Remembering the 2003 Fast For Freedom: Time for Another?


On August 16, 2003, six individuals who had travelled from all over the country – Brooklyn; Wilmington, Delaware; Chicago; Portland – to Pasadena, California, began a Fast for Freedom, “a hunger strike to challenge international domination by biopsychiatry.” They were determined to poke their collective finger in the eye of the psychiatric establishment and to expose what they believed to be the great hoax perpetrated on the American public by the U.S. Government, by American psychiatry and allied organizations and by the pharmaceutical industry — that the causes and treatment of so-called major mental illnesses were rooted in readily verifiable scientific evidence.

I didn’t learn about the strike until 2010 when I read Bob Whitaker’s brief summary of it, which he wrote as an introduction to his last chapter in Anatomy of an Epidemic, “Blueprints for Reform.” That chapter begins with a quote from Vince Boehm, one of the hunger strikers: “I think it is time for another hunger strike.” (2009) So do I, Vince. But after speaking at some length recently to three of the strikers – David Oaks, Cat Sayama and Mickey Weinberg – and to a member of their Scientific Panel, Al Galves, I have a greater appreciation of the hard work it took, the years of planning that went into it, the fears and apprehension that it raised and that had to be addressed and the risks that people faced to bring it off. I decided to write about it because it is a significant historical event, a first for the movement to oppose psychiatric oppression – I’ll explain more below. It needs to be commemorated in a country, in a culture where it is too little known and appreciated and just as easily forgotten. It is also a model for future, similar actions, as well as an answer to the question I posed to the folks I spoke to – “why no hunger strikes since?” And finally, for me, it marks my re-connection to Mickey, my classmate at the UCLA School of Social Work, whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to since we graduated together in 1969. Pure serendipity was at work here – he saw my name listed among the MadInAmerica bloggers a few months ago and contacted me. It was Mickey who opened the door that gave me access to David, Cat and Al and to their reminiscences and lessons learned.

Back to the story.

After two years of discussion and debate about tactics, strategies and objectives, the Freedom Six, as I’ll call them, together with the panel of experts and advisors they had assembled – more on the complete cast of characters below – had decided that a hunger strike might be sufficiently dramatic to attract the media attention they needed. Bottom line, hunger strikes are medically risky endeavors. After twenty-one days of fasting from solids, an individual’s body begins to break down and the risk of serious and lasting damage, even death, goes up. Its dangerousness, in short, is what gets people to pay attention to a hunger strike and to the issues that it raises.

Hunger strikes in pursuit of justice by oppressed individuals against their oppressors are an ancient and often effective practice, appearing in the historical record in India over two thousand years ago as well as in pre-Christian Ireland. Hunger strikes were politicized and used throughout the twentieth century across many cultures and nationalities by persons as varied as Gandhi and other Indian patriots; by British and American suffragettes; by the American anarchist, Rebecca Edelsohn, jailed for protesting the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado; by Irish Republicans as late as 1981, when Bobby Sands became the first of ten IRA hunger strikers to die in Maze Prison in Northern Ireland; by Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King. It has continued into the new century as a political weapon of seeming desperation, to witness the hunger strikes earlier this year by nearly two thousand Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, and by a group of postal workers this past June seeking to forestall the dismantling of the U.S postal system.

The Fast for Freedom was the first hunger strike in the U.S. undertaken by a group of psychiatric survivors sponsored by an organization of psychiatric survivors and their supporters. Five of the six – Vince Boehm, Krista Erickson, David Gonzalez, David Oaks and Cat Sayama – identified themselves as psychiatric survivors; the sixth, Mickey Weinberg, a long-time activist, was the principal organizer. MindFreedom International, a major psychiatric survivor advocacy organization, which can trace its origins to 1986 and was founded by David Oaks, its executive director, and others, was the principal sponsor. The Scientific Panel, whose task would be to evaluate and respond to any scientific proofs submitted by the psychiatric establishment to substantiate its claims was comprised of fourteen mental health professionals and scholars of sterling, if controversial, reputations in the field. I know it can be off-putting to read a list of names, but I’d like to give everybody her/his due: Fred Baughman; Mary Boyle; Peter Breggin; David Cohen; Ty Colbert; Patricia Deegan; Al Galves; Thomas Greening; David Jacobs; Jay Joseph; Jonathan Leo; Bruce Levine; the late Loren Mosher; and Stuart Shipko. I’m sure that readers will recognize many of these names, notably Dr. Breggin, who founded The International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP); Dr. Galves, the current executive director of the ICSPP successor organization, the International Society for Ethical Psychiatry and Psychology; the late Dr. Mosher, of Soteria House renown; and Drs. Leo, Levine and Shipko, all bloggers for MadInAmerica. I certainly hope that all three of the latter group will weigh in with commentary re. their experiences with the strike and its immediate aftermath.

