In advocacy work, we can sometimes get so focused on policy and politics that we start to feel disconnected from the individual lives and personal human suffering that are the real “why” behind what we do. We can start to think of our cause as strictly a political one, or limit ourselves to the concerns of a specific group, or even worse, compete with one another over the “best” way to make progress. Last night I saw an incredible example of unity at the upper echelon of our advocacy movement, and was also reminded that at the most fundamental level -- the one that really matters -- of promoting human dignity and creating a more flawless world, we are truly, all in this together.
I spent last evening at a reception in Boston for the launch of Patrick Kennedy’s new bipartisan federal leadership PAC, ParityPac, which is focused on supporting candidates who are leading the way in advancing mental health equity. The room was full of decision-makers and policy experts, but the feel of the night was markedly personal thanks to remarks by the event’s honorary chairs, Governor Michael and Kitty Dukakis.
Both in their eighties, these two leaders spoke about mental health challenges with the openness and honesty one might expect from millennials, but which was striking for individuals of this older generation. They both spoke about Kitty’s experiences with serious depression and the hope they found in electroconvulsive therapy, the treatment that ultimately worked for her. Patrick spoke to and honored his colleagues like family members -- the bonds run long and deep between the Dukakis and Kennedy families. This was echoed by the broader feeling of bipartisan camaraderie in the room -- some of the strongest supporters of the PAC are Republicans. It also was a living example of Patrick’s philosophy -- which was perhaps best reflected in his book, A Common Struggle -- that “the personal is political and the political personal.”
I left Boston reflecting on the positivity and personal stories of the event, as well as thinking about and communicating with a Flawless Foundation colleague, who, as I rode the late night train to New York, was in Portland Oregon, at the first public screening of the film That Way Madness Lies. The film shares the deeply personal story of one man’s life with untreated schizophrenia, and the challenges his family faced in trying to understand and help him. Here again, we see an example of where the true power behind our advocacy comes from: individual stories, and the radical courage of those willing to share them.
I arrived at Penn Station around 2 am, and quickly realized that, this late at night, the station essentially functions as a homeless shelter. As I rode the escalator up to 7th Avenue, a woman was coming down the other side, cursing and screaming, obviously in the midst of psychosis. I paused, wondering what I could do for her and regretfully kept riding up the other side. She was exactly the type of person who would be most helped by the prevention we advocate for in our work and the types of changes to mental health policy I’d heard discussed just a few hours earlier. In the span of a single night, I’d gone from a law firm boardroom overlooking the skyline of Boston, to underneath the streets of New York City; from the most powerful to the most vulnerable members of our cause. In between are efforts to build awareness and educate, like the film screening happening on the other side of the country, and the social media messaging our organization was creating around it, as well as the many other campaigns going on right now for Mental Health Awareness Month.
We are all integral and important parts of this movement. We are in this together. Every voice matters in ending this health crisis, and more importantly, this crisis of our nation’s soul, as we all too often continue riding up on the escalator leaving our brothers and sisters in need behind.