor explained
That I couldn't get my hands on it till I'd been thoroughly trained.
I said, "Let's start tomorrow!" but my counselor told me,
"We have a six-month waiting list at our facility."

3. I said I'd get trained on my own, but rehab made a fuss.
They said, "You won't get funding, unless it's done by us."
Now my training's finally done, and I've come home to wait.
If I ever get a job, my skills will be out of date.

4. Today I had an interview, but I didn't get to go;
I called for paratransit, but my vehicle didn't show.
The finest new technology won't help us, it's quite plain,
Without good blindness training and a thirty-dollar cane.

(Refrain:) It went zip! when it moved and pop! when it stopped, and whir! when it stood still.
I've never done a thing with it, and I guess I never will.
I've never done a thing in life…and I guess I never will.

The largest group of Federation songs emerged out of our decades-long battle to rid the blindness field of the devastatingly dangerous influence of NAC, the so-called accrediting body created solely to provide its seal of approval to any school for the blind, workshop for the blind, or rehabilitation agency serving the blind that was prepared to pay colleagues to step in and apply accreditation standards that blind consumer representatives had had no part in developing. During the decades when NAC tried to “take over the field,” the NFB showed up to picket on the street and talk to the press every time a large NAC gathering took place. Those who participated in these exhausting picket lines remember them with great fondness and much laughter. We walked the line for three or four hours at a time, up to three times a day, and we did so in biting cold, pouring rain, or stifling heat.

**We Shall Not Be Moved
Tune: civil rights song of the same name
Original words

1. We shall not, we shall not be moved.
We shall not, we shall not be moved.
Just like a tree standing by the water, we shall not be moved.

2. NAC shall be, NAC shall be removed.
NAC shall be, NAC shall be removed.
Just like a tree that’s fallen in the water, NAC shall be removed.

3. We blind guys, we are on the move.
We blind guys, we are on the move.
Just like a ship that’s plowing through the water, we are on the move.

4. We’re moving, we’re the NFB.
We’re moving, we’re the NFB.
We’re going to lead the blind through troubled waters; we’re the NFB.

The next song was one of the most singable on the picket line. To understand the first line, you need a couple of pieces of information. One effort in the eighties to work around the NFB was the formation of the Affiliated Leadership League of and for the Blind (ALL). Mostly these were big agencies and NAC, but the ACB eagerly aligned itself under the ALL banner. And because it so often allied itself with any blindness group that opposed the NFB, the ACB often found itself singled out in our songs, as it did in this one:

**So Long to NAC and the Council
Tune: “So Long, it’s Been Good to Know You”
Words by Carol Hawk and Lee Kerr

1. I’ll tell you of NAC and the Council and ALL,
How they act just like babies; they scream and they squall!
They know they can’t beat us; they’re not very strong;
And we’ll be without them before very long.

(Refrain:) So long to NAC and the Council,
So long to NAC and the Council,
So long to NAC and the Council,
It’s been too long a time, and you’re still here,
And we wish you’d be movin’ along.

2. There’re prisons and dungeons of all different kinds,
But none can be worse than the shops for the blind.
They’ll work you for nothin’, and they’ll tell you why:
If we give you more money, you’ll lose SSI!

3. We go to the workshops to slave every day.
We don’t want their handouts; we just want our pay.
An honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work,
And here’s what we say to those agency jerks!

**With A Little Bit of NAC
Tune: “Little Bit of Luck”
Words by Jim Erhard and Maureen Sheedy

1. They say that blind guys have trouble with employment.
It appears to be a problem with the eye.
They say that blind guys have trouble with employment, but
With a little bit of NAC, with a little bit of NAC,
You can live your life on SSI.

(Refrain:) With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little NAC you’ll live on SSI.
With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little bit of bloomin’ NAC.

2. They say the agency has got the finest people.
The staff diplomas clutter up the wall.
They say the agency has got the finest people, but
With a little bit of NAC, With a little bit of NAC,
They will be no help to you at all.

(Refrain:) With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little NAC, they’ll be no help at all.
With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little bit of bloomin’ NAC.

3. They say a blind guy could be a secretary
If someone sighted will read the printed page.
They say a blind guy could be a secretary, but
With a little bit of NAC, with a little bit of NAC,
You would only get a workshop wage.

(Refrain:) With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little NAC, you’d get a workshop wage,
With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little bit of bloomin’ NAC.

4. They say that blindness is such a tragic hassle.
We need that extra expert help to get along.
They say that blindness is such a tragic hassle, but
With a little bit of NAC, with a little bit of NAC,
You’d get milk and cookies and a song.

(Refrain:) With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little NAC they’ll sell you for a song.
With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little bit of bloomin’ NAC.

