(brief disclaimer - this post and those that follow are written for the Principia Discordia language community, which employs some bizarre and idiosyncratic usages of words, phrases, and exaggerations that you might find offensive or disturbing. We probably don't mean them that way.
This is the thread to discuss organization against the Judge Rotenberg Center and the systemic human rights abuses it inflicts on the children and adolescents entrusted to it. This GASM is unusual in that it is not (primarily) an effort to spread humor and enlightenment, be weird, or troll people who annoy us. Our objective is the cessation of the atrocities committed by the Judge Rotenberg Center: we are taking on a real, brick-and-mortar institution.
For reference, see my posts here
(in particular the last couple) and the NY State Education Department report on the JRC available below.Measures of Success:Complete Victory
will be declared if the JRC closes its doors and proper treatment and therapy is provided to its (now former) students.Success
is the closure of the Rotenberg Center.Partial Success
is bringing hope to the children being abused at the JRC or sharply reducing the number of children sent there.Minor Success
is causing substantive changes in its operating practices or getting a full-fledged media and/or blogosphere blitz.The Five Prongs of Engagement:I: Information
If the first rule of warfare is "Know your enemy" then the first rule of information warfare is "Get everyone else to know your enemy." If you google "judge rotenberg center" the major hits are their own website and their Wikipedia entry - which currently looks like it was written by their marketing department. In other words, the intelligent person with a healthy skepticim (exactly the kind of person we need) might see a damaging blog post or two, and then check up on the claims via Wikipedia and the company's own statements, both of which are great works of PR, especially if the researcher is not particularly knowledgeable about modern psychiatry. If he looks no further, there's a good chance he'll come to the conclusion that the claims are overblown and that this is just another "cause" promoted by conspiracy-minded self-declared "advocates." We can fix that.
First, we can fix the Wikipedia page. This might be an uphill battle in that most of the criticisms of the JRC are found on blogs and forums, while its apologetics are found on its very official-looking web page, complete with cherry-picked citations for, say, why bipolar kids do just fine without medication. News sites aren't that much help either; they mostly seem to try to be "balanced," which apparently means showing the pros and cons of dehumanizing child abuse, and they deal with the complex psychiatric issues with the understanding of a communications major being fed pseudoscience by a very good PR team. The Wiki page needs to be updated with objective, sourced, and airtight documentation of the various problems of the JRC. And no, no matter how accurate it is, the other editors are (justifiably) not going to treat something published by NoSpank.com or Aspies for Freedom as either NPOV or reliable. Again, I recommend the NYSED report - it's damning enough by itself, and from a US state government agency, a credible and authoritative source.
Second, we can promote accurate, informative, and persuasive links on Google. In particular, we should promote sites that give coherent and accurate descriptions of the JRC in an easily digestible format. An understated 26-page report, TL;DR forum posts, and apparently biased blogs aren't going to cut it. PD.com apparently does have the clout to affect Google rankings by itself (incidentally, we're still the #1 and #2 hits for "worst forum on the internet" without quotes) but we need to find
sites worth promoting first. Remember, Google shows the URL, title, and the first couple lines of the pages it links to; the links we promote should be persuasive even without
the user having to click on them, and have a credible looking (if not actually credible) URL.
Also about Google - you know how it suggests search terms as you're typing in your query? Right now, if have "judge rotenberg" or "judge rotenberg center" in the search box it suggests "judge rotenberg center X," where X is "mother jones," "wikipedia," "jobs," "reviews," "employment," "2009," "shock," and "deaths." If we could get "child abuse," "human rights violations," "torture," and various articles and reports that condemn the JRC up there as well, that would be pretty cool. Anybody know how Google determines search suggestions? Can we just make a bot that spams searches for "judge rotenberg center human rights violations"? (If you were wondering, Mother Jones is a news site that ran a series of articles on the JRC a while back - they might have more resources we could use as well.)
Third, we need a list of factoids about the JRC, with sources cited and a little information about how the person can help (see next point.). This is intended to be the TL;DR summary of what the JRC is and why it needs to be closed down post-haste. The intended audience is an ordinary person who probably has never heard of the JRC before, and the reaction we're looking for is the reader scraping their jaw off the floor afterwards. It would also be a good thing to link people to - if someone says "Your extraordinary claims about torture require extraordinary evidence" we need to have a simple response rather than linking them to half a dozen sites that each tell half the story. We'll also probably want slightly different versions for different target audiences, or at least for people who already have a decent background knowledge of special education. I may or may not have something along these lines done sometime tomorrow.
Lastly, either I or someone else should rewrite
the results of this discussion into a kind of "action plan" that can distributed / linked to to other people outside PD who want to know what they can do to help. Probably should wait until we get a clearer idea of what we're doing, though.
Final note: this isn't a project that calls for disinformation. The Truth is on our side, and frankly it is horrible enough.
