Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of Happiness? Protesting the Legislation of Systematic Civil and Human Rights Violations in Massachusetts

On March 26th, a small group of us gathered outside the State House in Boston, Massachusetts, to rally and protest against several oppressive, dehumanizing, and dangerous bills put forth by the House and Senate that enable human rights violations of MA citizens.  This is my speech from the event.   

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.  Fundamental human and civil rights promised to us by those who founded the United States of America; rights that are “unalienable”, meaning basic, inviolable, nonnegotiable, nontransferable, sacrosanct, unassailable, untransferable.

Yet throughout the country, and here in Massachusetts, a large group of people has been relegated to a class of “other”, separated from society, isolated, marginalized, stripped of basic rights, and declared as less than human, perpetuating a legacy of American oppression.  Those about whom I speak are people with psychiatric labels, and I know this to be true from firsthand experience, both as a psychiatric survivor and as a friend and advocate of many still oppressed by The System.  I am here today to protest several Massachusetts bills that epitomize this legal, social, and philosophical injustice, for although the Massachusetts motto literally translates as “She seeks with the sword a quiet peace under liberty”, it is a beautiful motto that is far from true.  For the hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents who’ve been psychiatrically labeled, quiet peace under liberty is, at best, a façade, and at worst, blatantly disregarded.  For those who are either unaware of or refusing to accept the fact that so-called “mental illness” is nothing more than a social label applied to those who feel, think, or act in ways that fall outside of society’s accepted norm, or that are painful or uncomfortable, this violation of liberty is cleverly hidden behind a deceptive veil of “care”, “help”, “support”, “protection”, and “safety”.  Of “First, do no harm.”

The bills I stand in protest against embody the massive existential injustice that’s done to a person who’s been deemed “mentally ill”.  They also embody the grave violations of human rights and civil liberties for those who’ve been deemed “unfit” to participate in society via proposed mechanisms of surveillance, incarceration, hostage-holding, and trauma.  I’ll go through them one by one.

First, Massachusetts House Bills 110 and 141, ‘Acts relative to ensuring the safety of residents of facilities under the authority of the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Developmental Services’, written by Representatives Bradley Jones and Elizabeth Poirier, respectively.  These bills require the installation of video cameras in “mental health” facilities.

For those who’ve been psychiatrically labeled and subsequently disabled by the “mental health” system, whether by the long-term use of psychotropic drugs that cause such serious physical, emotional and cognitive harm that the basics of living an independent life become extremely difficult, or by the simple fact that they’ve been stripped of the right to live an independent life due to their so-called “illness”, the right to privacy is seen as irrelevant, and even “dangerous”.  “It’s in their best interest, because they can’t take care of themselves”, or, “It’s for their safety, because people with mental illness can be violent”, go the claims.  Violence is a form of communication and never happens in a vacuum; it is set off by trauma, and often by the threat of loss of privacy, liberty, or life.  It will be through transforming these oppressive environments so that they are no longer built upon an infrastructure of force and incarceration that rates of violence will decrease, not by enhancing surveillance mechanisms.  Plus, what unlabeled American citizen would ever agree to being monitored through a camera installed in his or her living room while watching TV, eating dinner, or hanging out with family and friends?  It is a ludicrous notion to those who are free, one that is right out of a science fiction movie.

Second, House Bill 1802, ‘An Act relative to the temporary release of persons under the “care” of the Department of Mental Health’, written by Representative James Miceli, requiring criminal background checks, a panel review, and police notification for State Hospital inmates hoping to go out into the community.

Full American citizens— even citizens with criminal records— are free to walk on public sidewalks, eat in restaurants, or go to movies, with their private life tucked safely away under the cloak of confidentiality.  For those imprisoned in state psychiatric facilities, however, such a right will not exist should this bill pass.  How aligned with basic civil liberties can it be to have a Chief of Police aware of your walk in the park, or visit to the local coffee shop?  All the more evidence that people with psychiatric labels are seen as less than human and unworthy of the most basic, unquestionable rights that other citizens have.  People with a history of violent crime have more rights than someone locked up in a State Hospital who is yearning for fresh air and a taste of what it’s like to be free.

Third, House Bill 3253, ‘An Act to reduce gun violence and to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth’, written by Representative David Linsky, preventing those with inpatient psychiatric histories or histories of reported “untreated substance abuse” to own a gun, unless written testimony from a psychiatrist deems them worthy.