5. They say that blind guys have trouble with our travel.
We get lost no matter where we try to roam.
They say that blind guys have trouble with our travel, but
With a little bit of NAC, with a little bit of NAC,
You’d get lost while you’re inside your home.

(Refrain:) With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little NAC you’re lost inside your home.
With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little bit of bloomin’ NAC.

6. They say that blind guys must have the best of training.
On this one point, I most certainly agree.
They say that blind guys must have the best of training, but
With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
You get sighted people who can’t see.

(Refrain:) With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little NAC the sighted folks can’t see,
With a little NAC, with a little NAC,
With a little bit of bloomin’ NAC.

Like getting to national conventions, getting to NAC-tracking events meant lots of driving for many of the picketers. One year, perhaps it was the trip to St. Augustine, the Maryland affiliate sent two vans. The vehicles maintained contact with each other using the radios that would later keep us organized on the picket line. The passengers in van 2 entertained themselves on the trip by writing a song and singing it to those in the other van. To its creators and their friends, the following song was known as “The Van 2 Song.”

**Oh, NAC, You’ll Learn to Be Humble
Tune: “Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to Be Humble”

Oh, NAC, you’ll learn to be humble
While falling apart at the seams.
We’re glad to give you trouble
By ruining all of your schemes.
To know us is to fear us;
We get more determined each day.
Our NFB is a winner!
The blind are here to stay!

Somewhere along the line NAC moved its annual meeting from the fall to just before Christmas. Who knows why that decision was made; at the time we simply assumed that it was in an effort to cut down on the numbers of picketers outside the meeting to at least fewer than the number of attendees inside the meeting. If that was NAC’s hope, it was a forlorn one. Our numbers were always close to a hundred, and the longer we carried out our demonstrations (we called them the primary event of the NFB fall social season), the fewer members attended the NAC meetings. The great thing about a December meeting was that we could and did create what we called “NAC Carols.” At this time the head of NAC was a man named Dennis Hartenstein.

**Dennis Hartenstine Looked Out
To the tune of “Good King Wenceslaus”
Words by Peggy Elliott

Dennis Hartenstein looked out
Oozing sanctimony.
The blind were marching all about,
Picketing that phony.
We had come from far and wide
Though the winds were cruel
To proclaim the truth to all:
A NACster is a fool!

**We Have Come to Greet the NACsters
To the tune of “Deck the Halls”

We have come to greet the NACsters,
Falalalala, lala la la.
Agency money is what they’re after,
Falalalala, lala la la.
Quality ethics and standards are lacking,
Falalalala, lalala, la la la.
That is why we go NAC-tracking,
Falalalala, lala la la.

**Hartenstine Hurts the Blind
To the tune of “Jingle Bells”

Hartenstein hurts the blind;
NAC should go away.
Many of their agencies are not with them today.
Hartenstein hurts the blind;
NAC’s standards are a waste!
The NFB will help you see
For NAC there is no place.

In Little Rock we could walk from our block of hotel rooms to the banquet space where the Saturday evening NAC dinner was being held while we remained cozily indoors. By that time, after eight hours or so of singing NAC carols on the picket line, our voices were shot, but we certainly did have the words of the carols down pat. Late in the afternoon someone ran out to buy tiny flashlights that looked like candles, so we dressed as nicely as we could and set out for the space outside the banquet room, singing NAC carols, carrying our flashlight candles, and using our white canes and well-behaved dogs. People in the lobby of the hotel who looked up to see where the Christmas carols were coming from, obviously thought they were watching an inspirational choir of blind people walking and singing. We really did not sound very musical, and of course they could not hear the scathing words we were singing, so they applauded us madly, much to our amusement and probably the frustration of the NAC guests who were gathering at the time.

Another battle that inspired songs through the years was a fight we called “the cane wars.” The airlines were determined to stow our canes in coat closets, make us demonstrate our ability to fasten our seatbelts, and occasionally sit on blankets in case of incontinence. And of course they did not want us sitting in exit rows, even when they had assigned us those seats. The first airline song was the following:

**We Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease
Tune: “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”

United Airlines and the old FAA
Say blind folks can't carry their white canes today.
They say they're a hazard and get in the way,
But we say our white canes will stay.

(Refrain:) We fly through the air with the greatest of ease.
Our white canes won't shatter in emergencies,
So take your hands off of my cane if you please.
United, we are NFB.

At the height of the cane wars in the eighties, the 1985 national convention took place in Louisville. On Wednesday afternoon lots of NFB members toured the Ohio River on the paddle wheeler, “The Belle of Louisville.” Waiting in a very long line to board the ship, a group of Federationists wrote this airline favorite:

**Let’s Go Out to the Airport
Tune: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”

1. Let’s go out to the airport.
We’re just part of the crowd.
If you insist on preboarding us,
The NFB will make a national fuss.
So let’s go down to the jetway.
It’s time for us to go,
And we’ll keep our canes and our dogs in the exit row.

