The NFB Rallies to the Cause

Federationists marching for the cause.
Federationists marching for the cause.

Editor’s Note: The following comments were submitted by some of the participants in the Washington, D.C. rally. The beginning comments were submitted by Dr. Ed Vaughan.

For nearly 80 years the United States government has funded programs to enable blind people to seek competitive employment. They have become increasingly focused; i.e., both educators and consumers are aware that blind people must learn distinctive skills to compete effectively for employment opportunities. These skills include Braille, mobility, and independent living as well as the rapidly evolving area of computer technology.

The current administration in Washington has the idea that combining various rehabilitation programs under a "one stop" idea will save money. Diluting services that are currently effective will, in the long run, cost more money. The current administration also wants to eliminate regional offices, lower the visibility of the Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services, and distribute money for rehab in part through block grants to the states. We believe that all of these steps would be counterproductive. Federal guidelines and the resources offered by regional offices is a major form of leverage on less progressive state programs.

These issues are being viewed as administrative matters within the U.S. Office of Education. The NFB will continue to confront this issue directly and may have to pursue it legislatively.

I have attended at least four NFB rallies - the three previous ones concerning NAC. The Washington demonstration once again showed the solidarity of Federation members. One could not help but notice the good will, humor, mutual support and fellowship of NFB members, many of whom were new to such events. Also, the organizational capability was outstanding. Almost every problem was anticipated. Joan and I were asked to volunteer as marshals and could observe the organizational efforts firsthand. Diane McGeorge, Alan Harris and Jim Gashel deserve special recognition. It was also a comment on the organization's influence that nearly 50 other organizations joined in the protest rally. The rally was only the first step, but a very important one, toward what Alan Harris referred to as the misguided efforts of rogue administrators.

Suleyman Ari: As a blind graduate student from California and UCLA, this is the first major across-continent NFB event that I had the opportunity to attend—that is, the Washington rally. I would like to express my gratitude to the NFB of California for financing my flight, transportation and hotel accommodation. Never have I felt such that for the first time in my life, I see that even though we are blind, we can see the light. I definitely feel that education and inclusion are the light for a more enlightened future for the blind as well as for our society. I am so proud to be a Federationist, a blind man speaking for the blind.

Jim Barbour: On May 25, the NFB of California visited most of our House and Senate representatives to talk with them about the Department of Education’s restructuring of the Department of Rehabilitation. I was able to meet with aides of Congresswoman Bono and Congressman Calvert. I always enjoy meeting with Congress and articulating our concerns and possible solutions to issues, and this was no exception.

On May 26, I attended the rally organized by the NFB in conjunction with other organizations in front of the Department of Education. I was asked to be a marshal, which is a fancy word for an audio guidepost. I spent a lot of time uttering phrases such as "turn left, turn left", "end of the circle, make your turn here", along with the chants we came up with such as "2, 4, 6, 8, Spelling's idea is a big mistake." It was a very thrilling, energetic experience. In many ways, it reminded me of the days long ago when we would go picketing NAC.

Michelle Bernstein: Going to Washington, D.C. to participate in the fight to save RSA was an incredible experience. This was my first major NFB rally, and my first time meeting with Congressional representatives and their assistants. Because of Tiffany Manosh’s hard work and careful planning, I had the opportunity to attend six appointments on Wednesday. Chris Foster, who has a lot of experience with Washington Seminars, gave me a crash course in what to do and set a fantastic example of how to handle the appointments. This helped me gain confidence, and I felt like a real pro by the end of the day! A true high point was meeting Congresswoman Doris Matsui, as she is quite an advocate for education and disability rights. On Thursday, I had a ball marshaling and holding my sign high and proud. I was especially moved by the sense of camaraderie between the various supporting organizations and the idea that we were all there for something larger than ourselves. It was so wonderful to hit the streets and actually do something about a problem instead of simply talking about it. It was an honor to know that I was serving the Federation, and I learned a great deal in the process. I never realized I could be so exhausted and energized all at once. What a great feeling! I can’t thank you enough for making this amazing opportunity possible for so many Californians.

