In the last couple of years a lot of time, space and effort has spent talking about the Murphy Bill on this blog. My voice I know is small and in the scheme of things doesn’t really carry very far but nevertheless I think I may have written more often in opposition to it than any single person. I don’t think there is any facet of it that I haven’t addressed.
I have watched the political process with it unfold and been amazed. With what at first glance seems like so much going for it, it hasn’t really moved. I realized quickly the volume of its supporters was not a measure of its support. A friend who knows far more than me about political things told me this. “Probably less than 5% of bills proposed actually make it into law… Murphy from the start has been going up a steep hill. In the end, I think the amount of people that really hate something has as big an impact as those that like it, maybe more.” And Murphy left no shortage of things to hate.
What 2 years have taught me more than anything else is that despite all the production, all the hoopla, all the volume the Murphy folks are not omnipotent. The verdict is not in. It may pass and it may after all is said and done pass this year. No one knows. But it doesn’t have to and anyone who says it does is just plain wrong.
The presentation of the initial Murphy Bill was badly bungled. Having Dr. Torrey as the psychiatric face of the bill was probably not the best idea. He is a deeply divisive figure in the wider mental health system and a bill badly needing support from that system was in trouble from the beginning. The scorched earth advocacy campaign that followed didn’t help. Rep. Murphy was just much better at recruiting opposition than he was support.
This version of the bill has had a softer presentation. The content is not radically different but the presentation has not been as assaultive . Dr. Torrey has not been omnipresent and there have been no more posts in the Wall Street Journal about “fruit smoothies.” Rep. Kennedy has spoken in favor of it. Mental Health America has a new president and now they are in favor of it. The effort I think is to show people there is something in the bill for them and they can really live with the parts of the bill they thought they couldn’t live with. I really think some people don’t know what to do. If you want to have a voice in mental health advocacy the pressure to sign on to the only game in town has to be real.
But now there are 3 more mental health bills out there. The Senate Bill that is supposedly a companion to Rep Murphy’s bill does not treat AOT as he would like it to be treated. I have been told that a bill with AOT as it’s cornerstone will not pass the Senate. Only time will tell, but I have to wonder if some of his “supporters” will not find themselves more drawn to more AOT-less bills. Again only time will tell. But I wonder if the House bill has not lost some steam. I have read exhortations by Mr. Jaffe for example telling people to contact legislators lest they find themselves with a bill they no longer recognize.
The other political problem that Rep Murphy finds himself in is that in a year already grown late he finds himself in an organisation getting ready to jump enthusiastically into chaos. A governmental shutdown seems pretty inevitable right now and with a fight to succeed Boehner how much of anything will be accomplished remains to be seen. A Republican House already reviled by the people of this country is getting ready to set world records for simple stupid, mean spirited, self serving “leadership” in a country that so deserves something better. You have to wonder if bi-partisan anything is going to happen and you have to wonder how far on the back burner mental health will go.
I have also watched and listened and been part of the campaign or discussion about how to stop the Murphy Bill. There is a national day of action planned in October I hope you will be part of. http://realmhchange.org/dayofaction/
I find this action very encouraging but have a lot of concerns. Too much of the conversation against Murphy has been a conversation against each other. Perhaps I am wrong and perhaps that angers people to hear but it is what I believe and from what I have heard in the last weeks an opinion shared by many. If we can not tolerate our disagreements our agreements will come to nothing. The first Murphy Bill was a laboratory in the effectiveness of scorched earth advocacy. I for one do not accept the idea that all is hopeless, that too much is against us and the results are inevitable. The last two years prove that. The day of action is a start.
The most important thing I wanted to say though is this. Murphy is not a terminal disease and we are not dead. Change is not dead. In the last week’s I have listened to countless people talk about initiatives in their states, their communities, their organizations, and their lives. What you do matters. What I do matters. Many ordinary people have shown that people are in the end still people regardless of the level of distress or issue in their lives and that a system that does not recognize that causes more trouble than it could ever solve. Justice needs to be an abiding concern of any system that claims to help people find better lives. And people mean whole people. It is naive to believe you can only focus on the “mental health” of people that are poor, that are hungry, that are discriminated against, that are sick and in poor health and make a real and abiding difference. No mental health system is free from the context of the lives of the it serves.
Defeat Murphy. He will be back next year with another bill and there will be another fight. And perhaps many years will have Murphy Bills. Please take part in the day of action though. It matters.
Remember you matter. What you do matters. It is the lie of all politicians that their laws are all that matters. I hope we are more than what divides us. I have no problems with anyone disagreeing with me. I have no problems with people who think I am stupid. People frequently do. But I hope that regardless of your fight with me or my fight with you neither of us forget the fight that needs to be fought.
And I hope all of us know we can move past Murphy that he neither controls or defines the destiny of what we care about. That is on us.