2. We are all in our seats now.
The plane is still on the ground.
If you say that moving is best,
We will stay till we’re under arrest.
And then the blind will gather.
We’ll come from all around.
And we’ll win the seat of our choice
When we close you down.

Skeptics may wonder about the promise made in that last line to close down an airline. But, following the 1985 Washington Seminar, a group of Federationists accompanied Russell Anderson to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where their sit-in inspired U.S. Air to close its gate for some little time. The demonstration took place because airline personnel would not allow Russell to sit in the exit row seat to which he had been assigned.

Our problems with hybrid and electric cars capable of moving silently gave birth to a couple of NFB songs, though the loss of opportunities to learn NFB songs has meant that they never became familiar.

The Hybrid Car Song
Tune: “Surry with the Fringe on Top”
Words by Mary Ellen Gabias
Copyright 2007, National Federation of the Blind

Kids and dogs won’t know when to scurry.
Silent death arrives in a hurry.
All who walk have reason to worry
'Bout the hybrid car.

We all want to stop the polluting,
Save a lot of gas while commuting.
If they made sound, there'd be no disputing
With the hybrid car.

Saving the planet we all hold dear,
Nobody wants to destroy it.
Please make cars pedestrians can hear
'Cause we want to be 'round to enjoy it.

We don’t need a noisy vrum-vrumming,
Just a simple audible humming,
So that we can know when you're coming
In a hybrid car.
Then we all can walk with safety on the street
Without fear that we will accident’lly meet a hybrid car.

The Quiet Car Song
Tune: “Found a Peanut”
Words by Sandy Halverson

1. I was walking down the sidewalk
Thinking of what I would eat
When I got up to the restaurant
And the friends I was to meet.
2. I was so close I could smell it.
Didn't have to go that far
When my life was quickly altered
By that sneaky quiet car.
3. I approached my destination
When my cane broke at my feet.
Never heard the car approaching--
I was lying in the street.
4. Heard the siren of the ambulance
As it carried me away.
Lost my hunger in the ER.
Guess we'll meet another day.

A number of blindness topics have resulted in a single, memorable song. Perhaps the most popular is “The Library Song,” reputedly a favorite of longtime NLS head Frank Curt Cylke.

**The Library Song
Tune: “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys Are Marching”
Words by Curtis Willoughby

1. At the mailbox I sit thinking of the book I need,
And the library so cold and far away.
And the tears they fill my eyes ‘spite of all that I can do
When I think of what the library will say.

(Refrain:) “Wait, wait, wait, your book’s not in yet.
We’ll try to have it next year without fail.
We are not your corner store. We cannot do any more.
After all, we know just one percent read Braille.”

2. ‘Cause they’re running out of space. “For your book there is no place.
The demand for it, you see, is far too low.
How about a light romance or a novel set in France,
For we mostly serve the elderly, you know.”

3. So at home and on the job I am waiting for the day
When the mailman will come up to my door
With the book that I have sought and not the one they thought
That my profile showed I should be asking for.

In the 1980s the NFB took on the U.S. Department of State over the question of whether or not a blind person could qualify to serve the country in the Foreign Service. We won that battle, and this is the song that emerged from the tussle.

**The State Department Song
Tune: “Yankee Doodle”
Words by Paul and Mary Ellen Gabias

1. The State Department keeps us out. They say that we’re not able.
They won’t let our readers in to read their secret cables.

(Refrain:) State Department, let us in. We want to serve our nation.
We will fight until we win ‘cause we’re the Federation.

2. They say that we can’t go abroad. They say we’ll be in danger.
They tell us we will be attacked by every foreign stranger.

3. The blind have traveled far and wide to every state and nation.
We can serve in every post and every foreign station.

We may have more than one song about Braille but this is by far the most familiar:

**Ode to the Code
Tune: “Jingle Bells”
Words by Lloyd Rasmussen, Judy Rasmussen, and Debbie Brown

1. Going to the school to write an IEP--
The teacher says, “Use print because your child can see.”
The equipment is too big, and large print is too rare,
And fifteen words a minute will not get you anywhere.”

(Refrain:) Oh, Braille is here, Braille is here. Braille is here to stay.
We will keep on using it. We don’t care what you say.
Braille is here. Braille is here. We will sing its praise.
It’s the system for the blind to get a job that pays.

2. They say that Braille’s too tough to teach the newly blind.
Its codes and its contractions discombobulate the mind.
Contractions we’ve learned all, and codes we’ve mastered too,
For blindness has no negative effect on our IQ.

3. They say that Braille’s complex. They say that it’s too slow.
They say that new technology’s the only way to go.
But we’ll keep using Braille because it is the key
To making sure that blind folks will be literate and free.