The strikers’ basic strategy was simple and direct. They identified the three most apt surrogates for the biopsychiatry industrial complex, i.e., those entities most wedded to the biomedical model and use of psychoactive medications, and directed to them a series of demands; which, if not met, would set off the hunger strike; which, they hoped, would attract media attention to the anticipated failure of the surrogates to meet the strikers’ demands, and, consequently, publicly discredit the surrogates. Specifically, they focused on the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), and the Surgeon General of the United States (who, in 2003, was Dr. Richard Carmona). To quote from the strikers’ “Original Statement,” issued on July 28, 2003, and addressed to Dr. James Scully, the APA’s Medical Director, Dr. Rick Birkel, Executive Director of NAMI, and to Dr. Carmona, “we the undersigned ask that you produce scientifically valid evidence for the following or you publicly admit to media, government officials and the general public that you are unable to do so:
1. Evidence that clearly establishes … ‘major mental illnesses’ as biologically-based brain diseases.
2. Evidence for a physical diagnostic exam … that can reliably distinguish individuals with those diagnoses … from individuals without them.
3. Evidence for a baseline standard of a neurochemically-balanced ‘normal’ personality.
4. Evidence that any psychotropic drug can correct a ‘chemical imbalance’ attributed to a psychiatric diagnosis …
5. Evidence that any psychotropic drug can reliably decrease the likelihood of violence or suicide.
6. Evidence that psychotropic drugs do not in fact increase the overall likelihood of violence or suicide.
7. Finally, that you reveal publicly evidence … that links use of some psychiatric drugs to structural brain changes.”

The statement concludes with the admonition that “until the above demands are met to the satisfaction of an internationally respected panel of scientists and mental health professionals, we plan to drink only liquids and to refuse solid food for an indefinite period of time.” It was signed by all the strikers and members of the scientific panel.

As I noted above, the hunger strike actually began on August 16. Two of the strikers maintained their fast for twenty-one days, until September 5, when the strikers and the panel formally ended the strike. (As per Mickey Weinberg’s recollection, two of the strikers left before the strike’s conclusion for medical reasons not directly related to their fast; two others were obliged to leave early for work-related reasons.) Immediately prior to the start of the strike, on August 12, the APA’s James Scully sent a reply to the strikers’ “original statement” that was essentially patronizing, suggesting that the strikers avail themselves of certain basic “user-friendly” texts to uncover the answers they sought. Dr. Scully’s letter also referenced the response sent by Rick Birkel of NAMI, who characterized the not yet begun hunger strike as “ill-considered.” On August 22, the Scientific Panel members responded, pointedly rebuking Dr. Scully in their last and summary paragraph: “The panel members could not help but notice the contrast between the hunger strikers, who ask clear questions about the science of psychiatry … and the American Psychiatric Association, which evades revealing what actual scientific evidence justifies its authority. By not giving specific answers … you appear to be affirming the very reason for the hunger strike.”

There was another exchange of letters – from the APA on September 26, three weeks after the strike had ended, and a final response from the Panel on December 15. (If you are interested in reading these documents and seeing how the debate played out, they are archived on MFI’s website, In the former, the APA adopts an aggrieved tone and provides a “party line” answer defending the biomedical model: “It is unfortunate that in the face of this remarkable scientific and clinical progress, a small number of individuals persist in questioning the reality and clinical legitimacy of disorders that affect the mind, brain and behavior …” In return, the Panel members express continued disappointment in the APA’s response and conclude with the following: “We urge members of the public, journalists, advocates and officials reading this exchange to ask for straightforward answers to our questions from the APA. We also ask Congress to investigate the mass deception that the ‘diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders’, as promoted by … the APA and its powerful allies, represents in America today.”

In the midst of the strike, two face-to-face meetings between the strikers and Drs. Scully and Goins of the APA and Rick Birkel and others from NAMI were held, each equally unsatisfactory albeit validating for the strikers. To again quote Mickey Weinberg from his notes on the meetings: “… many of us took the measure of James Scully … as he thrashed around … annoyed and upset by the new experience of being on the receiving end of frustrating questions … On a lesser level, we experienced the ineffectual … bleating of NAMI officials trapped in their need to believe the unbelievable and defend the indefensible …”

The strike also attracted a fair amount of media attention. To quote Mickey Weinberg one more time: “We gained more media attention than our movement has had for any single event in more than twenty years and perhaps in the movement’s history – from the Pasadena Weekly to the Washington Post; from the local NPR report to CBS Radio news, to an interview on BBC Radio …” Unfortunately, the media attention was brief and somewhat uninformed. As soon as the strike was done, so were the media. The strikers I spoke with told me that more than one reporter confounded their challenge to the APA with Scientology’s anti-psychiatry beliefs, which speaks to the danger of expecting media correspondents to know in depth the story they’re covering. Further, whatever embarrassment the APA and NAMI might have suffered was fleeting – no fundamental changes anywhere in evidence. It should be remembered that the issues the strikers raised are not new but actually are the same that the APA and its DSM Task Forces have been obliged to address since the publication of DSM-III in 1980, viz., whether “major mental illnesses” are bona fide illnesses or just hypothetical constructs for which there is no evidence. As on all other occasions before and since the hunger strike, the APA failed to do so. Nonetheless, the hunger strike was the first time that the APA was challenged directly by psychiatric survivors and their supporters and found itself obliged to meet with and respond to its critics face-to-face, albeit with rote and perfunctory answers. Just to have discomfited the APA, to have publicly challenged the psychiatric establishment and to leave its representatives tongue-tied was accomplishment enough, perhaps all the strikers and their panel could have expected to achieve. They had poked the APA in the eye and lived to tell the tale.

