Tomorrow, 17 February 2021, is a special day for me. Along with many people all over the world, I remember the life and times of Giordano Bruno. He was the last individual burnt at the stake by the Inquisition on 17 February 1600.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of hosting my Mom from Chicago here in Eugene, Oregon for a decade. She shared many stories. One of the most startling was the revelation that my grandfather, an immigrant from Lithuania who spent many years digging coal, admired the author and philosopher, Giordano Bruno, whose statue is in Rome, turned to face the Vatican.
This year, I have asked a wonderful friend who was raised in Italy, psychiatrist Benedetto Saraceno, MD, to translate a short remembrance of Bruno. May we all be freethinkers during these challenging times when we need to change almost everything to address the climate crisis and the way our humanity responds.
You may find both the Italian and English translations here, please forward especially to folks who speak Italian:
Questa è una nota di incoraggiamento per il mio amico David W. Oaks in Oregon, Stati Uniti d’America.
David è giunto al suo quarantacinquesimo anno di lavoro in favore dei diritti umani e delle alternative di vita per le persone con disabilità, soprattutto quelle che sono utenti dei sistemi di salute mentale.
Ho scoperto che il nonno di David aveva un interesse molto speciale per la vita di Giordano Bruno, filosofo che, nel XVI secolo, ha esplorato e individuato nuovi modi di guardare all’universo diventando il simbolo del libero pensiero.
Tutti siamo interconnessi, e anche se non sempre potremo vederci gli uni con gli altri, tutti siamo uniti.
[The above Italian is a translation by my friend, Benedetto Saraceno, MD. Below is the English:]
To Whom it May Concern:
This is a note of encouragement for my friend David W. Oaks in Oregon, USA. This is his 45th year working for human rights and alternatives for people with disabilities, especially in the mental health system.
I found out that David’s grandfather had a very special interest in the life of Giordano Bruno, the scholar and author who found new ways to look at the universe back in the 16th century and became a symbol of free thinking
We are all interconnected. Even though we may not always see each other, everyone is united.
All of my grandparents came from Lithuania so we wondered why my grandfather (on my mother’s side) wanted to name his first born with the Italian name Giordano. My 97-year-old mother told me this story a few years ago so I read up on my grandfather’s hero Giordano Bruno. By the way, my grandmother did not follow her husband’s wishes and my uncle was named after the famous Lithuanian Vytautas the Great. It turns out that Giordano Bruno is a very interesting historical figure, mainly making a name for himself by being the last heretic burnt at the stake by the Catholic church in 1600. Every year on this date 17th of February, this figure is remembered in Rome by his statue in a celebration of free thinking. I have read some of Bruno’s interesting writings about philosophy, nature, magic, and memory. Just using his intellect and logic he was able theorize that the stars up in the sky were just like our sun but of course were very far away. Not too shabby for a guy without a telescope. February 17th is also World Human Spirit Day. You may read more about Giordano and the annual celebration here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno
A Gold Lining: People Are Finally Using the Word, “Revolution”!
More Than Ever, Let Us Support MindFreedom International
By David W. Oaks
Stand up now & fight back!
“Now” in Lithuanian, my heritage, is “Dabar”!
Last month we watched my nation’s presidential inauguration. The reality of the USA’s catastrophic election started to sink in.
Even if you voted for Donald Trump, my intuition is that your disappointment has already started, dabar.
But I notice a number of gold linings, recently:
A lot more people are starting to use the word “revolution.”
For another, as I have often hoped, the word “normality” is no longer being used much.
We must look, and keep looking, for gold linings. I draw here upon the wisdom of the disability movement, which I have been an activist in for more than four decades. I have especially been a community organizer for deep change in the mental health system.
I am a psychiatric survivor. That is, about 40 years ago, as a working class kid going to Harvard, I ended up in psychiatric institutions five times, where I experienced forced drug injections and solitary confinement. I graduated anyway, in 1977.
I helped start one of the key independent groups in the psychiatric survivor movement, MindFreedom International, and I was the Executive Director for about 25 years. The MindFreedom community, and their hard-working board, have won many campaigns for human rights in mental health care over the years. Four years ago, I fell and broke my neck, and because of complications, I had to retire from working for this superb group.