Violence and society’s reaction to violence— gun control— have absolutely nothing to do with people who’ve been psychiatrically labeled.  To strip a person of his or her Constitutional right to bear arms as the result of hospitalization for a so-called “mental illness”— a social label with no valid scientific or medical evidence to support it— is to say that certain Massachusetts residents are not full citizens, just as our country once said that people of color and women weren’t, either.  Additionally, the “treatment” required for those with psychiatric labels— psychoactive chemicals deceptively called “medication”— has been shown through industry-funded studies, which are usually hidden or twisted to distort findings, to increase the odds of violence towards self and others.  Where is the bill to explore this issue?  Is the fact that psychiatric “treatment” is making society more “sick”, so to speak, too painful or shocking to acknowledge?

Onto Senate Bill 41, written by Harriette Chandler, named ‘An Act relative to Adolescent Development’.  A gentle sounding title, but one that promises to enact massive physical, emotional, and social harm to young people across our state through implementation of “mental health” screenings of adolescents, which undoubtedly means the initiation of psychotropic drugs.  This is an issue particularly close to my heart, as I was first labeled “Bipolar” and put on an antipsychotic and antidepressant at the age of fourteen.  Nothing was more damaging to my emotional wellbeing, my physical health, my sense of belonging to the world around me, and my sense of agency and responsibility as a young person, than being deemed “mentally ill”.

To enact this legislation is to strip young people of their humanness, to tell kids and teenagers that they are broken and only fixable by drugs and surrendering to psychiatric labels, and to unknowingly put many thousands of youth on the track for lifelong disability.  The FDA’s decision to put ‘black box warnings’ about increased suicidality in children and adolescents on SSRI antidepressants have clearly made no impact, as millions of young people across the country, and likely tens of thousands in this state, are currently on these drugs.  If the purpose of “mental health” screenings is to help our youth by preventatively “treating” them, and we know that the “treatment” is documented to increase violence and cause significant developmental, cognitive, and emotional harm, how can this bill be seen as helpful and promising for our nation’s future?  Rather than label “problem teens” as “mentally ill”, why not come together as a state to talk about how difficult it is to be a kid, especially in the face of trauma, which is so often the case with those diagnosed with “serious mental illness”.  Why can’t we talk about the fact that our education system is dysfunctional, we’ve lost touch with a sense of community in the modern age of technology, and that it’s society that’s broken, not its children?  How about we have a conversation about the fact that diagnosing children as “mentally ill” and putting them on numerous psychotropic drugs is a perfect way to turn them into lifelong dependents on family and state assistance?

And finally, to House Bill 1792, ‘An Act establishing “Assisted Outpatient Treatment”’, written by Representative Kay Khan.  If those in support of this bill wanted to be fully transparent and honest, they would have named it ‘An Act establishing legalized violation of mind, body, and spirit via physical and chemical restraints, immediate loss of civil and human rights, and threats of indefinite imprisonment.’

As I’ve mentioned, the evidence shows that “treatment” of not just children, but adults as well, is often not only ineffective, but harmful.  If you don’t believe me, find me after this speech and I will provide you references to back this statement up.  Knowing this, how is “assisting” people to this “treatment”— which really means threatening people with psychiatric incarceration and then violating their bodies with pills against their will, or worse, needles— in line with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?  How is this in the best interest of the state’s wellbeing?  Additionally, in hearings relating to “safety” and “risk” of psychiatrically labeled people, judges regularly defer to the psychiatrist’s judgment— which is based on pseudoscience and subjective opinion— over due process.  How is this in line with the very foundations of our constitutional rights?

I’d like to believe that those who enter public office do so because they want to help the greater good.  However, I also believe that the medical model of “mental illness”— the model built by Biological Psychiatry and the Pharmaceutical industry, whose lobby is exponentially more powerful than any other— is currently unmatched in its influence.  Unless you dig deep into the science, or have survived the “mental health” system itself and come out alive to tell the tale, it is very hard to access the Truth from the propaganda.  Society desperately wants to believe, and needs to believe, that “mental illness” is a real “condition” that is life-long, progressive, and the cause of America’s flaws and violence.

To translate human experience into the medicalized language of psychiatry is to buy into the belief that the inherently subjective can somehow be defined objectively.  Not too long ago, Psychiatry called homosexuality a “disease” with “symptoms” needing “treatment”.  Such ridiculous eugenic claims still form the basis of Psychiatry today, for people who feel too happy or too sad, or who hear things that others don’t hear, or who believe things that the others don’t believe, or who behave in ways that the societal consensus deems unpleasant, weird, odd, or scary, are suddenly no longer seen as full citizens, or as fully human.

I want to leave you with a selection of Articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948 by the U.N., of which we, of course, are a part:

Article 1- All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 2- Everyone is entitled to the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 3- Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 5- No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6- Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7- All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Article 9- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10- Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 12- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.

Article 13- (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state; (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 18- Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…

Article 19- Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

And lastly, Article 30- Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

I urge those in positions of legislative power to pause before voting on these bills, and to consider, in their hearts, whether they truly believe that all Massachusetts residents are fully human beings.

Thank you.