So what lessons were learned from the strike by those who participated in it? First off, fears and anxieties get raised whenever the powers that be get confronted. Mickey Weinberg and David Oaks both recalled the fear the strikers had that many of MFI’s rank and file members might leave the organization if they came to believe that the Board’s endorsement of the strike jeopardized their access to their medications. Mr. Weinberg and Mr. Oaks reminded me that, like other psychiatric survivor advocacy organizations, many MFI members are prescribed and regularly take psychoactive medications. Many of them undoubtedly equate their improved social functioning with their compliance with their medication treatment regimen. This is, of course, a paramount consideration for any psychiatric survivor organization contemplating political protest and can only be addressed in open and honest discussion. To my knowledge, no psychiatric survivor organization supports coerced treatment of any kind; conversely, all support freedom of treatment choice, so long as it is informed. Hence, the two years of planning and discussion it took to launch the hunger strike; hence the decision not to involve MFI members en masse.

Secondly, much as with trauma victims, old memories can get stirred to the surface. Cat Sayama told me that, during the course of her three-week-long hunger strike participation, particularly at the outset, she lived with the fear that the police would burst into the building which housed the strikers and cart them all away. After all, five of the six of them had been labeled as mental patients at one point in their lives and what power did they really have to protect themselves from such an intrusion? Many of us might consider her fears irrational and groundless, particularly those of us who’ve never been victimized by the state’s police powers. But all of the strikers had or had witnessed it and stuck it out nonetheless, a testament to their commitment and courage, as well as to the bond of trust they had forged over the course of long hours of preparation and discussion. I seem to be coming back to that same theme.

What, if anything, had the strike accomplished? Panel member Al Galves emphasized that the strike actually provoked a response from the APA, which the scientific panel thoroughly refuted. Cat Sayama believed the strike “struck a blow” against the status quo and concurred with Dr. Galves that the strikers had succeeded in getting the APA to respond “in the public eye.” David Oaks pointed to the media coverage that was secured – in the Washington Post and by NPR and the BBC – as well as to the strike’s lasting impact, as evidenced in the many books that have referenced it, including Whitaker’s, in the last several years. Memories? His fondest memories are of a community of people joined together in space and time undertaking something risky and of Mickey Weinberg’s formidable organizing skills. Al Galves remembers meeting the strikers and being impressed by their courage in dealing with the uncertainty they were facing.

Finally and my main concern, I asked each of the four why nothing comparable to the hunger strike had occurred during the past nine years. Since the strike, many more psychiatric survivor-led organizations had received Federal and state government funds to provide mental health services to other peer-survivors. In short, had movement leaders been co-opted? Had potential protests and opposition to the biomedical model and psychoactive medications been bought off?

David Oaks cautioned me here, reminding me that folks who’d been stigmatized and blocked from gainful employment would jump at the opportunity to earn a decent living doing meaningful work. Many folks employed as peer program administrators and as peer counselors had lives and families that they didn’t want to put at risk and so exercised a certain caution. A greater barrier, he thought, was the inability of movement leaders to get together and uncover common ground. He was a great partisan of the experience he had undergone helping organize the hunger strike, which was the product of numerous discussions. He also recalled the retreat held at the Highlander Education Center in Tennessee, where he and thirty other movement leaders met in 2000 and drafted the Highlander Statement of Concern and Call to Action. Such an initiative now, he believed, would be a necessary first step.

As an old community organizer, Mickey Weinberg had a slightly different take. He wasn’t deterred by the differing perspectives, interests and goals of movement leaders. In any organizing effort, it was to be expected that such differences would exist, and it was the principal task of the organizer to help the organization’s members recognize those differences, surmount them and decide on an action or a program that all could live with. He lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to anyone wiling to do that hard, onerous work – such as he had done when he helped organize the hunger strike.

So what’s next? Is it time for another hunger strike? It appears to me that an issue that invites immediate consensus and collaboration is involuntary outpatient commitment. All psychiatric survivors and survivor-led organizations have a visceral opposition to it. New York State, which has had Kendra’s Law or Assisted Out-Patient Treatment on the books since 1999, is shaping up as the next battleground state. Unlike the forty-five other states – staggering number – that have already passed involuntary outpatient treatment legislation, New York’s law is not permanent but subject to review by the State Legislature every five years. The current law sunsets or expires in 2015 and the opposing sides are already lining up. Just earlier this year, Harvey Rosenthal and NYAPRS and its allies beat back an effort to add further restrictive conditions to AOT orders after several violent altercations between New York police officers and persons presumed to be psychotic resulted in injuries to the police officers and the death of a woman they were seeking to restrain. One can only assume that the issue will continue heating up until a major confrontation ensues in 2015. A victory in overturning AOT in New York could possibly lead to a rollback of other States’ laws. I’ve already suggested to Harvey Rosenthal that he send out a call to all interested stakeholders and kickstart a series of discussions aimed at organizing an AOT rollback effort in New York. Hope someone’s listening. As always, don’t mourn, organize. And remember, we’re all prisoners of hope! My sincere thanks to Al Galves, David Oaks and MFI, Cat Sayama and Mickey Weinberg and all your Fast for Freedom comrades for the legacy you have left us.