Once the NFB adult rehabilitation centers began graduating blind people who were both competent and confident, it was no surprise for NFB songs to begin reflecting this new approach to the world and disdain for the old custodial model of rehabilitation.

Happy Home for the Blind
Tune: “Home on the Range”
Words by Students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind

1. Oh give me a home where the blind people roam,
And the canes don’t see traffic all day,
Where never is heard an encouraging word
From the certified staff with high pay.

(Refrain:) Happy home for the blind, where we sit around on our behinds,
Just listening to tapes, never touching our slates,
‘Cause Braille’s slow and tough on our minds.

2. The day starts at ten, or whenever I get in
On the arm of some sighted guide.
I don’t know my way, so it takes me all day.
Maybe next week they’ll let me outside.

3. At noon they serve lunch to the whole helpless bunch
While we sit there and wait to be fed.
They carry our trays through the long lunch line maze,
And they serve twenty napkins per head

4. In classes we’re shown how to dial a phone,
And to tell apart nickels and dimes.
How to shake hands and clap, how to take a sponge bath,
And to punch talking clocks for the time.

5. When I do graduate, well for me it’s too late
’Cause for me half my life’s passed me by.
They say I’ll find work, but I don’t trust those jerks,
And now my best hope’s SSI.
(the sound of all yawning)

Probably since the beginning of Federation history NFB members have been frustrated and annoyed by individual blind people who affiliate themselves with agencies rather than with the blind people trying to bring about reform of worn-out ideas and ineffective rehabilitation methods. The following song has always been popular generally, since even nonsingers can join in by adding pig snorts at the end of the first line of the refrain.

**Big Old Blind Uncle Tom Pig
Tune: “Truck-Drivin’ Man”
Words by Ted Young

(Refrain:) He’s a big old blind Uncle Tom pig. (snort, snort)
He hangs with the sighted. That makes him feel big.
They think he’s the best they can find,
A model and an expert on all of the blind.

1. As a child he sold out his soul.
He learned and adopted the agency role.
And as he grew older, he earned his reward;
He’s got a big spot on an agency board.

2. He’s learned every sighted cliché, (You’re amazing!)
And he lives them all in his own special way.
He’s the first to jump up and to follow a plan
As long as the planner is some sighted man.

3. He’s been known to feel somewhat maligned
When he tries to advise and be nice to the blind.
But the blind, they laugh at him. They know he’s abused
When the sighted parade him, and he’s being used.

Not many years ago the Louisiana Center students arrived at the Washington Seminar with a new song.

The Blind Go Marching
Tune: “The Ants Go Marching”
Words by Louisiana Center for the Blind Students

1. The blind go marching one by one, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching two by two, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching three by three,
We're making NFB history,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.
(Refrain:) tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

2. The blind go marching four by four, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching five by five, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching six by six,
We're shaping national politics,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.

3. The blind go marching seven by seven, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching eight by eight, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching nine by nine,
We're keeping Jernigan's dreams alive,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.

4. The blind go marching ten by ten, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching ten by ten, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching ten by ten,
And next year we'll be back again,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.

5. The blind go marching all as one, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching all as one, hoorah, hooray.
The blind go marching all as one,
And we won't give up till the job is done,
As we all come together at Washington Seminar.

This compilation of NFB songs could go on for pages. Though we have more than scratched the surface, we have quoted many fewer than half the NFB songs that have been loved and sung through the years: “Where Have All the NACsters Gone?” “I Broke my Neck in San Francisco,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Paratransit Song,” and so on. No doubt the favorite songs of many did not make the cut for this article. We will close with a recent song that deserves to be better known than it is. And of course there are hundreds of songs still to be written. But we will close with “The White Cane Freedom March.”

The White Cane Freedom March
Tune: “As Those Caissons Go Rolling Along”
Words by the Sligo Creek Chapter of the NFB of Maryland

1. Over hill, over dale, we have hit the concrete trail,
As our white canes go tapping along.
Down the block, cross the street, walking on our own two feet,
As our white canes go tapping along.
On the job or at home, wherever we may roam,
Yes, independent and free, NFB!
We can find our way at night or in the day,
As our white canes go tapping along.

2. On a bus, on a train, even flying on a plane,
As our white canes go tapping along.
As we board, find our seat, no great danger shall we meet,
As our white canes go tapping along.
We’re the able blind, so leave your carts behind.
Don’t put us in your holding tanks. No Thanks!
We’ll meet no harm. Don’t view us with alarm.
As our white canes go tapping along.

3. On we go at full speed, no contraptions do we need,
As our white canes go tapping along.
No rough tiles for our feet, nor the traffic signal’s “tweet,”
As our white canes go tapping along,
No PhD’s, just skillful travelers, please,
Teaching blind people to be free, NFB!
And the rehab snobs can go and find real jobs
As our white canes go tapping along.

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