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International Liberation Reference Persons

At the 2016 “Mental Health” Liberation Workshop for ILRPs and RRPs

What has been going well at the workshop? For you, in the workshop as a whole, or both? (excerpts from people’s responses)

Heather Hay: My mother would say that something was “different,” and “different” usually meant bad. I am understanding that it’s not bad when I’m having a lot of feelings, feeling terrified, “a mess.” For someone raised middle class, where everything was supposed to be “fine,” it’s a good sign that I am having big sessions here, even in mini-sessions.

Barbara Love: It has been good to hear more about how MHO undergirds and wraps itself around the entire capitalistic, oppressive system and is a tool or weapon for keeping people in line, wedded to the system. MHO interrupts anybody’s ability to even think about acting outside the roles that have been set out for them. MHO uses racist and classist identities—everything that is false that is put out about people—to keep people tied into the system.

Dan Nickerson: As a leader, I feel like nobody wants to live the kind of life that I live as a working-class man. I have decided to deliberately walk toward “the beast,” to live in “the belly of the beast,” to work in a factory and face the physical pain and everything else that decision has meant. I struggle as a leader with asking or expecting others to make the same kind of commitment. The word I use in a session is that I’m “crazy.” You bet I am! I think I’m basically discharging anger at the complacency of, what seems to me, almost everyone. I realize I could take a more sympathetic attitude: that people just have difficulty moving.

What have you learned at the workshop so far? What struck you about what I talked about? What did you learn from people’s sessions?

Barbara: Another critical piece to think about is how the threat of being pulled into the “mental health” system is such a force, keeping people tied to the economy. There’s a story coming out of development work with Africans: In a community in West Africa, the local people fish, have plenty of food in the forest, have yams in their gardens, have a fine life. They spend time with their children, around the campfire, in hammocks, and in community. Europeans arrive and insist that they go to work. One man says, “What do I have to go to work for?” “So that you can provide food and shelter for your family.” “But I have food and shelter for my family.” And the European says, “So you can save enough money so you can have leisure time.” “What would I do with leisure time?” “You can relax and spend time with your family.” “But I’m doing that now.” Yet the Europeans (who had guns and bullets) manage to disrupt that way of life and organize a one-crop economy so that the Africans are forced to work as part of the system. It shows how the threat connected to not going to work, like the threat of the MHS, keeps people in that system.

Heather: I learned how they can terrorize a population so that people can hardly move or think, how they can forbid you to be yourself or show yourself. That means you can’t connect with anybody, because you’re connecting with a somebody you can’t really see, who is not really there. People are trying to be what they’re “supposed to” be, trying not to show what they’re “not supposed to,” trying to conform as they’re “supposed to.” Robots. And “they” can do just about anything with robots. It’s horrifying. Heartbreaking. Awful. It explains how people can do the irrational, oppressive, and hurtful things that they do. They’re afraid. As in my family’s case, people go along with the dominant group.

Barbara: It has been helpful not only to discharge about the interconnection of MHO with Black people and racism, but also useful to discharge about, how in my own lifetime, Black people used the notion of labeling to gain a little psychological space for themselves. Some Black people use the notion of “crazy” to get white people to leave them alone. With that label, they won’t harass you, or not in the same way. They’ll walk around you and give you space, a relief from the daily, relentless racism.

Heather: With regard to musicians, I was thinking how much more you can move and affect an audience if you are showing yourself, being a real person.

Dan: My experience with those raised poor is that we protect each other from the MH system. We have a tolerance for aberrant behavior; so we shelter people and take care of people and stay close to each other. We don’t let people mess with our people.

If you think in such a collective way about people, you may be accused in RC of caretaking, even though you are acting on behalf of your people and expending energy to protect them from the ravages of oppression.

Middle-class and white people in RC seem to be restimulated at the level of oppression that people are dealing with. My constituency are told, “You need to take care of yourself.” There’s confusion there, which results in poor counseling. My constituency are thinking well about people targeted for destruction, but they sometimes get suggestions that they shouldn’t do that as much as they are.

People’s inability to face the reality that so many people are living under is related to MHO. It involves judging how one should act based on a certain set of standards, in this case standards that say that solitude and being able to do it on your own are good, are the correct model of intelligence.

