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Phil Pierson is shown at 5 weeks old with his mother, Teresa Pierson. Phil Pierson's parents are blind, and he was born at home with his father delivering the baby. (1980 file / News Tribune)

Un-Fair Campaign opponent had unusual start in life

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When Phil Pierson's name first emerged as the leader of the effort opposing the Un-Fair Campaign, Georgia Swing did a double-take.

Now the News Tribune's managing editor, Swing is on her second stint at the newspaper, where she worked years earlier before leaving to teach at Marshall School. There, students asked what her most memorable news story was. She responded telling of a homebirth in Finland, Minn., by a blind couple, with the husband delivering the baby.

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A student raised his hand, Swing recalled, and said, "I think I'm that baby."

Pierson remembers that, too.

"I absolutely do," he said last week. "I used to correct papers for her at Marshall. She had written a story about me when I was an infant."

Pierson, now 32, arrived in this world on March 10, 1980 -- "kind of watery and slippery," his father, Jon Pierson, said then, "and all floppy, like a wet chicken."

The article went on to describe Teresa Pierson's 24-hour labor and the decision by the couple, then both 27, to have their third child at home after enduring trying circumstances at the hospital with their first two children.

"We weren't happy at all," Teresa told Swing of the hospital. "They seemed to want to run the show, just to do everything for us ... and not respect our wishes as far as natural childbirth."

Phil came out just fine. And after hospital births of two more siblings, so did his youngest brother, Oliver, delivered by Jon (now Jon Sr.) eight years later in the same mobile home in which Phil was born, only moved to

Gary-New Duluth.

"Dad delivered me, right, Mom?" Oliver, 24, said in an aside during a phone call last week to their present Duluth home. "I'd be really nervous, but he explained to me he was just nice and calm about it."

If the Piersons made it look easy, other blind couples have faced adversity -- one in simply trying to keep their child. Two years ago, authorities in Independence, Mo., took 2-day-old Erika Sinnett from her blind parents because a nurse noticed the infant's nostrils covered by her mother's breast, the Associated Press reported.

"The child is without proper custody, support or care due to both of (the) parents being blind and they do not have specialized training to assist them," the nurse wrote -- launching a legal battle that raged until the baby was returned 57 days later.

Oliver Pierson says he, too, has had to deal with people not understanding how he could have blind parents, though it is all he's ever known.

"It was unusual going to friends' homes and having their parents be sighted," he said.

Phil says his parents -- now in their 50s and divorced, and Teresa with a new boyfriend, also blind, and a stepson -- instilled their sense of independence in him.

"There's a group of blind people that my parents would refer to as the victims, that felt that life had dealt them a bad hand," he said from the Twin Cities, where he recently moved from Duluth. "But there are other people like my parents who never saw it as a handicap, who achieved everything they want to in life."

And given the reason for his notoriety vis-à-vis his Stop Racist Un-Fair Campaign and the only reason I'd heard of him in the first place, he asked: "I'm curious how you would tie this to the whole issue of race."

"I don't know," I responded. Maybe, I said, of the hundreds of people I've interviewed who claim to have been raised not to see a person's color, that statement was true of his parents.

"Literally, no (they didn't)," he said, adding that a beloved community of racial equality hits "very close to home to me. My daughter's biracial."

But, Pierson said, he doesn't subscribe to political colorblindness.

"Nobody can not see color. I'm not advocating that. I'm just against the way they've focused on race," he said of the Un-Fair Campaign's messages about white privilege targeted to white people.

Where that campaign -- or his opposition to it -- heads next, who knows? -- though nearly everyone agrees it's sparked no end of discussion about race that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

And now, a conversation about blindness and ability -- and remarkable births in a mobile home.

Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at rwashington@duluthnews.com.

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