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Philadelphia- This year’s adoptee rights demonstration / adoptee rights day

So it’s been almost a year since this version of the “Adoptee Rights Demonstration,” or ARD, held their initial event in New Orleans. This year, as their event centers around buying a booth inside the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) exhibit hall, they will be gathering in Philadelphia.

Once again, they still have yet to attract a single adoptee rights /open records membership organization as a co-sponsor. (This year, same as last year, their two sponsors include a cafepress shop and a podcast.)

The ARD itself lacks any form of structure beyond a central organizing “coalition” of individuals. It has donors, yet no rights, ability to vote, nor membership structure is implied by such. It lacks any form of formalized organization responsible for it.

When those speaking for the ARD in the booth or writing legislators do so, they speak for themselves, not any larger organization of the Adoptee Rights movement internationally.

(Speaking personally, obviously, I support individual actions. This blog and its independence are examples of that. That said however, it is important to differentiate when one is speaking as an individual from times one speaks for a broader organization or movement. The ARD cannot and does not speak for many of us long term adoptee rights advocates, nor any other formal organization.)

Unfortunately, the financial questions at the core of last year’s event still remain.

Those responsible for this Adoptee Rights Demonstration, the self described “Adoptee Rights Coalition,” to date have not provided any form of accounting for last year’s financial donations: those who gave, how many people donated, how much money, nor how it was spent. They’ve had a year, yet no financial report has been forthcoming.

Such an accounting is particularly important in light of the ARD’s lack of charitable donation status, lack of fiscal agent, and the fact that at least some of the donations from last year went directly into Kali Coultas’s personal account. As the date for last year’s ARD approached, they increasingly had problems with the Paypal account being shut down. There has never been visibility into nor accounting to the broader adoptee rights community as to where their money went.

In essence, those responsible for last year’s ARD asked the broader Adoptee Rights Community to trust them, yet provided no means by which to hold them accountable for either the financial aspects of the event, nor ultimately showing any form of political result. (Which I’ll address here in a minute.)

Monies were collected last year for a full page advertisement in the New Orleans Times Picayune that was to list names of individual supporters of the ARD event in NOLA. No disclaimer was placed on the collection of those monies stating that were not enough collected, or if the monies were needed for other purposes, they could be shifted to other projects. Yet when last year’s event took place, no advertisement was run and no monies were refunded. There was, in fact, no explanation offered.

Sadly the lack of promised advertisement was to be but one example of the complete lack of visibility into the finances of the ARD.

This year is no better. The Paypal donation page linked off the Adoptee Rights Demonstration homepage simply transfers funds to “Adoptee Rights Demonstration” (reference adopteerightsdotnet) an unverifed account.

Since I last wrote about the upcoming event in Philly, the “Adoptee Rights Coalition” (those responsible for the events) have added a few names. It now consists of:

Kali Coultas / Founder

Michelle Edmunds

Joy Madsen

Cathy Robishaw

Heather Holmes

Theresa Hood

Dory Martin

Diane Crossfield

and Jimm Mandenberg

(“Founder” is quite a stretch, considering the pre-existing history with the term “Adoptee Rights Demonstration” and the history of the way Kali ended up with it, but that’s a tale I’ve covered here before.)

Sadly, I think a number well intentioned and very serious about regaining records access people have ended up supporting the ARD. To my thinking at least, there is quite a difference between some of the folks who show up and some of those who can only be described as running the thing.

If you stumbled across it for the first time on facebook, or heard of it via a blog which has picked up the marketing, you may know nothing of the history, the many lingering issues from last year going into this year, or the personal viciousness that took place last year directed at longtime open records activists and Bastard Nation.

Further, as some number of people supporting or participating may be new to adoptee rights work itself, they may have little to measure the effectiveness or lack thereof of the ARD against.

As I mentioned previously on the history link above, clearly the vision for the event itself has changed greatly from Ron Morgan’s original inception. Clearly, by any measure, the current ARD is not the sort of mass action event originally envisioned.

Yet original vision aside, even judging it purely upon what last year’s event set out to do, its effectiveness even by that measure raises serious questions about whether or not the finances and efforts put into such ultimately make sense, or instead distract from the real work to be done.

Part of the disconnect appears to be structural.

Some of those donating do so in hopes of having people go to Philly to go essentially speak and work on their behalf. Meanwhile, those organizing the event are clearly viewing their presence as merely the prelude to what they want people back home to do. Each ends up staring at the other expecting SOMEONE else to do something. Donors want people to speak with their legislators via the purchased booth, those in the booth, apparently think they are collecting contacts for those back home to work on.