Coming out of this workshop, what are you going to do around MHL work? Or what will you do differently in your life?

Heather: I’d like our middle-class support group, musician leaders, and Regional diversity work all to include MHL. In my wide-world life among a middle-class crowd, I can ask questions. What happened with them? When did they get shut down? When did they get scared? When were they forced to conform?

Barbara: We’ve got energy and initiative coming out of the Black People and MHL workshop. We’ve got folks doing conference calls and moving ideas forward, and more folks actually doing the work. I can make sure that MHL is on the agenda at each Black Liberation and Community Development (BLCD) Workshop. I can make sure there are articles in the next issue of Black Re-emergence.

Dan: When I think about class and MHL, I think about screening’s being based on the kinds of patterns people have. We screen to eliminate the patterns that most scare white middle-class people. We also limit our counseling. I have a working-class guy whose patterns sometimes verge on homicidal. He has sessions where I, as counselor, tell him, “Don’t be f— stupid.” He’s so pleased that somebody gave him that direction. He’s smart, but he carries that stuff. These are my people. A lot of us end up incarcerated because nobody can handle those patterns. A lot of people wouldn’t want him in their Community, wouldn’t “waste their time” on him. He’s dear to us. How we look at people comes through these two oppressions, MHO and class. They determine what we see as intelligent. They determine who we like, whom we feel safe with.

I’m realizing more and more that what I am getting out of this, what it’s really about, is caring. You can care about everybody. There isn’t a limited set of people. You can care about everybody, no matter what patterns they carry. And we need to care. We are not fully human until we can care.

What needs to happen around MHL work in your constituency?

Barbara: Black people and other PGMs often can’t get good counseling. The patterns that they bring fall outside the narrow range of what members of the Community consider acceptable and can handle and be responsive to and counsel people effectively on. In some cases, the patterns that PGMs bring interact with what white people consider frightening. Some patterns that PGMs bring fall outside everything that some white people consider “normal.” We get to keep thinking about this.

Dan: It’s hard for me to acknowledge that this judgment about what patterns are okay exists in the Co-Counseling Communities—what we can handle, whose patterns are acceptable and whose are not. I do agree that we shouldn’t allow patterns into the Co-Counseling Community that we can’t handle, but I think we’ve got to work on what we can’t handle.

If we’re going to do what needs to be done in the world right now to stop this firestorm, we’re going to need to get a lot less afraid of a lot of patterns that are threatening the world. My people don’t carry the worst ones: Complacency is killing a lot of people. I want to tell my people that we’ve got to make a pledge to work on this.

What I’ve been doing more broadly is working on violence, developing slack for violence. The last resort of the oppressor is violence. We’ve got to get more slack on that.

Heather: Music is a potentially powerful tool. We musicians need to be asking and discharging on what’s in your way of using music as a powerful tool? Where are you hiding yourself? Where do you settle? Where are you too scared? Where do you not discharge? I’ve met musicians with liberation ideas who are visible and use music to say things that could upset people. We talk about being scared. But do we have the safety to discharge our fears so we can keep doing what we are doing? How can I be more effective at creating that safety? I think it’s important liberation work.

If you think about the whole RC Community, what needs to happen around MHL work in general, or what do you want to make happen?

Dan: There are so many things we are trying to do in RC. We’ve learned a lot about a lot and try to communicate all of it all the time. I think sound bites are useful. Like the one you reminded me of last night, Janet: “How did they get you to behave?” You could use that almost anywhere. It’s easy to relate to. I think there are little things like that. We don’t have to give a long lecture on MHO to easily work with a group of people. What patterns scare you? What distress would you not want your client to decide to work on? What are your “favorite” ones?

Heather: Asking questions of the “normal” crowd: “How did you get trained to be ‘normal’? If you were honest, what scares you? What people scare you? What kinds of behaviors scare you? What kinds of ways can you feel comfortable because everything is set up the way you’re used to? What goes on in your head that you don’t say?” Harvey was keen on showing and discharging embarrassment, that first step of being seen and noticing another human. Remembering to use that basic Co-Counseling technique.

Barbara: I want systematic work with everyone working on what scares them. I want everyone to get a chance to discharge on the early memories of how you learned to be scared of those people and those patterns.

Last modified: 2018-02-27 03:25:46+00