The past four years I have been doing about two dozen rehab activities, so I have been a bit isolated. But now is a good time to say “I am still alive,” and share what I have learned. My main goal in this note is to encourage everyone to give urgent support to MindFreedom International, which as we will see is going through a crisis of its own.
A Whole Lot of Falling Sure is Happening Now
Yes, Uncle Sam certainly fell down at the voting booth in November. The very same week as the election, the global climate crisis talks in Morocco fell apart. It feels as if the world is paralysed over the climate crisis.
As the author Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” With the world slowly coming to the realisation that we are all, 100%, collectively “disabled,” both physically and mentally, let’s turn to the social change movement led by people with disabilities for some tips about how to get through these trying times, and even to thrive.
Here is something you can tangibly do: Support the crucial nonprofit MindFreedom International, which has worked independently for decades to radically change the mental health system.
We wonder why the world seems to be stuck right now, well one of the reasons is that centuries of psychiatric oppression of new thinking has taken a toll. The population gets these messages: Avoid any reality that is uncomfortable, and thinking outside of the box is often punished.
Because people in the mental health system tend to be so poor, the vast majority of activities in the mental health consumer field have been government-funded: The conferences, the offices, the research.
MindFreedom has maintained its independence, and it is one of the few groups in the mental health advocacy field that receives its funding from everyday people and a few foundations who care about human rights.
While I am proud that MindFreedom International has avoided mental health system funding, I have always tried to maintain a supportive relationship with my many colleagues who work for groups that are funded by the government. But now, especially now, we need groups that are free from mental health system strings. We need groups to be activist.
MindFreedom is a positive way to challenge this oppression. And now we must all come through for MindFreedom.
We Can All Learn From The Disability Movement
The disability movement is one of the biggest in the world, though we usually think of “disability” as being only about part of the population. Perhaps now we can realize that the disability movement encompasses every single person and their whole life, all the time. Let me explain.
It has been about four years since I fell off a ladder and broke my neck, becoming a quad in a powerchair with some additional challenges: An impaired voice. My fingers that used to type more than a hundred words a minute, and played improvisational piano music for 50 years, now cannot move independently.
For the past few years, I have been doing physical therapy, vocal exercises, and even had a surgical implant in my vocal fold. And now I am coming out of my rehab closet to encourage you to free your minds, and support MindFreedom International with your time and money.
A few days ago, I talked with my friend, the brilliant retired psychologist, Al Galves, of New Mexico. Al is MindFreedom Treasurer, and he reports: “From 2004 when I joined the Board to 2012 when David got hurt, MindFreedom received at least $65,000 a year in membership dues, donations and grants. Since David’s accident we have been limping along on less than $10,000 a year.” I guess that is a kind of compliment for me, but the bottom line is that my accident took quite a toll on MindFreedom.
“This is understandable,” said Al. He went on to say this about the difference between when I worked for MindFreedom and when I retired: “David was spending a lot of his time on membership relations and fundraising. Without a full-time, paid Executive Director we were unable to sustain that kind of income.”
I asked the MindFreedom board how we can all be supportive. Al said: “We are hoping that this appeal to our long-time members, friends and supporters will gain us enough money to rebuild our membership relations and fundraising capacity and return to our previous level of activity.”
Each one of us is called to support MindFreedom with both donations and also your time. Please help MindFreedom immediately. If you need more motivation, here are my top seven reasons why it is time to volunteer and/or donate to MFI now:
Resist Forced Outpatient Psych Drugs! At about the same time as the election, less noticed was this tragedy: The US Congress fell down, too, when it voted overwhelmingly in favor of the multi-billion dollar 21st Century Cures Act. This was a huge bill, but deep down inside it included millions of federal dollars in support of outpatient coercive psychiatric drugging, from what was once called “the Murphy bill.” That’s right, the federal government will now support, with taxpayer dollars, getting a court order and forcing many Americans to take powerful psychiatric drugs against their will, while living at home out in the community. Note that this awful idea came from a “small government” politician, Tim Murphy (R-PA). We need independent, activist groups such as MindFreedom to challenge what amounts to chemical warfare. Studies show that this outpatient forced psychiatric drugging is disproportionately done to people of color. #BlackLivesMatter!