What measurable follow up has there been since last year? How many meetings in home districts? How many sponsors were gained? How many pieces of legislation were introduced as a direct result of buying exhibit space in New Orelans? What tangible milestones were marked as a direct result of having done so?

In short, what has been the cost benefit analysis of the strategy of having a few people “marching” on sidewalks without a permit, and buying a booth in the convention center?

While they can claim “contacts were made” has there been any genuine analysis on whether or not who they were talking to were ‘the right people’ or not? I.e. did they connect with people genuinely in a position to get legislation enacted (and did they then begin to work towards such?) or did they expend their time speaking with people with little to no genuine power to enact actual change? Do they even know?

Is this a strategy that actually makes sense? What has doing so done in terms of the goal, restoration of records access to the maximum number of people?

Oh, but wait, IS that their ultimate goal?

Let’s take a look.

As always, all we have are their own words and actions to go by.

From here:

All proceeds go to The Philadelphia Adoptee Rights Demonstration to help pay for permits, security, advertising and our ultimate goal, a booth inside the Annual Summit of The National Conference of State Legislatures.

from here:

Our goal is to maintain a presence at the Annual Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

and from here:

We believe an annual presence at the NCSL Summit demonstrates the importance of this issue, and awakens those impacted by secrecy laws and subsequent treatment by states withholding personal information at various vital information offices across the country. A presence inside the booth is crucial to prove the seriousness of our intent to those who need to hear the message.

Let’s be realistic here, what they are discussing is a booth, one of many, all vying for attention and moments of time with staffers and some state legislators in the exhibition hall alongside plenty of other booths attempting exactly the same.

If the people attempting to market open records don’t even understand the difference between their nonsensical term “vital information offices” and state’s vital statistics offices, no amount of paying their entrance fees is going to help gain genuine open records.

Yes, alongside their stated “goal” of being a “presence,” there are other statements about records restoration, but since when did “maintaining a presence” become any kind “goal?”

See, for me? Even back when I was a member of the committee for last year’s ARD (before I and others resigned) a booth at the event was a TACTIC, never a goal.

It was a tactic being utilized towards the goal of records access restoration.

It was never an ends in and of itself. The idea of listing the upcoming cities the NCSL will take place in for the next three years down the side of the webpage under the heading

“Future Adoptee Rights Demonstrations at the NCSL”

means that for those running the ARD, they view this as a habit to get into, an annual vacation to plan on, and an annual event they expect to be able to count on the broader records access community to fund.

Not planned obsolescence.

I was working hard towards the idea of looking forward to the day of not having to booth such an event ever again. I was working towards the day when records access was restored and attending such an event would become unnecessary.

Furthermore, had I participated last year, in the aftermath, there would have been a careful assessment of whether or not the tactic had been successful, what the cost/benefit ratio was, and whether or not repeating such even still made sense. IF going forward, the tactic was to be repeated, there would have to be some very tangible (and marketable to the broader community) results justifying doing so again.

Taking up space at the NCSL as some kind of theraputic annual gathering for online buddies to finally meet one another and drink together, and (for example) listen to jazz musicians that they cannot even bother to get the names of is not genuine activism. It may be a working out of personal issues, and need for friends, but it doesn’t justify an ongoing utilization of the goodwill and pocketbooks of the broader adoptee community.

Vacations and parties and raffles can all be nice things, but if doing so means losing track of the real goal, such that an annual “presence” is suddenly on the list of “goals,” then genuine accomplishment has fallen by the wayside. It’s about keeping one’s eye on the ball, and failure to do so.

Basic messaging seems to be an ongoing problem for the ARD, starting with statements such as this from their demonstration details page:

All Americans, adopted or not, have a right to access government records about their own lives.

which they then immediately contradict:

Adult adoptees in most of the advanced, industrialized nations of the world have unrestricted access to their original birth records as a matter of right. In contrast, adult adoptees in all but six states in the U.S. are forbidden unrestricted access to their own original birth certificates, due to archaic laws that are a legacy of a culture of shame that stigmatized infertility, out-of-wedlock birth and adoption.

Obviously if we ALREADY HAD the right to full access there would be no need to hold an event such as ARD. Adult Adoptees would not have to organize, march, nor lobby for restored records access.

Clearly in our day to day lives we do not experience that equitable treatment that would put us on equal footing with all others.

That would be the entire premise for the ARD itself, yet how do they begin the page describing their event? By essentially saying there is no need for the event (except there is.)

