Work on the May 16 International Day of Protest Against Shock Treatment is moving right along. This spontaneously-organized, grassroots effort now includes 21 cities in 16 states, plus two each in Canada and the United Kingdom. There will also be demonstrations in Ireland, New Zealand, and Uruguay. The May 16 event has been endorsed by MindFreedom International and the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, although it was independently organized by a small group of shock survivors. For an up to date list, please see ectjustice.com. If you would like to organize a demo of your own, please contact [email protected]
We are getting a loose but functional coordinating structure in place. A small amount of money is being raised to hire a part-time staff person, and we are slowly but surely working together more and more smoothly. Money is always a problem in grassroots organizing, but we can hardly expect that the abusive system we are fighting will be funding us. No one pays to have their power taken away.
Some exciting things are starting to take shape. The group in Toronto, which will also be facing off against the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting there on May 16, has lined up a member of Parliament to support their event. In New York City, the folks there have lined up an influential member of the State Senate.
In New York’s New Jersey suburbs, one of our activists has a fighting chance to get his county legislature to issue a proclamation supporting our event. Whether that happens or not, it is important to try to do. Big victories are not always won on the first try.
In Texas, we are told that non-violent civil disobedience is being planned, and it may be in more than one city. If people are willing to make the sacrifice of being arrested for what they believe in, it is a very powerful way of drawing public attention to our cause.
Someone with very good graphics skills has designed a striking logo that we might use for a letterhead and T-shirts. We will have to figure out how we can produce and sell the T-shirts in a short time.
All this reminds me of when our movement in the San Francisco area put a ban on shock on the Berkeley ballot. Suddenly people we had never seen before, excited by this bold project, turned up and contributed their ideas and work and money. And now we are starting to capture people’s imaginations again, as we break out of our bubble and reach out to the public (and our own people) with a strong message of protest.
I am especially excited by a recent contact with a journalist who is producing a video for the New York Times about our movement, forty years ago and now. She told me that coordinated demonstrations like this are very interesting, and said she wanted to cover what happens on May 16. We will be encouraging our organizers to film what happens in their cities and post on YouTube. When our staff comes on board, we will be making a major effort to contact media outlets, especially those (of course) who have reported fairly on our issues over the last few years.
I will be producing a generic press release that can be modified by local people for their city, and will be encouraging everyone to reach out to their local media. Even a small demonstration, in a small city that has not seen this kind of issue before, can catch the attention of the local newspaper or radio or TV station. Often, media folks are happy to find some news to report in places like that. And even a demonstration of ten or twelve people, when they are connected with dozens of such demonstrations all over the world, can be exciting news.
I want to encourage people who are reading this and want to do something in their town, but feel that they don’t have the skills or experience to organize anything. Myself, I have been involved in this human rights movement since 1971, and in the civil rights movement of the Sixties as well. It was scary for me to do anything like this at the beginning. My childhood at the hands of psychiatry taught me that I was worthless, helpless, and would never accomplish anything. But even though I was afraid, I wanted to help the brave black people fighting for respect as full human beings. I understood that what was being done to them was very much like what had been done to me as a child.
And so even though I was afraid, I began to organize sympathy picket lines at Woolworth stores, and held meetings in my college where I learned how to speak in public. I began to feel much better about myself as I supported the civil rights cause. And when I found the “mental patients” liberation movement, it really was liberating. At last I could openly be who I am and be proud of how I had survived.
We psych survivors have been indoctrinated to feel helpless and worthless. It is very hard to overcome that, but it is very liberating when you try. So I want to say to you that, yes, it will be scary, but fighting back will make you feel a lot better about yourself. If we all work together, we can win this fight.
We CAN win, and you CAN be a leader. Our movement needs people like you to take leadership. We need you. Organize something for May 16, even if it is just you and a few of your friends. Remember, you won’t be alone, but part of an important event taking place all over the world. There will be more experienced people helping you, and when this is over, you will be proud of what you have done.
May 16 is about fighting shock treatment, but it is more than that. Shock reflects the attitude of psychiatry, that we see too much of in our larger culture too, that people are just profit centers to be exploited.
But human beings are not things to be used. We are brothers and sisters, all of us, and we owe to each other caring, concern, and nurturing. That is the vision of the world I am working toward when I work in this movement, and I hope that is your vision too.
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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.