Yes, USA Psychiatrists Still Do Involuntary Electroshock! By far my favorite campaigns at MindFreedom were stopping occasional instances of forced electroshock, which is electricity to the brain. Here in the USA, electroshock is usually signed for by the patient, but there is still the use of involuntary electroshock, now and again. Incredibly, sometimes forced shock is done even with a court order on an outpatient basis. For example, direct your search engine to: Ray Sandford. Every Wednesday morning, a van picked him in his group home in Minnesota for another court-ordered involuntary electroshock at a nearby hospital. Ray phoned us for help and we activated thousands and of course won. Want to unite good Republicans, Democrats, Greens and Libertarians? Fight forced shock, and all good Americans of all political persuasions are outraged. All you have to do is prove that forced shock is a reality, such as producing court papers. MindFreedom is the main group to expose and fight this atrocity, which is actually pretty common in poorer countries.
Let’s Support People Who Are Resisting and Escaping Their Forced Outpatient Psych Drugs. Here is a “creative maladjustment” to the absurdity of the USA Congress approving millions for involuntary outpatient psychiatric care: Almost all USA States have these outpatient commitment laws. MindFreedom has over the years supported about a half-dozen American citizens who have pursued their own underground railroad to evade forced outpatient drugging. A weak spot in forced outpatient treatment, is that people can simply leave their region or State to escape. You may read about one of these successful escapes by directing your search engine to this phrase: gabriel hadd mindfreedom. One proponent of forced outpatient drugging knows about this vulnerability, and has even discussed his need for a federal extradition law. But at this time, there is no such law. Yet. Today, there is no known underground railroad for psychiatric survivors. The MindFreedom family supports human rights and can applaud people who create such an underground railroad for themselves, so if anyone could support such a sanctuary movement, it would be MindFreedom. There is even a great name for such a campaign: C/S/X Railroad. Let’s make this support real, by proposing this idea! (Note that I am not on the MFI board, and this is a proposal.)
During a Crisis, Let’s Use Alternative Supports. MindFreedom has pointed the way to common sense, humane options other than corporate mental health. Create your small group for mutual support. At any moment we all can use creative thinking right now, the mind is free! Al Galves said this: “In 2014, 2015 and 2016 MindFreedom held ‘Creative Revolution in Mental Health’ conferences in which we advocated, promoted and supported alternatives to the medical model in mental health. These were well-attended, full of energy and inspiring to those great people who have created these alternatives.”
MindFreedom is for Revolution! For many years, the MindFreedom mission statement has included a call for a “nonviolent revolution.” In fact, the Wikipedia page about “nonviolent revolution” has long included MindFreedom International as a model of a group with that goal. For example, Martin Luther King would say that the salvation of the world may lay in the hands of the “creatively maladjusted.” He repeatedly brought up this theme for more than a decade. MLK said the world was in dire need of an International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. This IAACM was a dream of MLK that never became realized. But MindFreedom has made the IAACM real, and the physician psychiatric survivor Patch Adams is the honorary chair. The IAACM will soon launch a new project, for a preview see: http://www.LoveEarthRevolution.orgCelia Brown, an African American psychiatric survivor activist, leads the hard-working board of MindFreedom. She said: “We need independent, activist and civil rights groups to challenge mass incarceration, oppressive psychiatric laws and racism that threaten the wellbeing of our people. MindFreedom encourages your voice to liberate mind, body and spirit, create non-violent alternatives and human rights for all. I’m proud to be creatively maladjusted.”
This Grassroots Group Uses Every Donation Effectively! MindFreedom has a very specific and effective goal that can be reached with your donation: A new website. However, MindFreedom has many great ways to use every dollar that is donated to them. Janet Foner, long-time board member and co-founder of MFI, said “Donate to MFI to help us run our campaigns, to help us do another MFI Creative Revolution Conference, and to help us spread the word to new affiliates, etc.” Please help them today. You can support MFI by donating and/or volunteering, especially with the Shield and support calls.