Such self contradictory messaging is hardly the kind of ‘voice’ I would want representing my needs to legislators.

The messaging problems that a number of us brought up prior to our resignation last year still persist, such as the insistence upon utilizing a (family) tree based logo more indicative of search and reunion and personal quest to ‘know one’s roots’ than a rights based or records restoration based visual.

The ongoing conflation of restored records access with search and reunion is front and center in this year’s ARD page via their searchers page, on which they state,

The purpose of the Adoptee Rights Demonstration is to serve as an annual rally for those who care deeply about restoring unconditional access to all Americans. However, we realize that search is an important topic to many involved. To that end, we have compiled the following list of state specific search and reunion links and information.

When several of us pointed out last year that this only served to increase confusion and the tangling of open records with search and reunion, Kali’s excuse was that most of the people coming into the webpage were looking for search and reunion resources.

She wanted to use the provision of “search resources” as a hook to draw people into the page and increase web traffic.

Never mind the fact that genuine records restoration is not about the personal quest to reunite. It is about restoring equitable treatment to a class of people who have been wronged by the State.

Such intentional conflations of the two: records access and search and reunion, only leads to additional conflated legislation such as reunion registries, etc which bypass genuine restored access, and are attempts at placating those enduring inequitable treatment under law.

Worse, the ARD page markets itself towards legislative visitors as well. How they expect legislators unfamiliar with our issues to decipher search and reunion as distinct from records restoration when the supposed advocates thereof place them side by side is beyond me. It’s a ‘what the hell were they thinking?’ visual.

Finally, let’s take a moment to revisit the ongoing issue of the finances.

Lest last year’s troubling pattern of financial decisions not be enough to raise eyebrows, this year’s event features a new troubling twist: a payback for participating for one lucky winner.

This one falls under the heading of things I simply could not make up if I tried. I attended my first large scale national protest event in Washington DC back in 1986. In the 23 years I’ve been ‘doing activism’ I have to say, I’ve never quite run across a one of these:

Prizes to be won in Philly

The Adoptee Rights Committee is pleased to announce a draw to be held *July 22, 2009 *following the Adoptee Rights Demonstration.

First prize is a *$100 VISA gift certificate* – always useful for travelers! Second and third prizes will also be awarded. The prizes have been donated by the Adoptee Rights Demonstration organizers as a way to thank protesters for their much-appreciated participation.

Protesters will be asked to enter their names either at the sign-making party the evening before, or immediately after the demonstration. The drawing will take place at a local restaurant (TBD) following the demonstration, where we will gather for rest, hydration, conversation and camaraderie.

Yup, it’s the ‘please come to Philly, you could win a Visa gift certificate’ pitch! Errrr, ‘come to Philly and fill out our database’ pitch.

Prizes for ‘protesting.’ Bribes for bodies?

As advertised on their Twitterstream:

100 reasons to come to the Philadelphia Adoptee Rights Demonstration!

That’s bad enough in and off itself, after all, usually, protesters show up all on their own, without any expectation of a potential payoff for having done so, but the real question, once again, lies in the donations.

Are we talking about monies donated out of the ‘coalition’ members own pockets, or are we talking about the ‘coalition’ committee setting aside a portion of the event donations for this purpose?

If the latter, then the question becomes, did those donating to the event understand at the time that a portion of their donation could be used as reward “prize money” for demonstrators?

Usually, when people donate to a cause, they expect the funds to actually be used for the cause itself, not as a form of kickback to participants.

Again, having no explanation of the finances of the ARD, the answer to whether the money came out of donations or personal pockets remains simply unknown.

We can, however look at the few items they list as what donations should be designated towards in their fundraising to date.

The ARD cafepress page for example, lists some of the items the proceeds were to go to (although note that no specific line item budget has ever been released by those responsible for the ARD):

Adoptee Rights Day – July 21, 2009 – Philadelphia

20% is added to the base price of every item. All proceeds go to The Philadelphia Adoptee Rights Demonstration to help pay for permits, security, advertising and our ultimate goal, a booth inside the Annual Summit of The National Conference of State Legislatures. Your purchase is deeply appreciated!

Nothing in that about monetary prizes to participants.

Likewise, nothing on the Donate page,

The Philadelphia Adoptee Rights Demonstration has a base target goal of $2,000 for the protest. This money will be used to pay for permits, security, advertising and materials. For an additional $2,000, we will again be able to afford a booth inside the Convention Center.

Nor their sponsors page.