TL;DR summary of what you can do: Find lots of good, credible sources, which we/you can then use to improve the Wikipedia article, influence Google search rankings, and create our own summaries for use elsewhere.II: Rhetoric
In addition to fact sheets, we need specialized motivational material. The most obvious are simply persuasive articles and essays that can then be spread around in the usual fashion. Images are also good. If anyone wants to illustrate some of the horror stories that come out of that place, that would be wonderful.
Again, I have a couple of ideas for comics and articles and stuff, but this is definitely an area where you can help - there are a surprisingly large number of good writers and artists on this site.
There is also the need for direct argument and refutation. The JRC has a good media arm, and they publish "for the media" articles and responses to some news articles and blog entries, which are full of misleading statements, bad science, and even outright falsehoods. (For instance, they keep repeating that they have a highly trained staff; NY state says that the majority have only a high school education and a generic two-week orientation that is the same for the people monitoring the cameras as it is for the people working directly with the children. JRC claims that their high-level aversives are used only to prevent even more destructive behaviour; their own records disagree.) We need refutations of their refutations, also
written for the media.
Random thought about rhetoric - we probably want avoid the abbreviation JRC and instead abbreviate it as just Rotenberg Center in publications. Because i) to many initialisms is a signal that a group has developed its own internal jargon, which indicates something of a exclusive and cultish atmosphere (count how many TLAs are in internal CoS documents) and ii) as much as I hate to play on stereotypes, the name "Rotenberg" just sounds vaguely menacing in a human-rights-violating, unethical-human-experimentation kind of way. It also reminds me of "Röntgen" (a measure of ionizing radiation, the kind that kills you) and "rottweiler" (a scary fucking dog, guards prisons, and the second most likely to kill a child after the pit bull.) The "Judge" prefix makes it sound more legitimate, so not using that when avoidable could be a good idea.III: Networking
Possibly the most important prong: whatever it is that we're doing, the more people we have doing it the more effective it is. Networking is connecting to sympathetic people and getting them involved in their own way, and taking people who are already involved and connecting them to each other. The obvious and easiest method is simply to promote materials from sections I and II via social networking sites. (Is that thing from TwitterGASM suitable for this / still working?) While it's true that the typical Facebook user who joins a group for some social cause promptly forgets about it and does nothing, if we get enough exposure there's the chance that a reporter or editorialist or blogger or just plain profligate sneezer notices and spreads the message somewhere else. And if we come up with something simple and painless for the general public to do, even Facebook might accomplish something. Maybe something like a group for "everybody tweet about the JRC on MM/DD" or "digg/reddit these articles" or "politely ask Fark.com to run this story," I dunno. I also know next to nothing about other social networking sights, like Twitter and the various social bookmarking sites, so if anybody knows how we can use those productively, post about it.
But more importantly, we can directly talk to people who can help. I think that the main groups who are most likely to be helpful are:
-Teachers, because most of them really do care about education, and they all know how hard it is. Sentences like "the majority of the teaching staff had only a high school education" and "the most common interaction between teachers and students is the hourly rotation of electrodes" are probably enough to convince most real teachers that what goes on at the JRC cannot be called "education." Oh yeah, and most of them like kids.
-Psychologists and psychiatrists, because they know real psychology and the associated therapies. That the JRC starts with the assumption that every kid can be taken off their meds, pulled out of every other complementary treatment, and given exclusively fringe behaviorist therapy with no mechanism for rewarding good behaviors, without any attention to side effects, and regardless of the underlying condition, is probably enough right there to get psychologists/psychiatrists foaming at the mouth, if only out of professional pride.
-Various mental health / disability / special ed advocates, because they already care about and advocate for these kinds of children - they just need to be informed that this place exists. That, and they have networks in place already and are presumably good at activism and raising a big stink when necessary.
-Human rights activists, for much the same reasons. Then again, they have a lot of other stuff on their plates so they might be too busy for this. On the other other hand, they like to use examples of human rights abuses going on in your presumably civilized country to remind people that "human rights" is an issue that doesn't just apply to smudgy people on another continent.
-Weird people, the kind who read about the children who get sent there and think, "That could have been me
." People who don't need to read all the way to "Then they came for me / and by that time no one was left to speak up." because they know they'd be gone before the first three stanzas are up.*
The people who have had their own experiences with special education services and IEPs and child psychologists and know first hand how important it is that these things are done right
and what the stakes are when they are done wrong, and that the children on the receiving end of these treatments are real human beings, not facimiles thereof.
The first two groups, teachers and mental health professionals, might be the most important because they have understanding of the issues in question, professional organizations, clout, and standards. A letter signed by 500 mental health facilities, 1,000 educational institutions, or 10,000 teachers, counselors, and licensed psychologists is going to carry a lot more weight than one signed by 10,000 no-name internet activists, especially if we get recognized professional organizations on the letterhead.