MindFreedom is a Powerful Way to Unite! Even after retiring from MFI’s staff, and now as “just” a member, I find being in touch with MFI is a way to be a part of a great community. One of the biggest challenges for me as an organizer during my time at MindFreedom, is that many of us psychiatric survivors prefer to pursue our own individual paths, like lone wolves. But even lone wolves might benefit now and again by travelling in a pack! I have met so many people who are grateful for MindFreedom putting them in touch with our social change movement. Sue Barnhart, a social worker with more than 30 years experience said, “MindFreedom may be the first organization that people find that offers alternatives to medication, such as education and support.”
That day was also a very important day for me, February 17, which is the commemoration for Giordano Bruno, the last person to be burnt at the stake in the Inquisition, back in 1600. As readers of my blog know, Bruno is very important to my family, starting with my grandfather.
Over the decades, I have had the good fortune to be immersed in what many of us call Mad Culture. In various cities, at a number of events, there would be a confluence of writers, researchers, artists, and otherwise creative people who all wanted to peacefully overthrow the psychiatric industry and find a new way of helping people in crisis. I am glad to hear that one of your chances for Mad Culture will be from October 9-12, 2014 in Massachusetts, because the Mad In America International Film Festival will bring many film titles and speakers together. In fact, I have been invited to speak for a few minutes via Skype near the end of this great event.
I wish I could be there physically, but in honor of this Mad film event, here are some movies that I have watched lately, along with my brief review.
Bettie Page Reveals All (2012, Documentary, 101 min., via Netflix streaming)
That’s right, one of the main pin-up personalities from the 20th century was a psychiatric survivor. Bettie Page was famous as a charismatic and sexual model whose images are still admired long after her death. This documentary reveals that from 1979 to 1992, after the height of her fame, Bettie Page was in psychiatric institutions in California.
This film is mainly a lot of fun, showing her history and how she became one of the leading underground characters in Americana. In fact, she may be more popular today than in the 20th century. There is a very sad part of this story though, because Bettie Page was a trauma survivor, her childhood was awful, she experienced abuse as an adult, and the men in her life were mainly negative. When Bettie retires down in Florida, her past seems to catch up with her and she ends up having a major mental crisis.
You can watch this documentary on Netflix and I highly recommend it. Bettie Page is a fascinating person, and you can get some insight into how our society misinterprets trauma as “mental illness.” (more…)
My very good friend Marcia Meyers of Portland, Oregon is one of the most powerful leaders I have seen in my nearly 40 years of activism in the little-known movement for deep change in the mental health industry. She joined my amazing wife Debra, some friends and me for a backyard party at our Eugene home this summer and brought to my attention an issue that deserves a larger audience. Marcia’s story riveted me because it involves activism, madness, psychiatric torture of her beloved daughter, Unitarianism, secret poisoned-pen letters, Scientology and global warming!
So while I have been blogging for a few years, please understand that this post is the longest one yet. The major web site Mad in America, which is now like the Huffington Post of over-throwing psychiatry and inspired by the books of journalist Bob Whitaker, is picking up my blog for re-distribution. My primary concern here is with honoring the incredible work of Marcia and her group Rethinking Psychiatry. Marcia can teach our whole social change movement an important lesson about unity that can help all people as we struggle against environmental catastrophe, which I call “Normalgeddon.”
I include my top 11 ways that our Mad Movement can reunite, none of which involved any religion.
Thank you Marcia Meyers!
Marcia is a 68-year-old, effusive retired teacher, who in her own words, “Identifies, in this order, as a grandmother, a teacher and an activist.” She dedicated 33 years to teaching in the public school system, during which she was active in the teacher’s union, both locally and nationally. Marcia describes this work as foundational to the activism that would follow. As she puts it, “From my many years of teaching and my years of union work I honed my skills as an organizer and activist.”
Marcia retired in 1999 and attended the World Trade Organization protest, the huge Battle in Seattle, later that year. This event was particularly transformative. She told me, “The new and privileged freedom of retirement along with this historic event catapulted me into local and national economic justice activist work.” It was in the wake of the Battle in Seattle that Marcia began her work with the Economic Justice Action Group of the First Unitarian Church of Portland. This branch of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church is one of the largest congregations ever, and for five years, has provided a safe, supportive home and platform for Marcia to fight corporate personhood. (more…)