As I wrote back in April, fundraisers that “arrest” and “jail” volunteers for fundraising purposes are tasteless and outrageous. Imagine my shock and dismay when I arrived at church this morning to find that the rector has agreed to have a “warrant” put out for a fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy Association (aka “Jerry’s Kids”) hosted by a local restaurant. I was so angry I wanted to say something during the announcements portion of the service but decided to hold my tongue and come up with a more coherent, constructive reaction to this. So, here goes:
I am very disappointed to find that you have agreed to participate in the Jail and Bail fundraiser for MDA. Please understand that this is not an objection to the idea of helping out children with disabilities. However, there are two major problems with this fundraiser. First of all is the whole notion of “jailing” someone for fun — sorry, but I fail to see anything funny about incarceration. I’m sure you are aware of the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his own home last summer, as well as the experience of my colleague Ravi Shankar, who was arrested for “driving while brown” following a poetry event in Manhattan earlier this year. Unfortunately, this kind of racial profiling is all too common in America, and is part of the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination you spoke about so eloquently in your sermon today. An event that makes fun of those who are wrongly imprisoned is, in my opinion, incredibly tasteless and insensitive. When I was in high school, we had senior “slave auctions” for fundraisers. Teachers wisely told us that these were offensive. I consider “jail and bail” fundraisers to be just as outrageous.
The secondary issue has to do with the perspective on disability presented by the MDA, aka “Jerry’s Kids.” A number of disability rights activists have spoken out against Mr. Lewis’ work which tends to stigmatize persons with disabilities by making them into objects of pity. This type of marginalization is perpetuated by the phrase in the fundraiser which calls neurodegenerative diseases “crimes.” For more on this issue, see the website The Trouble with Jerry: Pity Isn’t Progress.
I will leave it to you to decide whether to share these views with the congregation and/or continue to participate in the fundraiser. I just thought I would let my views be known to you in the hope to educate you on these issues.