Upcoming Events: For those of you who’d like to meet some of the strikers and panel members and/or learn about MFI and participate in some of its upcoming events on the east coast …

Dr. Al Galves, executive director of ISEPP, is involved in promoting ISEPP’s annual conference, which is scheduled to be held in Philadelphia on November 2nd and 3rd. Vince Boehm, a long-time ISEPP member, will be in attendance. Dr. Galves is also a believer in “discussion, discussion, discussion,” and is enthused by the appearance at the conference of Dr. Bill Anthony, Director of Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, who is scheduled to lead a three-hour-long program development workshop. Dr. Galves believes the workshop should provide participants with ample opportunities to network and share ideas with one another. He is also heartened by the financial involvement in the conference of Excellence in Mental Health Care, the foundation located in Portland that Bob Whitaker helped establish, which is funding Dr. Anthony’s appearance. Additional information about the conference and registration materials can be found at ISEPP’s website,

Please note that on November 1st in the very same venue as the ISEPP conference, the Philadelphia Airport Marriott, MFI is sponsoring a one-day conference entitled “Creative Revolution: Mobilizing Our Healing Resources.” Those persons interested can obtain information about and register for the conference at

More immediately, MFI is co-sponsoring with several like-minded organizations a “Human Rights Rally & March” on Saturday, October 6, in New York City. The rally will be held at 12 Noon on 1st Avenue, opposite the entrance to the U.N. building. It will be followed by a march to 53rd Street and 7th Avenue, the site of an APA conference on community-based treatment. Additional information can be obtained from Dan Hazen of Voices of the Heart at 518-932-3137 or [email protected].

Hope to see you at all of the above.


Beresford, D., Ten Men Dead, Atlantic Press, New York, 1987

Huffington Post, “Postal Workers Launch Hunger Strike to Save Agency,” June 6, 2012,

Khoury, J., “Palestinian Prisoners Continue Hunger Strike,” May 12, 2012,

“Mahatma Gandhi and India,” http://www.historylearning

MindFreedom International, “Fast for Freedom in Mental Health,” archived materials,

Moran J., “Hunger Striking in America: Rebecca Edelsohn and the Anarchist Response to Social Unrest,” Fall, 2004,

Weinberg, M., “Notes on the Fast for Freedom, 2003,” private collection

Whitaker, B., Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental illness in America, Crown Publishers, New York, 2010


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Re: Freedom

    As Grace Jackson, M.D. points out, forced “treatment” is a violation of the 1st, 8th and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. –

    We need to stop “asking” and begin “demanding” an end to these violations.

    These are not nebulous, subjective issues. Forced “treatment” is a threat to each of us, all of us – those with labels and those without.

    And it needs to stop!

    Duane Sherry, M.S.

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  2. Thank you for writing about this historical and important event. In the interest of truth, I have to admit that I was opposed to it when I was on the MindFreedom board, certainly not on principle, but because I thought it wouldn’t work. I was wrong.

    There can be many targets of a hunger strike or a sit-in. I wouldn’t participate in a hunger strike myself because I probably would not survive it, but I would do all I can to support those who are willing to take this risk.

    I am willing to be arrested in a sit-in as long as we carefully figure out the “softest” target, and have clear-cut goals that we actually expect to achieve. I can think of some smaller targets than the APA who would be VERY embarrassed by civil disobedience in their offices. It would force them to justify their funding, which could be much better used for real advocacy, as opposed to the bureaucratic empire-building this funding is used for now.

    I think my thoughts about good targets would be best discussed in less public venues than MIA, but I do think this discussion of more risky and committed actions by our movement for human rights in psychiatry is really positive.

    I hope it leads to well-thought-out actions, and I think it will. In the last month or so, I have been in contact with many people around the country who have come to realize that changing the psychiatric system isn’t going to be accomplished by taking paychecks from it. I’m really impressed with the seriousness and level of commitment of these people. Maybe the kind of discussion this article is setting off will lead us back to the kind of movement we were becoming before the psychiatric system nearly destroyed us.

    As for cooperation among all “factions,” if that’s what they are, I look forward to seeing the people getting paid by SAMHSA sitting in at SAMHSA’s offices in Washington, or participating in another hunger strike against the APA. Anything is possible, right?

    Thank you again for this article.

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    • I look forward to meeting you also, and I am glad you are coming. I am getting a sense of momentum about this demonstration. I think it might turn out fairly large. Maybe it is just the people I hang out with and/or email, but it feels as if there is something in the air.

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  3. Thanks Jack, for this account of the hunger strike.

    As for the best possible subject for another hunger strike, I suspect “involuntary commitment” would not be the best. Not that it isn’t a worthy topic, it’s just that any change on this would come slow, involve lawmakers, and have to overcome huge resistance by people who fear what might happen if people weren’t being committed. It’s not the kind of change a few hunger strikers could pull off, in my estimation.

    I think what hunger strikers can do is embarrass the establishment by pointing out where “the emperor has no clothes.” The biochemical imbalance thing was a good example of that – the public imagined there was proof of such a thing, but there wasn’t, and the hunger strike exposed that.

