But there is one thing that we definitely have lost – and it is long past time to take this back.
Twenty, thirty, forty years ago, we were a human rights movement. We believed in social justice. We were about liberation. We demanded, individually and collectively, our right to self-determination.
Every year, we had a conference – an international conference. Every year, we met in a new State and once in Canada. People came from all over North America and sometimes from around the world.
It was our conference, ours alone. Our people, our movement – service users, survivors, ex-patients. We came together as human beings - to reclaim our lives and try to correct the wrongs of an oppressive, over-reaching social and psychiatric paradigm.
We organized, funded and controlled the whole thing. The entire conference was run by us and for us, instead of power brokers, political interests and heads of organizations. It was about us - our voices, our vision, what we experienced, felt, lived and wanted to change – not about services, procedures and agendas that others want us to buy into.
As a result, our conversation at this conference was very different. We didn’t talk about how to improve our mental health, how to become better mental patients, how to cope better, accept our diagnoses, take our meds, not forget doses, relax or calm ourselves, be more compliant, less resistant, fit in better, stop worrying or acting out -- in effect, to become more cooperative cogs in a morally bankrupt social wheel….
We talked about injustice, oppression and the institutions that sustain it. We talked about our needs, our wants, our dreams. We talked about activism, organizing, how we were going to become the changes we wanted to see in the world. We talked about how we were going to do our part – and hold others accountable – to creating a morally just, socially conscious society that treated everyone better all around.
These were the days before SAMHSA had bought us out. (Yep, they did – that’s how we got Alternatives in Baltimore in 1985 - for a prophetic piece of that history, see here). These were the days before we went in for the trinkets and funding. Before we traded in our collective commitment to dignity, respect and full personhood for all of us for the promise of government funding, paid roles and a seat at the table for a select few of us.
At one of these conferences – the Tenth Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression in Toronto (May 14-18, 1982), we adopted a set of core principles. There were 30 Principles, which together became known as the Declaration of Principles. You can read them here.
The Declaration of Principles was intended both as a snapshot and a guide. They described our values as a Movement and carried our vision as a People.
Forgotten by most, remembered longingly by a few, these Principles determine our destiny. They remain as valid, pressing and urgent today as they were over 30 years ago. They are an inherent and necessary foundation for any free people – and for any society that holds the aspiration of becoming truly free.
August as the Month of Principles
(Schedule in progress, TBA here)
In August, we will set out to recover these Principles and the Spirit of the People and the Movement that proclaimed them. We will discover these things anew and reclaim their meaning for our lives. We will dig deeply into our own experience and the hard-earned wisdom of those who came before us .
There are 30 Principles, so we will take one Principle each day. (Principle 1 on August 1; Principle 2 on August 2, etc.) For a whole month, we will study the Principles and reflect on their message. We will raise our consciousness, individually and collectively. We will take our lives and futures into our own hands and learn to teach and free ourselves.
We will seek commonalities and find new direction. How we are the same? How we are different? What touches us and speaks most to us in our struggles today? Together, we will discover the heart and the core of who we are, where we have been, what it means to us and where we are longing to go.
As people and a People, we will dream ourselves out of damaging oppressive institutions, dynamics, conditions and status quos and into a world where no one, anywhere, gets treated as ‘other.’
We will design a world where every child knows that labels are for cans, not people. We will create a future for human kind in which everyone, everywhere, recognizes that force is a law of physics with an equal and opposite reaction, where coercion is unthinkable and seen for the soul violence that it is, and where the whole concept of informed consent is ethically supplanted by the affirmative obligation of any and all helpers to insure their actions respect the 'rights, will and preferences' (Article 12, CRPD) of any and all persons of concern.
In a word, 30 Principles in 30 Days
Every night will be a convention. Every night a conversation. Each day a new principle. Every day a new opportunity to learn, share ideas, transform ourselves and our vision of a new world. The schedule will be coming soon. You can find it here.
Get Ready, Get Set…
In preparation, starting tomorrow, we will be introducing the principles in this blog. We will introduce a new Principle each day and invite your comments. Thus, tomorrow is Principle 1 - You'll be able to find it here.
If you have lived the principle – or some part of it – we welcome you to share. We are looking for your voice, your wisdom, your lived experience. In fact, we need to hear from you - what you have lived, experienced, and what you have to say about these things - in order to do this work. (Allies are invited to listen, learn from and support the voice of lived experience).
In this way, we will create a shared blog – from our own People, in our own words, about the foundational Principles of our Movement. Instead of relying on experts, waiting for funding, or giving our power away to someone else, we will create our own knowledge, our own wisdom, our own guidance, our own strategies and our own resources - in sum everything necessary - to achieve our quest for full social, moral and legal recognition.
Again, the blog on the Principles will start tomorrow. You can find it here.
NARPA Conference, August 25-28, 2016
Near the end of this journey, those who are so inclined and can afford it may choose to convene at the NARPA Conference (National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy). NARPA is important because it is perhaps the only conference related to these issues that is self-funded and thus directly accountable to those who attend it. As a result, it has been able to retain an independent voice and not simply cave, like many other organizations have, to the political whims of the day.
The NARPA Conference thus is well worth attending if you can.
What We Are Offering
At the same time, NARPA is not a substitute for what we are trying to achieve here. As with any People's self-determination movement, it is imperative that those of us with lived experience find a way to gather, talk to each other, learn from each other, and cultivate our own expertise and our own voices. In this regard, we hope the nightly conversations being offered here might serve as something of a reset point for a process that has far too long lain fallow.
Our commitment is to do our best to make participation as affordable (free), accessible (blog, phone, internet, recorded) and democratic (all voices valued, all welcome to speak) as possible. We are aiming for a shared experience that is as rich and worthy of your participation as was the case for past generations.
If you join us, and simply bring you, that will go a long way to getting us there.