I intend to write personal letters to a number of teachers and counselors I know from my old high school and current college (run by the Jesuits and Marianists, respectively, both of which have a strong commitment to social justice and links to a ton of human-rights type groups. If we can get the Jesuits involved, that would be a major coup.) This is another area where you can definitely make a difference, especially those of you who are current students or recent graduates - I have a feeling that talking to teachers, professors, and school counselors could be a very fruitful exercise. They are exactly
our target audience, and you already have a personal relationship with them.
Additionally, there are already a lot of organizations and bloggers who have already tried to raise awareness on the JRC or related issues - a March 2010 Boston Globe article mentions "31 disability advocacy groups" charging JRC with inhuman practices. They need to be connected together into a unified coalition. (I don't mean actually uniting the groups, just getting them working together collaboratively.) This is an issue that has already gained some traction among mental health advocates, especially the ASD self-advocacy movement. Off the top of my head, Mental Disability Rights International has written a very
strongly worded letter, the Autism Self-Advocacy Network has written a letter to various official bodies, and Aspies For Freedom has already tried to do some kind of protest against the JRC ... but I don't know how much real follow through they've done. They need to be told that a major push is about to be made, and that this time something concrete is actually going to be accomplished.*I am not, of course, referring to communists, union members, or Jews, or at least not exclusively. I'm thinking of the various modern versions of the poem with all kinds of additional vulnerable peoples thrown in.
TL;DR summary of what you can do: locate all the groups and blogs who have already done something or expressed concern so we can get them all working as a unified front on this issue.IV: Direct Kindness
We can also write letters directly to the students enrolled at the JRC. This needs to be done very carefully, of course. The objective of this part is to try to communicate that there is always hope, that yes, even strangers care about them, and that they have friends on the outside - that is, to show basic human kindness to the people who need it most. The idea is to try to mitigate the enforced solitude these students live in with some genuine human contact. If we do this right it has the potential to be very, very positive, and it has the added benefit of helping children even if ultimately the school doesn't change any of its policies.
I like this idea because it isn't aggressive or confrontational; it's genuinely constructive. This is the sort of thing we could get lots of ordinary compassionate people to do, and it isn't reliant on any kind of complicated media effort or iffy legal challenge, and requires no skills in organization, media manipulation, activism, etc. I'm picturing a number of community service groups at various schools writing a letter or two each per member - that adds up quickly.
A word of caution: this is very easy to get wrong. At a minimum someone else should review each letter before it's sent, preferrably someone with experience working with disabled children. In particular, it would be a terrible
idea to send any form of a call to action or any kind of religious message (they do not need to know about Ganesh, remover of obstacles, no matter how much you might think it would help.) These children are not going to organize anything approaching an effective protest inside, and trying to incite them to do so can only make things worse. That's not the point; the point is to show basic human decency to people who are being treated like something less. We also want to avoid implying that we're only writing to them because they're students at the JRC and we think it's evil - we're writing because they are human beings who could use a smile. They'd still be having a tough time of it even if they were at a quality institution. Come to think of it, there are already groups who do similar things for hospitalized children, there's probably someone who already does this for children at mental health facilities. If there is already a group that does this, we should use the networking and organization for this to help them expand to cover the JRC.
Also remember that the people we would be writing to range from profoundly disabled to average intelligence with severe emotional problems. (I don't know what percentage are even literate.) This is not the normal audience for the letters you usually write. It would probably be a good idea to get some feedback from a professional in psychology as to what might actually be beneficial to the student we're writing too. (Like, would jokes help? What kind of joke would a person who mutilates himself to relieve stress find funny?)
As for names and addresses, I think we could probably get those from the parents themselves. (It would be a good idea to get their parents' permission before strangers start mailing these kids en masse
anyway.) If we do approach the parents for this purpose, though, we would want to do it through a group that isn't confrontational or attacking the school their kids go to. I don't think that names/addresses of the minors in this sort of institution would be public knowledge (or the names of the students over 18, for that matter.)
TL;DR summary: we (and a lot of other people) can write uplifting and encouraging letters to the people trapped at the JRC, and even extend the basic idea past this particular GASM as a long term effort to be nice to the Children of Eris everywhere.
Completely random thought: it would be awesome if we could acquire one of the GEDs that the school uses. Probably not possible to get one from them, but I bet they have patents filed somewhere, and if we get the specs I'm sure we can find a Mad Scientist willing to put together a replica. That would be a killer demo to show people - here, try this one. BRZZAP. There, that's what they call a "hard pinch" at the JRC. The JRC doesn't let journalists demo the things anymore, probably for a reason. The Boston Globe articles say they have a model that delivers 41 milliamps at 66 volts for 2 seconds (pretty sure that's AC). How bad is that?