Historic PsychOUT Event Promotes Activist Unity, Protests Electroshock
[Updated 5 June 2010] Survivors of psychiatric human rights violations and their allies from more than five countries gathered for three days -- from 7 to 9 May 2010 -- in Toronto Canada for a conference and protest dedicated to "Organized Resistance Against Psychiatry." Here is brief coverage including a photo essay by David Oaks, director of MindFreedom International, of a few of the events and themes during the conference, and the anti-electroshock protest that followed.
At the anti-electroshock protest following PsychOUT, in front of the Oregon Legislative Assembly Building, elected official Cheri Dinovo announces her intent to file a bill to defund electroshock in Ontario, which gained national attention.
PsychOUT Builds Unity of Activist Wing of Mad Movement
Anti-Electroshock Was Main Issue
PSYCHOUT PHOTO ESSAY: Click here for my brief photo essay about PsychOUT, with 10 selected photos and captions to give you the flavor of the event:
by David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International
In a way, the big news from the historic PsychOUT event in Toronto, May 7 to 9, 2010, is captured in this photo on the upper right, during the protest at the end (click the photo for a close-up).
Cheri DiNovo, an elected official in the Ontario Legislature, is shown here speaking to our protest held in Queens Park, directly in front of the Ontario Legislative Building. DiNovo is announcing that she will introduce a bill to "defund" electroshock - also known as electroconvulsive therapy or ECT - in all of Ontario. Her bold move did not pass the legislature, but her gesture reached thousands in the public and struck a nerve: A columnist in the national Canadian newspaper National Post immediately condemned her.
But for me, as a participant and one of the keynoters, the most newsworthy event was an emerging theme of unity among those who are considered "radical" by psychiatry, that is, those of us who seek far, far more than mild reform in mental health care.
"Radical Mutual Respect"
The emerging ideology in the conference might be called "radical mutual respect." Organizer and keynoter Bonnie Burstow, PhD spoke about this need for mutual respect, as we'll see below.
Clearly, this unity was a goal of the organizers of PsychOUT from the start, who had announced their intent this way: "The purpose of this global conference is to provide a forum for psychiatric survivors, mad people, activists, scholars, students, radical professionals, and artists from around the world to come together and share experiences of organizing against psychiatry." While not a large conference, PsychOUT had more than 50 workshops, keynotes, cultural celebrations and a protest. Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA), an MFI Sponsor, helped envision the event.
The urgency of the need for unity was clear when we began with a video tribute created by Leah Harris for the late Judi Chamberlin, which brought several to tears. While there were quite a few young graduate students and other "mad students" contributing throughout the event, there were also quite a number of us present who have aged in this movement. Over the movement's 40 years, it's become clear this struggle must be multi-generational, and supporting youth and young adult leadership is a priority.
Tragically missing at the conference was Dan Taylor from MindFreedom Ghana, who, because of an unfair decision by the Canadian government, was denied a visa to attend. Richer countries have a racist history of denying visas to leaders from southern hemisphere nations. Also missed was Celia Brown, MFI Board President, whose father had died suddenly. Since her father retired to Ghana, ironically Celia was in that country, warmly supported by MindFreedom Ghana activists including Dan, attending her dad's memorial.
Peaceful Direct Action to Resist Psychiatric Globalization
The challenge of bringing Dan Taylor to the conference underlined a main point in my own keynote, because I emphasized the need to resist the globalization of psychiatric industry abuse in poor and developing countries. I also spoke about my personal quest, in the spirit of Gandhi, to try dialogue with leaders of psychiatric professional organizations. We have tried. We will continue to try. But I announced this attempt has largely, in my opinion, been met with closed doors. I announced my personal decision to prioritize nonviolent direct action resistance actions, including both cultural and civil disobedience.
By cultural disobedience I mean creative maladjustment such as street theater, or even guerilla theater in the midst of a psychiatric industry conference, that peacefully disrupts or interrupts oppression (then YouTube it!). Martin Luther King called repeatedly for an International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment, so you can tag your resistance: IAACM!
While any time is a good time for nonviolent direct resistance, I also suggested a long-term strategy of planning a peaceful protest internationally during the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia starting 5 May 2012. Why not encourage simultaneous withdrawal of all cooperation with the mental health industry internationally, and encourage peaceful attempts to block oppression, directly, as other movements have done? While of course we'll be resisting before 2012, this gives us two years to prepare for something truly significant, global and united.
Thank you to the many organizers, visionaries, activists who helped build the PsychOUT event, including some who were not able to be present. I found the event personally healing, and your efforts are reaching many people.
At the end of the protest, I reminded us all that if we are going to challenge corporate mainstream media, which has typically supported psychiatric industry, then we need to cover all events like this ourselves, with a few photos, a video, or essay. Here are a few:
Alternative Coverage of PsychOUT
In 2010, we are, each of us, our own media. Here are a few links for coverage about PsychOUT. If you know of other news let me know.
