Hello again it has been quite a while, and now this rambler is on a mission!
I am in the process of establishing in the Seattle area, a cohesive network of qualified and committed American Sign Language interpreters prepared to work with grassroots social justice organizations in the movement for collective liberation. Over the course of the last several months I have been inspired by–among other catalysts–the Coalition of Anti-Racist whites in Seattle, #Black Lives Matter, INCITE!, and many of my magnificent and powerful friends both Deaf/Hard of Hearing (HH) and hearing (that’s what a person who is not D/deaf is called ;-), to start my work on this project. Accessible opportunities for solidarity in the movement are long past due, and it is a matter of accountability on the part of radical hearing and deaf interpreters that we provide access to a diversity of experiences. Out of these motivations and a strikingly conducive and encouraging grassroots climate, comes the beginning of the organization currently entitled Interpreters for Social Justice, Seattle. If you want to be a part of powering this organization as an interpreter, organizer, or in any other capacity you feel compelled to contribute, I would love to hear from you!
This organization will begin the process of revitalizing reciprocity on the part of Seattle interpreters, specifically in areas of great need with few ties to signing culture. I hope that it will be a step on the road to making actions like the rallies and protests in solidarity with Ferguson readily accessible to the Deaf community and building strong relationships between Deaf and hearing activists. At the moment access to these events in Seattle is reliant upon happy accidents like the one I experienced on Tuesday Nov. 25th. I was strongly compelled, for my own reasons, to attend the march and rally in solidarity with Ferguson in the streets of Seattle organized by NAACP and United Black Clergy. A Deaf/HH friend and excellent radical disability justice activist, also autonomously attended; we connected at some point during the day and realized we would both be participating. Luckily enough, after a period of confusion and scuffle–you know, the usual standing on things up high waving at strangers, signing to…nobody–we were able to locate one another and I was able to ask my sweetie (a hearing non-signing rad activist) to relay the speeches to me, so that I could interpret the information. In many ways it was a beautiful moment of resourcefulness and solidarity. Ultimately, it is a testament to the severe lack of reliable interpreters for ongoing resistance and radical movements across the country! How many Deaf/HH folks who wish to stand in solidarity with the Ferguson protests forgoed this rally and many others because they knew they would be able to access neither the motivating and meaningful speeches nor essential instruction and dialogue at the action? Deaf/HH folks cannot generally attend a public rally, protest, or other grassroots action with any kind of assurance that they will have communication access, even those who have close and politically active friends who are interpreters, cannot rely on this kind of serendipity.
As a field, American Sign Language interpreting is transitioning from the friends and family model into an era of the professional interpreter. We are increasingly adopting what we call the ally model of interpreting and yet as our profession grows I see diminishing numbers of sign language interpreters working in spaces where they are not paid. I would caution that coming out of a period characterized by strong personal relationships and now pushing a work model invoking the ally (not only as a practice but as a noun or identity) in a profession which hosts much fewer of these close relationships, we run an increasing risk of encouraging the ideological myth of altruism. There are many of us who, upon a thorough self-examination will discover that we believe the work we do to be radical: a form of political or social reform affecting the fundamental nature of an oppressive system. But the systems which have been accessed are largely the institutions which reproduce the same systemic oppressions that disempower Deaf, Queer, Disabled people and People of Color. Between 1970 and 1990, as the right to communication access hung in the balance around Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, the participation of interpreters in the movement may have been a radical act of solidarity. The success of this movement was the result of tireless work from Disability Rights communities and Deaf communities in Solidarity and resulted in a reformation of communication access nationwide.This access was hard won and a serious milestone for Deaf/HH access equality. It also began a period of secure paid work for ASL interpreters. What is radical or progressive even, about getting paid $55/hr (oh shit, they** said it…and that’s on average) to work for the state, or corporations? We are becoming increasingly commodified and therefore a functional cog in the machinery of capitalism, reinforcing its hold on the vital resources of our planet and its human resources, now including communication access.This is not to say that our work is not valuable, it truely* is and we do deserve to be compensated. However, if we are truely revolutionaries; if we believe that our state has been corrupted by corporate interest and capitalist greed which subjugates the underprivileged and reinforces existing hegemonic power structures; if we desire the destruction of this broken system and revival of our society; if we believe in the untapped power of the enlightened masses, we cannot allow for our institutionalized work to outweigh the need for radical access! No one provides financial assistance for hiring (increasingly expensive) interpreting services for grassroots action against institutionalized racism, ableism, sexism, audism, continue the indexing… Access must be made available and apparent to underserved organizations, movements, and people who desire and deserve solidarity with Deaf/HH communities and do not have the means to pay. Our relationships with hearing organizations doing a diversity of radical work–some of which is familiar to the Deaf community and some of it quite novel–is tenuous at best. Those relationships can often be most effectively accessed through an interpreter! It is our responsibility as hearing individuals who sign and who cultivated our marketable skills in the hands of the Deaf community (quite literally), to make access available in these spaces. This is the mission I am on: the formation of Interpreters for Social Justice, Seattle hopes to cultivate meaningful relationships with organizations doing radical work in Seattle and connect these organization with resources and services necessary to begin the work of coalition-building between organizations run by People of Color, Queers, women, Disabled/Crip people, hearing interpreters and the Deaf/HH community!
So, if this post has made you think, opened your eyes to an opportunity you didn’t know existed, made you angry, made you hopeful, or told you all the things you already know–contact me! We are moving now, gathering motivated minds and hands Deaf and hearing alike and moving out into the streets with these organizations. Let us know you want us, or want to be one of us, reclaim your power by making access a reality and giving hands to all voices in the movement for collective liberation!
This post is a brief and passionate display of my intent and energy. It is by all means open to your criticism, questions, and other feedback and is by no means perfect or comprehensive. I welcome discussion, questions, ideas, and refutations of all kinds. Please be respectful of those who may read your comments and be aware of using explicit or provocative language or subject matter which may be triggering to your audience. If you are interested in joining this group in any capacity, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*don’t question my spelling of ‘truely’ friends, that’s how I spell truely. It’s prettier ;p
**gender neutral pronouns (for me!) thanks. confused? look it up. And/or look for future posts on personal pronouns.