    One issue I think could be profitably highlighted by a future hunger strike is the issue of evidence for the long term effectiveness of the major tranquilizers aka neuroleptics aka “antipsychotics.” The public imagines that this evidence exists, but it doesn’t. A hunger strike could ask the establishment to provide evidence for the long term effectiveness of these drugs that is more substantial than the evidence they are harmful: they would not be able to do this, and that could make them look very bad, especially if news releases also focused on deaths due to these drugs, more and more kids put on them, etc.

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      • Right on the money, Ted. Model I tried to lay out was the one used to pull of the 2003 strike — discussion, discussion, discussion, with all ideas on the table, with a gradual winnowing out to get down to those ideas and objectives most folks think are doable and in which they want to invest themselves. A long and difficult process. In the meantime, rallies and marches such as the one planned for 10/6 are very useful … keeps us on the move and in the face of the APA and its allies.

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    • Agreed, Ron. Sorry if I left the impression if I was advocating a hunger strike to combat out-pt commitment. Advocating for action on an issue that I believe most folks would rally around. Most effective strategy a matter for debate and eventual consensus; which is why I called on Harvey to call a meeting of NY and other interested advocates. Let’s see what happens. Thanks for your commentary.

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  4. Hunger strikes, parades, rallies, marches, sit-ins…
    I suppose they all have their place.

    It seems to me, however that we ought to take that same synergy, and place it in one direction, namely, getting a federal law passed to put an end to forced treatment, witout due process: and *freedom* to choose holistic options.

    But I’ve said this numerous times, on this site and others, and the idea has *not* resonated… In fact, it’s been dismised. IMO, if we cannot *see* what it is we want to *accomplish*… if we cannot *believe* we can succeed, we are wasting our time.

    A fedral law.
    *That* is what will get the job done, and nothing *less*.

    I’ll spare readers the re-posting of the vision.

    Call me a “dreamer.”


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    • Duane, I agree with you that eventually a civil rights act for psychiatric “patients” is the way to go. But keep in mind what happened with other movements. The 1965 Civil Rights Act only came about after black people had really established their movement. They disrupted the status quo with demonstrations and sit-ins. They moved the public conscience so people saw the justice of their cause. Even so, passing that act took a lot of work even from the legislators who passed it.

      Our movement is nowhere as developed as the civil rights movement of the sixties. Most people have never heard of us. Even our own people, all thirty million or so of them, have by and large never heard of us either. I don’t think we could pass something so large scale until our movement has become much stronger than it is now.

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      • Ted,

        I know you’ve been active in this for many years, and would like to say, “Thank you” for all you’ve done.

        My point is that there are millions of others who fail to see the opportunity we have to change all of this. Again,I think it begins with a *vision*, with *faith* it can and will be achieved.

        We will need millions.


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    • Congress (both houses, both sides of the aisle) relies on pharma money for re-election. That’s why they accept lobbying money – to build campaign coffers. If we begin to get loud enough, and threaten their re-elections, we can leverage power.

      Politicians fear the loss of power, more than anything else. We nneed to capitalize on that fear, and remind them that they will *not* get votes for business-as-usual. If we were really doing that, we would be having more success.

      The point is, we can *begin* to do that. And if millions of us do it, things will change.


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      • I think it is about building a movement. This website is part of that. One protest, no matter what the form, is not a movement, though it might help catalyse one.

        I think there needs to be a tactic that is repeatable and some kind of organisation that tries to promote it in different parts of the country. The Civil Rights movement started with black people sitting in the white only seats on the bus – a simple but shocking act at the time. But it came out of a long period of community organising so there was a large enough organisation to support the people taking this action and others to carry on doing it for a long time.

        Then there needs to be some kind of organisational structure. From that different initiatives will hopefully emerge. It that community organiser thing with bold tactics that draw people that will help build a movement.

        So a hunger strike is one tactic but I would want to see a grander strategy about drawing people in to help build a movement.

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        • I agree with you John about the need for a movement. And think that people are doing their bit in their own localities. Sometimes linking in by the internet.

          On Facebook this morning a fellow activist spoke about tactics. I looked up the meaning, to check, and found out it’s what I’d been doing but hadn’t seen it as tactics. As a community development worker of many years it must have become the natural thing to do.

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  5. No, actually, protests do accomplish one thing. They make the protesters feel satisfied that they have accomplished something when they haven’t, that they did something to make a change even if it didn’t work and then they therefore cant blame themselves for this or that tragedy. That’s all that protesting does. It’s a selfish endeavor that turns to deceit when you try to act like it actually made a difference when it didn’t.

    Since the “freedom six” went on their hunger strike the number of adults forcibly drugged has gone up, the number of children drugged has sky rocketed, the profits of the drug companies have soared and the public has become even more convinced that mental illnesses are brain diseases. It was a complete waste of time and resources and should go down in history as such.

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    • Jeffrey,

      I enjoy reading much of what you write, and understand that you use sarcasm at times tomake your point.

      On this subject, a defeatist attitude is *not* where we need to be. We are not *victims*. We live in a free country, with the ability to change the law, create new law, even amend the Constitution, when necessary.

      We need to begin to *act* like free people, if we want to be treated as free people.


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      • Jack

        Great post; great history lesson; and great call to action.

