ON HAND: “Grassroots advocacy” – really?

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

I was reading the newsletter of a deaf organization the other day, which reported that the organization was experiencing a $350,000 deficit.

I wrote to this same organization many years ago asking what they did for the grassroots deaf community. When I wrote them, I was thinking of my own upbringing within that community. They responded, insisting that their advocacy was beneficial for grassroots deaf people. They also reminded me that they didn’t provide direct services.

Okay. But here’s what bothers me.

In the newsletter, some of its “Grassroots Advocacy” activities are listed. They:

  • Gave a presentation at a graduate program for deaf education on “the need to improve services for Low-Functioning Deaf [sic] adults.”
  • Participated in a reception honoring new members of the Brown vs. Board of Education’s 50th Anniversary Commission at Howard University.
  • Keynoted a state Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf conference and the Parents, Resources, Interpreters, Deaf and Educators Conference.
  • Attended a world conference on disability.
  • Presented at a judicial college on rights of deaf people in court.
  • Worked on revitalizing the Political Action Network.
  • Spoke at a Transportation Research Board meeting session about making airports accessible.

I can see, in the big picture, how these affect grassroots deaf individuals. But are these activities really “grassroots advocacy”? I looked up the definition of “grassroots”: The ordinary people in a community or the ordinary members of an organization, as opposed to the leadership.

Maybe it’s me, but when I think of grassroots deaf people, I think of people at bowling events, sporting events, and smoke-filled deaf clubs–people that I grew up with and socialize with today. These people usually don’t give a damn about conferences or university receptions; they just want to make ends meet and to have a good life.

I say this organization needs to understand what “grassroots” means before claiming it performs grassroots advocacy. Only when the organization can really reach grassroots deaf people will its membership grow.

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