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The Blind Panther Party?

April 15, 2006 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Interesting article from Chris at Blind Confidential. Thoughts?

Earlier this week, I received an email from an anonymous auto-forwarding program which I could not trace to its originator.  I asked some friends who have much stronger Internet and IT skills than me and they couldn’t tell me anything more than it came via an email forwarding system that sat on a server somewhere in Europe.

The message announced the formation of the Blind Panther Party.  As it came from an anonymous sender, I don’t know if the author intended to make an actual political statement or if he took a few extra measures to hide his identity to make a pretty funny gag look all the more real.  Thus, I don’t know if the Blind Panthers truly exist or if the author is performing an elaborate hoax.

The author signed the message Kropotkin, presumably after the legendary 19th century Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin.  The author must know me as he (I call the author “heâ€� as he used a male signature; if he chose Emma Goldman or some other famous female radical, I’d use the pronoun “sheâ€�) as he included a number of facts about my life which I have never published and have revealed to a very small number of people.  Thus, Kropotkin has created a very clever system, whether real or for fun.

Frankly, I kind of wish I had written this letter to myself as it includes some phrases that really made me laugh.  The slogan, “Blinks of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your canes!â€� Still makes me chuckle after reading the message a dozen times or so.  

Kropotkin makes references to historical figures similar to ones I might make in any Blind Confidential article or in my more serious writing.  He mentions Michael Collins and Ben Gurion, their tactical collaboration and how they both succeeded in defeating the British (Collins early in the 20th century having won the independence of the Republic of Ireland and Ben Gurion, after the Second World War, getting England to give up a section of Palestine now called Israel).  Like I often do, he did not include a reminder as to who the two revolutionaries were but, rather, assumed the reader (in this case me) would know his history well enough.  Anyone who knows me personally would also know that I would definitely know of these two as they would know that I’ve read a lot about the history of revolution and those who won change through such activities.

So, real or not, Kropotkin described the Blind Panther Party and suggested I write an article about them lest I pay the consequences of having some hardcore hackers, “perform some ultra-nonviolence on your various web presences.â€�  Unlike the government, I do cave into threats as I haven’t the time nor desire to fix a mess that some hackers can certainly make.  Also, I liked the reference to “A Clockwork Orangeâ€� (one of my all time favorite movies) embedded in the threat.

Kropotkin says that, “within three weeks, you will receive our manifesto, currently a work in progress,â€� but this letter of introduction intended to prepare me for “things to come.â€�  The author explained that, like the Black Panther Party, the Blind Panther Party (BPP), “does not claim to represent all blinks but, rather, serve as a vanguard based on radical ideals in order to affect change.â€�  He continues, “Huey Newton and Angela Davis never believed that all blacks would buy into his radical notions of dialectic materialism and the political economic theories of Karl Marx but their party would bring about revolution that would benefit everyone by destroying the hegemony of white European oppressors.â€�  I could only scratch my head and think, the government successfully crushed the Black Panthers and, now, the remnants of the organization sell a hot sauce called “Burn, Baby Burnâ€� – hardly a revolutionary act.  I also cannot remember if Angela joined the Black Panthers or if she had been more of a soloist in the movement.

Kropotkin said he chose Blind Confidential, “because it seems to be the only regularly issued blindness related rag that isn’t beholden to any business, organization or governmental body.â€�  I’m happy that our readers see BC as so nicely impartial and trustworthy that they will announce the kick-off to their revolution here.  At the same time, I kind of identify with Jimmy Breslin during the summer of Sam when David Berkowitz, first known as the .44 caliber killer and, later as Son of Sam, chose him as the journalist in whom he would confide.  Breslin has one of the greatest journalistic voices in American history and I’m just a hacker who writes for fun but, today, I can pretend I’m Jimmy, maybe next month I’ll make it all the way up to Studds.

Referring to the song by Steve Earle, “The Revolution Starts Now,â€� Kropotkin then started into the goals of the BPP and some of the tenets of their manifesto which they will publish soon.  He starts with a somewhat disorganized preamble to the manifesto that claims that the blindness population has neither representation nor a vanguard to represent its true needs.  He claims that the “so-called advocacy organizationsâ€� have been “co-opted by the profit mongering technology companies (AT, operating system and application) pay them off with annual tributes to prevent them from doing anything too useful, from stating anything too critical and by making major statements about total non-issues to keep their membership smiling like morons.â€�

He continues, “The Blind Panther Party will lead legions of blinks to freedom and parity.â€�  And, “the BPP will use any tactics or strategies necessary to defeat the triumvirate of AT, IT and government that conspire to keep blind people from success.â€�  The rhetoric sounds like people from the GNU/Linux world with terms like manifesto and vanguard but the zealotry expressed leads me to believe that Kropotkin might actually come from the tremendously religious world of the Macintosh.  Many of the anarchist references also reminds me of the days when Project GNU lived in MIT’s AI lab as we had a subnet of computers all named for famous anarchists.

After the preamble, Kropotkin lists a few of the BPP beliefs and accepted “truths.â€�  Their first “truthâ€� states that blinks have no true representation and none emerging in the near future.  He quotes a bunch of employment figures from around the world and states the “truthâ€� that this is the result of the lack of representation.  He lists a few other “truthsâ€� that seem to mostly repeat the first two but worded differently, leading one to think that the authors wrote this in a committee or was in a real hurry to bang something out.