Jennifer Boylan: I would like to thank the NFB for allowing me the privilege of representing the San Joaquin County chapter in this endeavor. I am still in awe of the impact NFB can have, and continue to be inspired the more I participate. This was a wonderful experience!

I was thoroughly impressed with the National Center, and wish I would have had a little more free time to check it out. I definitely want to visit again.

On May 25, I visited 2 Congressional offices. The first was a Representative from San Diego. I was paired up with one of his constituents to speak, and felt that the aide we spoke to was greatly impressed and interested by what we had to say. I tend to be a little on the shy side, but my speech did not fail me, and I feel a renewed confidence after passionately addressing the issues.

My next appointment was with Richard Pombo, my Congressman, and we actually saw him. The four San Joaquin chapter members handled this assignment. Although he may have partisan reasons for opposing this action, he was very receptive and listened to everyone's points and personal stories. We spent about 15-20 minutes there.

Now, the rally! I wasn't around in the early days of NFB, but I certainly got a feel for the spirit of activitism. I am newly energized to become a stronger Federationist. The organizational skills of NFB leaders were clearly in full effect. Using human "sign-posts" as marshals, we marched for two hours chanting “No Blind Left Behind!”, “Save the RSA!”, “2, 4, 6, 8, Hager's plans are a big mistake!” and other catchy slogans. I continue to be impressed and amazed by what we accomplish when we join together. And to have 44 other organizations banding with us...well, it just confirms our leadership! Kim Crawford: I had a good time at the rally in D.C. I found it to be a really fun and exciting new experience for a new member to the movement. I met lots of people, participated in my first rally, and had my first visit to Capitol Hill. We were well received by Congress and others. They seemed to be interested in what we had to say. I know that we left a mark in D.C. Thank you, NFBC, for giving me the opportunity to attend the D.C. rally.

Chris Foster: Upon returning from our recent rally and congressional efforts to support the RSA in Washington, D.C., I thought about what this trip really meant to me. To me, this trip and adventure really embodied “Federationism” in its truest sense. Here we were, a thousand strong from all parts of the country, young students and not-so-young students of life, lawyers, teachers, scientists, mothers and fathers, executives, managers, salespeople…the list goes on. We were all there. We had dropped whatever was happening at home and had come from all over to be a part of something serious yet special. We were bringing the word of the people to our nation's capital, first as ourselves and next as members of an organization which has led the way for change in the lives of blind people for over 65 years. And yet, we weren't alone. At least 47 other organizations that stood to be drastically affected by the proposed changes to RSA were there with us that Thursday afternoon to have their voices heard. It was a fantastic experience and one I will not soon forget.

Juan Haro: Thank you for the opportunity to attend and participate in such an incredible rally. We truly sent a message to the Department of Education. Our voices were strong and our message was resoundingly clear: we will not allow our programs and dreams to be diminished. We spoke to anyone who would listen to us and we raised our voices so Margaret Spellings could hear us, too. This is only but one step of many that will lead us to triumph. We were successful and we should be extremely proud of ourselves and our affiliate for supporting this important rally.

Chad Allen (far right) served as one of the pall bearers.
Chad Allen (far right) served as one of the pall bearers.

Jason Holloway: The true spirit of the NFB was felt in Washington, D.C. on May 26. It was a bright sunny day, as hundreds of Federationists let the Department of Education, and the rest of Washington, know that we will not accept the proposed consolidation that would destroy the Rehabilitation Services Administration. I was proud to hold high a sign that read “National Federation of the Blind of California” as we marched around the Department of Education. I think one of the things that impressed me most was the fact that so many Federationists were of all age-ranges and backgrounds. All of us have been greatly helped by RSA and are very concerned about the potential consolidation. My favorite moment was the program that began at noon. Hearing representatives from 45 different consumer organizations speak about the same concerns about rehabilitation was powerful. Four past commissioners of RSA spoke about the great progress RSA has made through the decades and how vital it is to keep RSA around. An educational yet entertaining part of the program was the grim reaper coming out and destroying the Rehabilitation Act and putting it in a coffin. I was amused yet saddened to realize the grim reaper could become a reality if our voice is not heard and the Department of Education has its way. The NFB is about collective action. There was no better example of it than the rally in Washington. If our voice is not heard, just as we chanted at the rally, “We will be back.”