        To Jeffrey: No human right was EVER won without protest and resistance. One example, Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. Congress did not sign the civil rights legislation because they wanted to; it was because they had to. It was because of all the protests and urban rebellions which rocked many U.S. cities and they also feared further upheaval or a second civil war.

        To Jack, Ted, Duane and others: what about protests and resistance focused on the upcoming publication of the DSM 5? Two weeks ago at the community mental health clinic where I work they showed a web broadcast of a training on the proposed changes for the new DSM. This training originated in Rhode Island and was led by a Psychiatrist. Believe it or not he took unlimited questions from the audience throughout his talk. This was standard Biological Psychiatry propaganda, although he made note of some of the resistance from outside the APA and admitted that the members of the APA commitee had connections to the pharmaceutical industry and indicated that the APA stood to make millions selling the new DSM 5 for over a hundred dollars a book.

        This training could have been easily disrupted in many ways if only just by raising challenging points and questions or perhaps through other more challenging actions. Over the next 6 months to a year there will be numerous trainings throughout the country on the DSM 5; the publication date has been set for May 2013. This is the Bible of Biological Psychiatry that concentrates every thing that’s wrong with the current system. Thousands of mental health workers will be attending these trainings who need to be reached with the ideas and practice of our movement.

        And shouldn’t we here at MIA also be putting together an alternative training with some of our best speakers, including survivors, that combines REAL science with true life experiences in the mental health system. This training caravan could combine with demonstrations and other symbolic actions in major cities throughout the country seeking out various methods of attracting support and publicity. Food for thought.


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        • Richard,

          You offer good “food for thought.”
          I would only add that we need to *begin* to workwith Congress on this, to get a federal law passed.

          Re: DSM (psychiatric *mis*-labels), Paula Caplan, Ph.D. has called for Congressional hearings –

          These are the things we need to do, along with protests, etc.

          (Not sure how to sign her petition, the link seems to drop. If someone finds a way to sign, please let us know)).


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          • Duane

            I have no interest in working with congress nor was I suggesting that be the focus or goal of our work. They are controlled by, and working for, the largest corporations in the country, including the pharmaceutical giants. I am more interested in being a part of a movement that will create conditions for radical change.

            I would hate to see this movement become a pressure group on the Democratic Party; begging or hoping they will support small reforms. This will only deaden the spirit and vision of a new future. Experience tells us that this always leads to movements and leaders being coopted into the system; lowering their sights and compromising their demands.


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          • Richard,

            The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s resulted in the Civil Rights *Act* of 1964.

            This will take an act of Congress.

            Or we will forever be seen as nothing more than a *fringe* group.

            If the objective is to be “rebels without a cause,” you can count me OUT!


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        • In an earlier blog, I had suggested boycotting the purchase of the DSM-5; given extent the DSM has been integrated into mental health practice, difficult task but a tactic that could be used to generate publicity and further embarrass the APA. Latter has so far poorly handled the criticism that the new DSM has generated; usually pretty lame when confronted directly and publicly, as the Fast for Freedom strikers demonstrated.

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      • Ever since reading Mad in America (the book) I have felt that there exists more than enough evidence against psychiatry to bring criminal charges against them. Since then, the evidence has grown even more damning of them. I think we really ought to be working on ways to get them to face criminal charges, at the very least for scientific dishonesty that resulted in health damages and death to millions of people, including children.

        We can prove all the harm that their drugs cause yet they cant provide one shred of evidence that any of the treatment was ever even necessary in the first place. We can bring forth statistics of how many kids now suffer from tardive dyskenisia yet they cant show us one shred of evidence that any of those kids would have died without the drug OR that they are even any better off as a group now that they’re on them. How can this not be a crime?

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        • Oh, and there is also the fact that they have no excuse for not knowing any of this. I just know that at some point in the future when all these drug and outcomes facts are known, psychiatry is going to try to pull a fast one on the public by claiming that they had no way of knowing and then educate society that this is how science works – we learn new things as we go along and so forth.

          But as Whitaker has documented, the evidence of brain damage from psychiatric drugs and worsening long term outcomes has been in their face for decades and they have been intentionally suppressing it. They will have no excuse for not knowing that it was an atrocity to put kids on neuroleptic drugs, or that most of their SMI patients were disabled due to drug “side effects.”

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          • Jeffrey,

            Psychiatrists are permitted to practice their form of medicine, as they see fit. They can prescribe off-label to two year-olds. They can use forced incarceration, ECT, etc., because there is no *law* protecting people who have been labeled “severely mentally ill.”

            We need such a law.

            From the (full title) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (take note of the words in caps):

            An act to ENFORCE the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States of America to provide INJUCTIVE RELIEF against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to INSTITUTE SUITS to protect CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes.

            In short,

            We need a federal law, and we need it sooner, rather than later!


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          • We don’t need any new laws. There are in fact laws against fraud and harm caused by negligence.

            Surely it can not be legal to prescribe a drug to a kid when you know he doesn’t really need it and then watch him develop serious “side effects” that may never even go away. Most people agree with this and is why everybody seems certain that some science must exist to support this practice. As we know, it does not. Yet they do it anyway and that is a crime. And as Whitaker has shown, their ignorance cant be blamed on naivety, at least not at the academic level. They’ve seen the studies that poke holes through their preferred practices and went about either burying them or trying to discredit them with fraudulent studies or interpretations, all while receiving kick backs from drug companies.