Digital Journal's Stephanie Nearing provided a brief news article here:
An audio overview of the conference on People's First Radio:
People First radio also interviewed Bonnie Burstow about her antipsychiatry "attrition" model (see below):http://www.columbiancentresociety.com/prfcontent/202_may_20_2010_sm.mp3
You can listen to a special MindFreedom Live Web Radio Show
broadcast from PsychOUT. (Note: Most of the show is great. But because
of a glitch with speakers for the studio audience, the voice of people
who call in has a bad echo. Please skip over the questions, and the
rest should work!) To listen, find the 8 May 2010 show here:
At the end of the PsychOUT conference, participants edited and passed by acclamation a strong resolution against electroshock itself, and not just force or fraud, which you can read here:
You may download a PDF of the original schedule from PsychOUT to read the titles of the 55 workshops, here:
You may download a PDF description of PsychOUT keynote speakers here:
Biased Media Coverage
On the negative side, there was an incredibly bigoted, offensive, and distorted news article about PsychOUT on the front page of the national mainstream Canadian newspaper, National Post. It was so bad, MindFreedom awarded Joseph Brean, the writer, the Worst Media for Mental Health Month Award. You can read about this here, along with instant responses by PsychOUT participants that were published by National Post, by clicking here:
Unfortunately, a major psychology web site by John Grohol, PsychCentral, seemed to bite Brean's bigotry hook, line and sinker.
Dr. Grohol claims that "most" mental health care works just fine, and therefore our social change movement is throwing out babies with bathwater. You can read Dr. Grohol's echoing of Brean's mis-coverage here, noting he has not yet, as of this post, responded to my comments on his site:
So, what about that unity theme?
Let's end by returning to the main question addressed by keynote Bonnie Burstow, PhD and several others, which was in my view, "How can those seeking truly deep change in the mental health, way beyond mild reform, all work together, despite having a diverse array of positions, ideology, and visions for change?"
After all, to maintain its own unity the system has, well, the system itself! Oppressors may hate each other, but, "the system has the system." What do we have?
What unites us activists who seek more than reform in mental health care, who seek resistance and momentous changes? Yes, we have our principles, but exactly what are our main unifying values?
Dr. Burstow pointed out that a few of the event organizers, including herself, identified themselves as "anti-psychiatry." But most other participants, such as myself, do not. Bonnie emphasized and re-emphasized that there is no need for us all to "convince" one another of a single "correct" position. There is no need to ask provocative questions of one another in some wild hope we will magically convince one another to pick just one ideology (conveniently, perhaps our own).
Dr. Burstow offered an "attrition" model of resisting the mental health system. That is, she encouraged activists to focus on truly major long-term goals of overthrowing mental health industry, and not mild reform. While there is no need to denounce reform efforts, we can choose where to put our own energy. Dr. Burstow said that in the short term, just about every strategy seems to work because it's new. But in the long run? The system catches on. Bonnie said a revolution in mental health may take a long time, but this long-term vision needs to drive our own strategizing today.
I also pointed out in my own keynote that small, minor reform has fed the growth of the mental health system for centuries, because after each scandal is exposed the mental health system ends up getting even more money and authority as the "answer."
In the Long Run: The Movement Will Win
Speaking of the long term, I arrived at PsuchOUT 28 years to the month after I had been organizing in Toronto in 1982, more than half my life ago, when I was one of many activists at the 10th Annual International Conference for Human Rights and Against Psychiatric Oppression, which used back then build our movement. So for me, there was some poignancy at our 2010 event.
I could look across the room and see activists who had been working hard for so many years, giving their lifeblood and passion to this difficult effort. Several of them have had more than one dispute with one another, with major differences of opinion, sometimes fracturing them into different visible or subterranean positions, postures, cliques and groups.
In Toronto's PsychOUT I sensed that these radical activists, and I'd like to include myself, were seeking ways to transcend petty disputes, and look for ways to work together. True, none of us want to settle for minor adjustments to the mental health system. True, we may not all be in the same group. True, we may choose different campaigns, styles, ideologies and issues.
However, it seemed PsychOUT participants - younger and older - were searching for ways to work respectfully together for truly deep change "in a spirit of mutual cooperation." This emerging ideology of "radical mutual respect" - this joining of mutual support and significant resistance - seemed to win the day.
Thanks again to everyone who made this historic event possible, or cheered from a distance, or read this to the end (since I know we tend to 'briefly blip' on the Internet). I'd be curious about your own thoughts and feedback, whether or not you attended. You can e-mail me at oaks (at) mindfreedom.org.
PsychOUT organizers plan to issue proceedings from the conference, watch for information on that.