Thelma McDaniel: It was a great experience for me. We split up into groups and spoke to our Congressional representatives. We energized each other when we marched in front of the education building chanting all those slogans.

Vicki McDaniel: …If it is not broken, don’t fix it. The present RSA system is far from perfect, but it is working effectively. People are being allowed to have choices and opportunities.

At the D.C. rally, local Sacramento Representative, Congresswoman Matsui, agreed to meet with my group. She appeared to be genuinely concerned about the program’s restructuring pursuits. Matsui stated that she did not agree with their intentions and would not support a proposal that would undermine RSA services. She did say she would need to do further investigation to find out more so that she would know how to respond to the issue appropriately.

The proposed RSA cuts not only affect those individuals who need training but also those who teach and provide services to the training centers nationwide. Without the staff and resources, special training services cannot be provided. If this ceases to exist, people with disabilities would face the same hardships that were felt during the sixties when so may protested and demanded equality for all disabled people. It would be history repeating itself.

Since I received a master’s degree last year and was certified to be a cane travel instructor, I am greatly concerned about my future and my passion to do the kind of work that I have always wanted to do. That is, to teach other blind people and give back what I had the fortunate opportunity to learn: proper training and the dedication to help others who need my help now.

Lonzi Rose: The events that took place May 24 through 26 will continue to have a strong and lasting impact on me for many years to come. Blind people of every age, color, and background came to Washington, D.C. with one agenda, and that was to have their voices heard concerning the proposed cutback of the RSA. Many politicians do not understand what life is like for blind people, and they do not have a clue about our concerns. The event in Washington, D.C. gave politicians an opportunity to hear about these concerns directly from the mouths of blind people. I am a new member of the NFB and it was an honor to take part in such an important event. I was impressed by the amount of concern that all the participants had for blind people. I have often heard that the longest journey begins with a single step, and it was an honor and a privilege to see so many blind people taking steps to protect the interests of all blind people. I really enjoyed being one of the many voices that took part in the event.

Tina Thomas: On May 24, my guide dog and I arrived in Washington, D.C. excited and ready to take on Capitol Hill. The highlight of the week was the rally organized by the NFB where we were joined by 45 other interested organizations in our quest to save Rehabilitation services. We gathered at the hotel where signs and literature were distributed. We then made our way across the street to the Department of Education. There were many demonstrators and our chanting could obviously be heard. The day was electric! There were a number of speakers who spoke about the need to keep rehab services. Dr. Joanne Wilson and Dr. Fred Schroeder, both former RSA commissioners, spoke. We were determined to get our point across to the Secretary of Education. The conclusion of the rally featured Kevin Worley as the grim reaper. It was a very productive day. Everyone worked together and it made for a wonderful and successful rally.

Barbara Toler: I went to Washington, D.C. to participate in the rally to save Rehabilitation services for people with disabilities and voice my concerns to my Congressional Representative, Mr. Richard Pombo. I was able to express to him my concerns on the consolidations and cuts of rehab services planned by the Department of Education. I gave examples of the importance of why these services should not be consolidated or cut. I expressed to Mr. Pombo how rehabilitation services had helped to re-train me after I became visually impaired. The vocational and independent living services helped me in pursuing a career as a Special Education Teacher. I also presented to Mr. Pombo a letter from a fellow blind student from the University of the Pacific, which expressed his feelings on the planned consolidation and cutbacks. Mr. Pombo listened, and I hope he will support our proposed demands listed in the fact sheet that was presented to him. This was a great experience for me, and it showed me what the NFB can do when all chapters come out to support a cause which affects all disable people. This experience made me proud to be a member of the NFB.

Nathanael Wales: It was remarkable and inspiring to attend the NFB's rally, with so many other organizations’ support, on May 26. Our work on Capitol Hill the day before was the most intense I've ever done, and the rally was energetic, historic, and, in all truth, exhausting. It was wonderful to see so much support, especially from so many Californians who had traveled so far.