            That is criminal and I’m sure they’d stop doing it if they finally had to start worrying about going to prison for it.

            However, I can guarantee you that they are not even going to consider it so long as all their opposition is doing is arguing and protesting.

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          • Of course we already have laws.
            What we do *not* have is *equal protection* under those laws.

            ecause those laws are not applied equally for people who have been given psychiatric labels, just as the Constitution did not apply to African Americans prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

            Also, it’s not enough to rely on state medical boards to police psychiatry. The profession has been granted too much control to exercise force at the state level.

            The feds need to make sure Constitutional rights are protected. There needs to be a mechanism in place to file criminal charges, followed by investigations, procedures, indictments, convictions through the Dept of Justice, U.S. Attorney General’s Office.

            Then, we’ll see prison time.
            But *first*, we need a *federal law*!


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  6. I agree that some kind of actions about the new DSM would be a good idea. One aspect of this that I have been trying to push is to try to get the public to realize that the DSM threatens EVERYONE, not just the public stereotype of us “crazies.” There is a diagnosis for everyone hidden among the nonsense.

    The publication of the final version of DSM5 coincides with the May 2013 convention of the APA in San Francisco, and I will be trying to make the connection in the public consciousness.

    I am very glad to see this discussion of strategy and tactics, and I agree with Jack that we need as much discussion as possible before we do anything.

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  7. To combat institutional psychiatry it is insufficient to decry shock, drugs, incarceration, or even forced instances of these. The goal must be to drain the essential claims of psychiatry of their very legitimacy and, once done,to drain psychiatry of its power and influence. That was what I had in mind from the first time I raised the possibility of a hunger strike supported by a panel of experts,until, after 21 days, we left the building where the strike took place.

    For the police power of psychiatry to shock, drug, and incarcerate by force rests on the belief of the courts, the media, law enforcement, and the general public that the claims of psychiatry are suppoted by valid and reliable orthodox medical science. Once those claims are challenged and are revealed to be without scientific merit, then the institutions from which psychiatry derives its power no longer have reason to authorize psychiatry to utilize police power as an adjunct to its professional activities.

    The hunger strike and its challenge to the APA and others to back up their claims with evidence, was meant to provoke the media to move the debate over the legitimacy biopsychiatry into the public arena where it would stand naked and exposed to honest analysis and debate.

    What differentiated the hunger strike from most (perhaps all)other endeavors to contest psychiatry was that it pivoted from a defensive and beseeching position (don’t shock us, drug us etc.) to an offensive position (justify everything you do or back off unless we request your services).

    The hunger strike revealed that psychiatry is an emperor without clothes, a wizard hiding behind a tattered curtain. Two qualities, not always in great supply, can weaken and defeat it…imagination and persistence. My personal failure was my inability to devise a follow-up plan (I had one)that others would be willing to try (I couldn’t persuade them).

    There are so many good minds out there that I’m confident that someone someday will do whatever is necessary.

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    • I very much agree with Mickey’s analysis that the power of psychiatry rests on the mistaken belief that what they do is effective and backed up by science. Anything we can do to change these quasi-religious beliefs among the media, public officials, and the general public will go a long way toward ending psychiatric power to abuse people.

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  8. I believe the things that are done to people with so-called “mental illness” are basically motivated by the fear and loathing that society has for us. It was fear that allowed people to be chained to the walls hand and foot. It was fear that promoted lobotomies with ice picks stuck into peoples’ brains through the corners of their eyes. I work at a state hospital that until a few years ago had its own graveyard. People who’d been shocked so many times that they died from the “treatment” filled this graveyard. According to the person who told me about this the deaths were not investigated by the law. It was fear that motivated these murders. It is fear that motivates the MAMI mommies to advocate the wonderful drugs for their children. Fear motivates the judicial and law systems that lock us up. And I believe that it is fear that motivates many of the quack psychiatrists to drug people into oblivion. WE must be controlled at all costs because of the great fear that people have of us.

    I don’t believe anything is really going to change until we face this and somehow deal with it. I don’t have any answers as to what we do. I think it’s extremely difficult to get people to turn loose of their fear to the point that they can see us as real, flesh and blood human beings who are just the same as they are. I’ve watched how people quickly move away from someone who gets on the city bus who has issues and hears voices or sees things. All of the seats around them are quickly vacated. All I can do to combat such an attitude of fear and loathing is to get up and go take one of the seats next to the person who scares everyone. I could yell at the people on the bus. I could castigate them for their stupidity and cruelty and fear. But that would only get me put off the bus. So, I go and sit next to the person. It’s not much.

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  9. “… when you allow your opponent to define the rules of argument, you lose. If they get to set the definition, they’re always going to define the rules in such a way that no matter what happens, they win and you lose.”

    “When your opponent is allowed and conceded the authority to define science, in a self serving manner, he controls the rule book. You’re never going to win in that situation. It doesn’t matter if in a football game you score all the touchdowns or in a basketball game you get all the hoops. If the rule book says you lose by definition, it doesn’t matter. And that is literally the position (psychiatry) has put themselves in.”

