To Dialogue or Not to Dialogue (With Anyone)?
MindFreedom is encouraging mediated dialogue and negotiation with organizations representing psychiatric and other mental health professionals, under some circumstances. What do you think?
MindFreedom worked with several other mental health consumer and psychiatric survivor organizations to provide representatives to attend a meeting of the World Psychiatric Association in Dresden, Germany in June 2007 on the subject of coercion in psychiatry.
The videos and photographs of this event are now online. To see them click here:
In the spirit of the disability movement motto "nothing about us without us," we in fact felt our movement ought to be represented.
For info on our presence at this World Psychiatric Association meeting see:
Those of us who managed to get inside this World Psychiatric Association (WPA) conference did form a united front. I am proud of how well groups such as ENUSP, WNUSP and the German psychiatric survivor/mental health consumer group worked together.
Together our movement groups also issued a public Declaration of Dresden.
I'm proud of activists such as Peter Lehmann of Germany, who was the hard-working informational liaison between us and the WPA, and Judi Chamberlin of the USA who worked skillfully and powerfully to bring our movement positions up at this conference.
The crowning achievement of our movement at this WPA event was to bring in Dorothea Buck as a featured keynote speaker.
Imagine this scene:
Several hundred psychiatrists from all over the world listened transfixed as Dorothy described decades of psychiatric abuse in Germany, including her forced sterilization! Dorothea focused on how the psychiatrists who had "treated" her had refused to engage in any real dialogue with her.
To download a PDF of Ms. Buck's remarks click here:
Another potential breakthrough at this event -- time will tell -- was because of luck: Dr. Juan Mezzich is the current president of the WPA. This is a matter of good timing. A few years ago the president of the WPA was a different psychiatrist, who to my face rudely endorsed forced electroshock as a first resort!
Dr. Mezzich on the other hand at least acted in a civil and professional way.
Please understand that after 31 years of this work, and after personally experiencing psychiatric abuse myself, I am cautious. Proof will be in actions over his term in office. In fact, so far, since the conference, I am not very impressed by the results.
However, unlike so many other psychiatric leaders, Dr. Mezzich agreed to talk. He sat with us psychiatric survivor representatives and allies for a three hour in depth respectful discussion. We then held a combined news conference calling for mediated dialogues internationally between representatives of psychiatric survivor organizations and psychiatric professional organizations. A video of this news conference was made.
Do we dialogue with anyone, or everyone?
One of our movement's complaint is that society has selected us as one of the groups it won't talk to. Do we, too, have a similar policy, that there are individuals who because of the group they belong to, we will not dialogue with?
I realize such a proposal for open dialogue is controversial with several parties:
- First, of course there are defenders of the psychiatric industry who would be absolutely horrified to hear about our dialogue with top leaders of the WPA. No doubt these industry defenders would feel that we activists are being dignified by even have our existence receive acknowledgment. Since we are calling for criminal penalties against psychiatric human rights violations, some of these opponents are no doubt personally threatened.
- Second, of course there ought to be serious concerns among the psychiatric survivor community as, together, we evaluate this proposed strategy. After all, if representatives from any oppressed group met with representatives of an industry group there would be cause for concern! It is reasonable to debate the wisdom of any negotiations, especially because they may impact our own members' lives. I would like to assure all concerned that we are very open to hearing these reasonable points and questions.
The Politics of Denouncemement
Unfortunately, there have also been a few who say they support human rights activism who have gone beyond "disagreement" to "denouncements" against one another, against any human rights activist who goes inside any WPA event. Please understand that I support an effective boycott when it is well done. However, there had never been any call for a boycott, no strategy, no invitation to boycott, nothing.
One hilarious moment for me was when I spoke to two individuals who were outside the WPA with such a position, and who were denouncing those psychiatric survivor activists who chose to go inside the WPA event.
One felt that our movement representatives should also never ever enter the United Nations, or any nations' legislatures, because all of these entities also supported forced psychiatry.
The second individual disagreed with the first, and has personally entered legislatures himself.
Isn't this the problem with the politics of denouncement? Eventually one ends up denouncing one another!
As never before we need to unite and get beyond such a fractured movement.
It is interesting that when many of us call for alternatives to psychiatric oppression, we call for acknowledging and listening respectfully to individuals such as Dorothea Buck. Psychiatry ought to have listened respectfully to her experiences. This principle of listening respectfully to one another and dialogue makes sense in our troubled world.
I have a question for those who denounce activists who entered the WPA.
Those individuals who denounced activists who entered inside the WPA event to speak out, did not choose to denounce Ms. Dorothea Buck.
Because Ms. Buck is an historic leader in our movement?
We need to learn from Ms. Buck.
Yes, I feel we at every step we ought to carefully evaluate the wisdom of holding dialogues and negotiations with anyone, including leaders of psychiatric professional organizations. The industry groups ought not take our participation for granted. Among ourselves, of course many movement activists will at times be disagreement, even passionate disagreement, about strategy and tactics. We ought to welcome such diversity.
But diversity and denouncements are opposites.
I feel as never before it is time to at least call for mediated open, public dialogues with opponent organizations. Given the incredible oppression faced by our constituency, we have a great deal to win, and little to lose, by such a tactic.
What especially encourages me at this time is the spirit of Dorothea Buck. The politics of "denouncement," the politics of refusing to talk with anyone, do not work, and are unsustainable.
The politics of denouncement convinces me as never before we need to pursue a strategy of dialogue.
The courageous spirits of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were willing to anywhere, and speak to anyone, for justice and human rights. Yet can anyone doubt their courage? This simple courage, more than denouncement, is what has brought true and lasting social change.
I feel our movement ought to move toward nonviolent civil disobedience, in our own creative ways. As we do, we at MindFreedom are committed to follow, even if in imperfect ways, the principles of the civli rights movement and Martin Luther King.
You may read about those principles here:
The first six words of the MindFreedom mission statement begin:
"In a spirit of mutual cooperation."
Combining this spirit of mutual support with the spirit of activism is why MindFreedom is still here... why we are one of the independent activist groups to continue to organize and thrive after twenty years.. why we unite thousands of people and 100 groups! We are not for everyone, but I hope we are for you!
I hope you will join me in calling for open mediated dialogue with psychiatric professional organizations.
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Those who are not yet members, we encourage you to join, in a spirit of mutual cooperation, today! We are not for everyone. MindFreedom is for people who are ready to unite to take independent action.
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To see photos, video and more from the Dresden dialogue click here: