On building a movement…..

Do we have a movement?  I hear people talk about “the movement” all the time.  Is “the movement” reality or wishful thinking?

Here is what I think a movement needs in order to prosper, grow and make anywhere close to the impact it hopes to make.

None of these things need to be a result of some kind of formal process, but the extent to which they exist and operate, I think, at least in part, define the chances that the movement will be persist and make progress towards the goals it holds dear.  None of these things are either or.  They are all a matter of degree and they may ebb and flow depending on the circumstances.  As you read these consider “the movement.”

    1.  There should be a consensus about the ethics of being a movement.  There should be an ethics of what it means to be part of the same effort that includes first and foremost how we are to treat each other.  Movements that lack that become cannibalistic and dissolve into competing factions that over time come to believe that the people who supposedly are about same thing you are about,  the people who care about addressing the issues you care about are in fact the real enemy.  Movements that cannot tolerate disagreement without attacking those disagreeing usually end up with some kind of demand that its followers hold to some kind of true belief.  In the end the movement implodes and becomes irrelevant to any impact on the goals it was originally formed around.  On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being not at all and 10 being a major strength where are we.  The old phrase I have heard a thousand times still rings true.  How can people who cant stand each other stand for anything that really matters??
    2. The movement should be about something important enough that the people in it place their conflicts and disagreements with others below it.  The most important thing about any movement is what connects people.  What brings them together?  There should be a momentum towards cohesion.  On a scale of 1-10 where are we?
    3. People should feel like the movement “has something for them.”  Their should be some sense that their involvement, their identity as part of the movement means something to them.  It isn’t what the movement demands or takes from their lives but what it adds.  The  movement should represent an opportunity they don’t want to miss. On a scale of 1-10 where do we stand?
    4. People should feel like they have something to give to the movement that matters.  They must feel like they contribute, that what they do matters.  They need to feel more than spectators.  They must feel like the movement is better for them being there.  On a scale of 1-10 where do we stand?

People should feel like someone cares.  They must feel like others in the movement care for them as people, as individuals and that they can get support when needed, recognition when they deserve it and coaching and guidance when they ask for it.  They should feel, even if the movement itself is in some way a dangerous undertaking, safe as members of that movement.  On a scale of 1-10 where do we stand?


The movement should have a set of shared principles, values, and ideas that define the identity of that movement.  Simply it must have a reason for being that those in the movement buy into emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally.  On a scale of 1-10 where are we?

  1. The movement should have a plan.  It should have something it is doing to accomplish something that it thinks is worth doing.  Otherwise it dissolves into complaints and bitterness.  It should have both a focus in goals and a focus in how to achieve those goals.  On a scale of 1-10 where are we?
  2. The movement should have a way to measure how it is doing.  If there is not a clearly shared measure of what constitutes success it is hard to persist through hard times.  It is important to know the difference between battles and wars and know that battles lost do not mean wars lost.  On a scale of 1-10 where are we.
  3. The movement should have a way to welcome, educate, and involve new people into it.  If it doesn’t it tends to die from lack of energy.  Few people come to believe they are doing all the work and it eventually just gets very fatiguing and people back off for their own preservation.  On a scale of 1-10 where are we?
  4. The movement should have a sense of its natural and possible allies.  Movements live and die often based on what they do in coalition with others that do not accept or value exactly what they value.  More people have more impact.  More points of concern have more impact.   A wider base of support is better than a smaller base of support.  Few groups will have the impact they desire without being in coalition with someone.  All movements have “deal breakers”, things that they feel make them unable to be in coalition with other groups or interests.  The nature of those “deal breakers” often define the stability of any coalition we may have with others.  On a scale of 1-10 where are we?
  5. A movement should have the ability to change when the circumstances that gave birth to it have in some way changed.  It is a narrow balance between preserving the historical truths that have given birth to you and changing to meet the current realities you are struggling with.  On a scale of 1-10 where are we?

What do you think?   Some of these things are obviously more important that others but taken together do they not say something about us?   What are our strengths?  What are our weaknesses?  What do we need to grow to meet the challenges we face and accomplish those things we find important?  Are we a movement?  What do you think we should do now?

This is far more than an academic question.  There will probably be a mental health reform bill of some kind come out of Congress this year.  What that bill specifically says is no where close to a closed discussion.  We have a chance to make a difference there.  We are in the midst of a presidential campaign where many of the leading candidates have essentially dismissed us loons and crazies.  If we vote our votes will matter and make a difference there.  There is a movement in this country to lay gun violence at the feet of the “mentally ill”.  We can make a difference there.  The FDA is getting ready to say that electroshock does not present a danger to those that are shocked.  We can make a difference there.  Thousands…..no probably millions….of people with mental health diagnoses either have no access to medical care at all.  We can make a difference there.  The jails are filled with people with mental health issues who are being traumatized and retraumatized and hurt in ways that will impact them for the rest of their lives.  We can make a difference there.  Way too many people in the midst of emotional crisis are deescalated by being shot with bullets by the police.  We can make a difference there.

The list above is no where close to being a total list.  The needs are extreme.  We cant probably make a difference in everything the way we would like to.  We may not even be able to make a difference in anything to the degree we would want to.  But if we have our stuff together to a functional level we can make a difference.  We can and will make things better for many, many people.

But you tell me.  What are the prospects, what are the possibilities.  On a scale of 1-10 will we make a difference?


7 thoughts on “On building a movement…..”

  1. No, I don’t really think we have a movement. The level of attacks on other people keeps escalating, to the point where people are leaving. Self-promotion has taken the place of leadership, and in my educated opinion, there are only a very small group of people who are actually doing something. I don’t know what to do about it either. You mention the various versions of the Murphy bill, and the FDA’s plan to make shock treatment easier to inflict on people. I am sorry for my pessimism, but in spite of the fact that there are several really good people trying to lead the fight against these things, I think these battles are already lost.

  2. OUTSTANDING essay, Larry! I DO agree with Ted about too many so-called leaders – of the movement – becoming fame/money/power whores, leaving the vast majority of people/members of the movement ‘in the dust’. I witnessed it with my own two eyes. Still, I always maintain hope and optimism that “the movement” can make a difference. Whether it/we WILL make a difference is totally up to us – we the people who have labeled, diagnosed, and so on!

    Did you ever hear about an Arkansas statewide support group for people labeled with a mental illness, called: Personal Empowerment of the Psychiatrically Labeled – or PEOPL, Inc? It got its start in 1986 and frankly, was the single most important, positive and eye-opening experience I have had to date.

    If you have time, Larry, I would thoroughly enjoy talking with you – via telephone – about some of the incredibly amazing experiences PEOPL, Inc – and ALL of its individual members – had.

  3. Fantastic post. This blog has been delivered to my inbox for a while and it is always an enlightening and insightful read. I am a young person trying to help this movement and I see that it is inaccessible to young people. There is a lot of fighting and I have left a lot of Facebook groups. Psychiatry continues to become more powerful at the government level and prescriptions and deaths keep rising. I have taken the route of tell my personal story to whoever will listen and be safe with it but as for the overall movement, I am 24 years old and I have been following it since age 23 and I dont feel able to contribute, or know how to. I dont know how to be safe from further harm or pay bills while doing this movement work. I feel that people in the movement perpetuate the same traumas on each other as psychiatrists perpetuated against them. People are too interested in being right over being cooperative. Social skills and dialogue are not always the norm. Psychiatry originally hurt us by dividing and conquering us, and now we are dividing and defeating ourselves.

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