As “Adoptees Unite “is listed as one of the ARD sponsors, it’s likewise interesting to take a quick visit across to Adult Adoptees Advocating for Change‘s cafe press shop:

100% of the profits of sales will be donated to help fund the 2009 Adoptee Rights Protest in Philadelphia.

Despite there being no accounting of where the funding is actually going, they make a final pitch to every individual “protester,”

We are asking protesters to consider supporting the demonstration by making a small $5.00 donation towards expenses. Please note that this donation is not mandatory, and no one will be excluded from the event if they do not donate.

That’s right up there with some of the ‘not required, but suggested’ pay to march ‘activist’ parades.

Again, most events I’ve been supportive of over the years welcome participants and don’t offer up “suggested donation” amounts. If participants chose to give a donation, it tends to come of deep personal conviction, not expectation.

3 Responses to “Philadelphia- This year’s adoptee rights demonstration / adoptee rights day”

  1. Gershom Says:

    Sabina its a sad sad day when you separate yourself farther from reality just to stick your tongue back out at the people who didn’t take your shit last year, and won’t take your shit this year.

    Who acts like this because people didn’t weap at her withdrawl from the committee she was only a part of for a week or so? You know what one of my best memories of you is? Being on the phone with you and asking if you’d go into the convention and speak to the legislatures and you saying that “it wasn’t your thing to talk to leggies”

    What is your thing sabina? Bashing the very people who are fighting for the same rights as you? Separating you and bastard nation and its associates further away from the adoptee population? Your day is done girl… I suggest taking a walk and enjoying the sun it may bake some sense into you. Clearly you need it.

  2. Baby Love Child Says:

    Who acts like this because people didn’t weap at her withdrawl from the committee she was only a part of for a week or so?

    We’ve been over this before.

    Ron (who at the time was the lead organizer) asked me to help back in March, the event was scheduled for July. I resigned May 31st.

    Let’s be clear, Ron asked me to “be our volunteer trainer and head monitor at the protest” on March 9th ‘08.

    After several e-mails back and forth I accepted on March 14th ‘08.

    So I’ve been working on this formally since March.

    Back to your comment-

    You know what one of my best memories of you is? Being on the phone with you and asking if you’d go into the convention and speak to the legislatures and you saying that “it wasn’t your thing to talk to leggies”

    Well then you might want to have your memory checked because what I said was actually far more specific-

    I would do the booth if necessary, but it being not dissimilar to a trade show, the ARD should be represented by people who not only know the issues, but have a very professional and ‘trade show’ look to them. It was a particular role the ARD was going to want to essentially do careful casting for, doubly so as so much of the time there were under the best of circumstances, going to be mere minutes of interaction with individual staffers and legislators. Which was part of how we got into your discussion of the suit you were planning to wear.

    We also went over who all was financing the booth and how the few seats would most likely be divvied up, and how me being in the booth was ultimately not going to be necessary as there were already more than enough people for the few chairs available.

    Yes, I most certainly have done, and will continue to work with legislators.

    But then all of this is nuance and you’d far rather lie about me.

    Separating you and bastard nation and its associates further away from the adoptee population?

    I don’t know how many more times I can say it, even when I was on the ARD committee for NOLA I was clear from the outset, I, and my partner were acting purely as individuals and not on behalf of any organization or group.

    This blog is independent. to quote my WTF? page

    On my independence

    As I pointed out over on the “about” page I’m just me.

    I am what some of us in certain cultures have proudly referred to as a “GDI” or “god Damn Independent!” I don’t get paid to blog, I don’t work for the industry. I’m a lifetime member of Bastard Nation, though that’s roughly as relevant as my membership in Reef Relief (Had enough? Here, go be nice to a nifty underwater ecosystem or something.)

    Finally, bizarrely, you state-

    Your day is done girl…

    What, you think I was once some kind of Reigning Queen of Bastardy ™? and now you think you’re what, dethroning me?

    You clearly mistake my importance or lack thereof.

    Perhaps to your mind I’m larger than life, so much so that you find yourself posting crap like this at 1am eastern the night before the current ARD, but rest assured, I personally maintain no such personal delusions of grandeur.

  3. antiprincess Says:

    What is your thing sabina? Bashing the very people who are fighting for the same rights as you? Separating you and bastard nation and its associates further away from the adoptee population?

    just my objective-third-party opinion here, but it doesn’t sound like Gershom’s ARD thing isn’t really fighting for the same rights as you, BLC.

    not to mention the fact that you can’t separate an adoptee from the population of adoptees…

    what makes you so mad about BLC, Gershom?

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