Then, he moves onto the “demandsâ€� of the BPP.  The first, one that I think we can all agree with, is that the government start enforcing ADA, 508, 255 and various other laws around the world.  Then, he starts getting into areas that I doubt will come any time soon.  He “demandsâ€� that all AT companies immediately appoint a blind person to serve as a sort of “inspector generalâ€� to keep the organization focused on the users rather than just on profits.  

Next, he suggests that, “like Sun and IBM, Microsoft and Apple should provide Narrator and VoiceOver as open source projects.â€�  He rightly asserts that, “neither Neither Apple nor Microsoft makes any money on the screen readers or magnifiers and maybe if they let them out as open source various segments of the community can band together and hack our way to successful, free, open source screen readers that don’t suck.â€�  An interesting idea that I’ve heard floating around the blindness world a bit lately but without anyone seemingly working with MS or Apple to negotiate such a deal.

Kropotkin lists a few more demands but all seem too far fetched to warrant copying into this piece and moves onto “tactics and strategies.â€�  He states that, “The BPP is dedicated to non-violence and will not intentionally bring harm to any person or will we threaten anyone.â€�  A good idea as blinks with bombs would go far beyond anarchism and way into chaos.  He continues, “The BPP has only one cause, to advance the rights and freedoms and to improve the lives of blind people worldwide.â€�  I can buy into that but I think it should be in the beliefs and truths section rather than strategy but who am I to judge a manifesto in progress?

After that, Kropotkin starts making statements that sound threatening and potentially very nasty.  He claims, “The BPP will use any act of â€�information anarchism’ [Editor’s Note: Richard Stallman coined the phrase “information anarchyâ€� years ago to define the difference between the definition of free, “as in freedom,â€� versus “without cost.â€�] Including publishing propaganda and spreading rumors about businesses, organizations and government agencies under their own name or by falsifying email addresses to disguise the source.â€�  Anyone who has been around the blindness biz for a while knows it is fraught with nearly random rumors so I doubt this tactic will gain too much success, especially if “officialâ€� sources fact check articles before publishing them.

The next tactic comes with a bit of a disclaimer, “The BPP takes no position on technological vandalism nor does it have an opinion on liberating software that is copy protected.â€�  As I suggest in my article about Antigua, suddenly cutting off the revenue to the AT businesses would potentially bring disaster upon the quality of screen reading products as it is the revenue stream that fuels innovation and, without such, none of the commercial screen readers can afford to continue in any kind of consistent manner.  So, this tactic may buy them some support from people who either cannot afford a screen reader or just prefer stealing things no matter the downstream consequences.  I can imagine some very funny defacings of web sites but I do not condone, in any way, shape or form, such vandalism and decry any so-called hacker who would use such tactics.

Kropotkin then mentions a few of his favorite Blind Confidential articles and signs the letter, “Happy Hacking,â€� another phrase popular among GNU hackers.  So, I don’t know where these guys come from, where they are located, if they are more than one guy pulling a pretty imaginative joke on me and the BC readers, if they should be taken seriously or if we can laugh it off entirely.  I think Kropotkin made some points with which I agree, like taking a strong stance against violence and doing more to publicize the difficulties we blinks have in the employment world.  I think the idea of MS and Apple releasing their screen readers as open source is pretty interesting as I know a lot of people would enjoy hacking their source for fun, for research or to expand their capabilities.  Finally, I disagree with the lack of position on property crime, I don’t believe that defeating copy protection or vandalizing a web site is without harm to our community and, very possibly, such actions can have a tremendous backlash that could damage our cause.

Blind people around the world do seem to be taking some more radical positions and actions though.  A group of blind hackers in India are working on an open source screen reader project of their own which definitely shows initiative, if nothing else, on the part of blind people in leadership roles.  If people in India cannot afford a major screen reader, making their own makes sense.  Last week, in Nepal, a huge crowd of blind people (about which I will write a separate article soon) gathered in the government district in Katmandu to protest for greater rights – a hundred of whom were arrested in what turned into something of a violent blink uprising.  Blinks around the world express discontent but show little action and I’m not sure which tactics would work for such a small minority.

Afterward

The AT community took a step backward last week when Sharon Spenser, the seven year VP of Sales with HJ and Freedom Scientific chose to leave the company for personal reasons.  Since her departure, I’ve heard from competitors who went head-to-head up against Sharon in various bidding processes and all described her as professional, very tough and one who plays to win.  Those of us who have the privilege of knowing her personally, though, also see her as a warm, loving and very honest friend.  As a co-worker, Sharon pushed us engineering types to constantly improve quality and could often be seen in her office well into the night working as hard as anyone else in the industry.

Sharon had also been president of ATIA, an organization which she helped grow and get moving forward better than ever before.  I don’t know if she will continue in her role with ATIA.

Needless to say, one of my very favorite people in the industry has elected to move on so I will miss the hug I always get at conferences and will hopefully be able to see her socially soon.

[BlindConfidential]

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