    Believing they “have real science on their side, SAYS WHO? Their own self serving definition. We’ve got to take that away from them. They don’t have the authority. Nobody died and bequeathed to them the right to change the classic definition of science, which is the search for Truth whatever that Truth may be. So in conclusion, the search for Truth for Truth’s own sake is unimportant according to their definition. The only thing that matters is that a materialist victory is assured by controlling the definition of “science” so that no matter what, they have to win by definition.”

    Transcribed from a seminar by Dr. Thomas Kindell, who holds a Ph.D. in Theology from International Seminary and received training in scientific creationism at the Institute for Creation Research. I took out the “evolution vs creation” focus and inserted psychiatry. LOL.

    What he communicates is central and applicable to psychiatry. Psychiatry is hell-bent and determined to be “scientifically” correct when it isn’t.

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  10. The trick is not merely to win the dispute over the validity and reliability of psychiatric “science.” That battle has been won on numerous occasions in academic books and journals.

    The difficult task is to devise a strategy and tactics which will move the debate into the public arena.

    What is necessary is to create conditions in which the public and the institutions it respects will begin to lose confidence in the scientific underpinnings of psychiatry’s claims.

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    • Absolutely right Mr Weinberg and Mr Whittaker and this website has been an important part of popularising the arguments which discredit the claims of mainstream psychiatry. However it is also about growing and sustaining a movement for a considerable length of time and from that developing strategy and tactics

      There seems to be a growing disillusionment with Big Pharma generally, but especially in regard to psychiatric drugs. For example, Ben Goldacre in the UK is about to publish a popular science book on the subject and he is a hugely science respected writer and GP. Hers is a link to a bit of his book:

      However this needs a popular movement bringing the issues to the attention of the general population as well as legislators before much change will happen

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  11. I’m encouraged by the dialogue which has been triggered by Jack’s article.

    A few thoughts.

    I like Ron Unger’s idea of exposing the lack of scientific evidence behind claims that the antipsychotic drugs help people who are diagnosed with serious mental illnesses. The overwhelming evidence is that the antipsychotic drugs actually turn them into chronic mental patients and that when compared with help that doesn’t use drugs, those who use them are much worse off and much less likely to recover over the long run. It makes sense to do something dramatic that would pread the word about that.

    Whoever said that, when it finally becomes clear to the general public that psychotic drugs are not hepful and very harmful, mainstream psychiatry will plead that they were unaware of this and will plead that we just need to have better science, etc., etc., etc., had it right. What will finally kill biopsychiatry is the general public refusing to use the drugs.

    Mickey Weinberg knew that and his main purpose in the hunger strike was exposing to the general public the lack of evidence behind the claims of biopsychiatry. Of course, one of the problems with that strategy is that the general public isn’t much persuaded by scientific evidence. If the drugs make them feel better, they’ll take them, even if the feeling better is essentially a placebo response and even if they create damaging “side effects”, difficult withdrawal effects and high relapse rates.

    One idea that has been tossed around among the MindFreedom staff and board is the idea of creating Landing Zones to which we could take escapees from involuntary treatment. We would create something akin to the Underground Railroad that was used to help African Americans escape from slavery. What we would do is help people who are being forcibly treated to escape to safe havens where they would be able to recover in safer, more humane and more life enhancing ways. Doing that would require lots of work and is fraught with many dangers but it certainly would create a stir and put psychiatry and the drug companies on the defensive.

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  12. I found the location for the hunger strike in Pasadena. One of the local churches had a separate house that they were looking to use for events. Finding a place for the strike was not easy, as most were hesitant to rent space for such an event. I knew some good people at a local church who had a separate house for events. My office address was used as the mailing address for correspondence to the APA.

    At night people gave talks, including myself. Before the strike, all the people I met were online. Suddenly I met everyone at once. It was one of Loren Mosher’s last public appearances.

    I had some fear that if anything went wrong medically as a result of the strike that I was going to have a lot of trouble on my hands. Despite my background in emergency medicine, my malpractice insurance only covered psychiatry. I was sorry that I had to formally decline helping out with the strike related health care, but a single problem and my career was in jeopardy.

    The outcome of the strike is very profound for me. I have referred to the strike when providing expert testimony in order to support that there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance. Hunger strikes with scientific panels are very pursuasive. That the APA was unable to offer any credible evidence for a chemical imbalance to the hunger strikers is more powerful than a double blind study.

    The hunger strikers had to do all of their own contact work with media and the APA etc., even as they were getting weak from hunger. The effort was extraordinary.

    I visited the strike almost every day. Partially to keep an eye on everything from a medical perspective and partially because it was a surprisingly pleasant and upbeat place to spend a little time.

    It was a special event.

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    • Thank you for your comments, Dr. Shipko.

      I’ve worked with Beverly and know Mickey well. I am now editing the footage of the Fast for Freedom into a series of short videos to be made available on the website of the Los Angeles County Dept. of Mental Health. Having watched the footage many times now, I knew and appreciated your support of the strikers’ efforts to be heard.

      I’ve recently found a few things that suggest there may be greater awareness of the issues:
      Also, there was a review of a new book by a woman psychiatrist in last Sunday’s L.A. Times which chronicled her growing awareness of the inability of the system to help her patients.

      I hope to show you the videos when they are done.

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