No New Normal: MLK, President Joe & Green Disability
Today, Monday, 18 January 2021, we celebrate Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. In two days, we in the USA will have a brand-new President, thankfully. Every morning I listen to a lot of National Public Radio (NPR). With vaccinations increasing, NPR reported that a “new normality” may finally be possible. A few minutes later, an NPR editorialist warned us, as he should, that the surge of white supremacy must not become a “new normal.”
With all this talk about “new normality,” let me tell you something that MLK wrote and spoke about that is often neglected. MLK called for the end of what we call “normality.” This is my 44th year working for human rights of people with disabilities, so I got very interested when I first heard about this incredible historic fact, and dug in for more.
One of the best examples is that MLK brought a written speech with him in August 1963 to the famous, peaceful March on Washington. At the podium, perhaps after expertly sizing up the huge crowd on the Mall in the summer heat, he never gave that longer written speech. MLK instead improvised, partly based on previous speeches, and gave impromptu what is now known as the “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most famous in US history.
The title of the original speech that MLK did not give was “NORMALCY — NEVER AGAIN.” This typewritten speech, complete with his corrections marked with xxxxxxx, is carefully archived at the Woodruff Library at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Here are some of his words that are most relevant to me today:
“[W]e will not be beset by the nagging knowledge that this nation owes an abject apology to Lincoln; an apology for going too slow in granting equal rights to all her citizens; an apology for not pushing hard enough in bringing to reality his hopes and dreams; an apology for invoking the evil alibi that ‘this is not the time’ for the hour of freedom to strike.”
King concluded this part of his speech with words that he would often say other places and are so well put and so important today: “For we know full well that… any time is the time to do the right thing.”
We white USA-born males owe the world an apology for the bigoted folks, mainly white male “citizens,” who are leading the bankrupt ideology of White Supremacy. The best way for us to apologize will be to take action: Black Lives Matter!
MLK frequently visited the theme of challenging normality. He even called for the creation of a “International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment.” The nonprofit human rights coalition, MindFreedom International, celebrates this vision of having a real IAACM.
Welcome President Joe, But No New Normal!
With the impending inauguration of a new president, many of us feel great relief. Wonderful. But let us learn a lesson from electing President Barack Obama, who I supported. I feel many of us progressives relaxed and let down our guard during Obama’s eight years. Obama himself encouraged progressives to be more active during his administration, and we should have listened to him. Now we know. This time, let us be on guard, prepared, engaged, and always active.
I think back about my childhood growing up in the south side of Chicago. White Supremacist racism was rampant in that area, not far from the Nazi headquarters. At the age of ten, I was only a few miles away from where Martin Luther King was struck by a rock or brick on 5 August 1966.
I later got out of Chicago, went to college and became a community organizer activist for people with mental or physical disabilities. In 1983, I moved to Eugene, Oregon.
I distinctly remember sitting in Monroe Park, not far from downtown Eugene, Oregon. I was reading material written by MLK. He recalled those days on the south side of Chicago, and I remember he remarked about the intense hate he saw in the eyes of white protestors. MLK said that racists in Mississippi could probably learn from Chicago racists! I especially remember, to paraphrase, that MLK said the hate was so great, his hope was that some young people would get out of the south side of Chicago, go to college, and get away from that environment. I was so startled, it felt like he was writing directly to me.
Perhaps MLK was writing to me, in a sense. Certainly he is speaking to all of us now, that we must never again have “normality.” No normality and no new normality! Ever! Here in our household we even have a little game that you might want to play: Whenever your hear the word “normal” such as on the radio or TV, everyone sneezes or howls. The first to do so “wins.” Let us continue to be allergic to normal or new normal! Why?
On Jan. 7, 2021, the day after the D.C. riots when Trump supporters violently invaded the Capitol, a Trump administration leader for mental health, Elinore McCance‐Katz, M.D., Ph.D., announced her resignation. She had been Trump’s appointed assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Yes, we ought to all applaud her resignation in protest of Trump’s rioters. Here is an excerpt from her recent statement:
“I believe that this behavior was totally unacceptable and, in my own heart, I simply am not able to continue. I believe that we are given certain life situations where we must make the difficult decisions and we get one chance to do it the right way.”
However, for the past four years, under Dr. McCance-Katz’s supervision, SAMHSA has sadly betrayed our values in the movement for empowerment of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors. Quietly, SAMHSA has given two major grants, in 2016 and 2020, to dozens of cities and towns around the USA to support more “court-ordered” coerced mental health care of people living in their own homes out in the community. SAMHSA uses the euphemism “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” (AOT) but really the term that legal scholars use objectively is “Involuntary Outpatient Commitment” (IOC).
Last month, I did a vlog about SAMHSA’s betrayal. You can find my video and transcript here.
We have now made a spreadsheet about grants for outpatient commitment based on SAMHSA’s own public documentation. For more than one year, I requested, unsuccessfully, that SAMHSA supply any reports about the outcome of their support. You may find our spreadsheet about SAMHSA backing of outpatient commitment, as well as a copy of my one year of email dialogue with SAMHSA here:
So, Dr. McCance-Katz, we appreciate your service and your resignation after the white supremacist violence, but please do not reapply for your position at SAMHSA! During your time at SAMHSA, millions were found to support IOC, but SAMHSA claimed poverty when it came to supporting the popular annual Alternatives Conference, which since 1985 has provided a way for hundreds and thousands of US mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors to work together. You can read about the history of Alternatives here:
SAMHSA canceled Alternatives and zeroed out funding support. Now the main annual conference is Peerpocalypse, which is sponsored by a State nonprofit here in Oregon, Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon. You can find more about Peerpocalypse here:
It is no surprise and coincidence that the federal agencies who are supposedly working for our mental well-being, instead use coercion to support “normality” and silence the voices of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors.
SAMHSA is not the only federal mental health agency with a bias toward the old-fashioned medical model approach, and against an empowerment-based model. My friend, psychologist Al Galves, PhD, told me:
My hypothesis is that the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) spends more than 80% of its $1.7 billion each year on studying the brain — neural networks, cells, molecules, neurotransmitters, other chemicals and genetics. This is a big problem because human beings don’t use our brains or our genes to live our lives. We use our minds — our thoughts, feelings (emotions), intentions and perceptions to live our lives. The mind is not the same as the brain.
I have often pondered the way so-called “normal” is hurtling itself towards the cliff of environmental catastrophe. Now I realize that humanity as a whole, with a few exceptions such as many indigenous tribes, has a “Green Disability.” That is, it is irrefutable that generally speaking modern humans are so very out of touch with nature, that we threaten our own extinction.
There are five new brief free online videos launched from Greta Thunberg and the Dalai Lama about the role of feedback loops in amplifying the risk of climate crisis. This is why we need immediate and major action, so that seven generations ahead there will still be people and life. Please take a look at these short videos, narrated by Richard Gere:
Our consulting business, Aciu! Institute, has several events and resources for groups fighting to address “green disability.” For more information, click here:
Let Us Celebrate!
We ought to celebrate today and every day for the liberation movements uplifted by MLK. Yes, many of us will certainly celebrate when the current White House occupant is evicted.
But please, no normality or new normality! Whenever you hear the word “normal,” please join our household and howl or sneeze. We all enjoy our game.
Also, seriously, we need to take real, effective action for a global nonviolent revolution. That is anything but “normal.”