Thursday, November 04, 2010

Dear Voters, Where are your brains?

Tuesday was an abysmal day for me. I was at the gym, watching the returns come in on the TVs there. As each Democrat lost their race in Florida, as well as the many who lost throughout the U.S., I cringed. I couldn't withhold my disgust and muttered a few choice words out loud since nobody was within hearing range. A woman came up to me and asked how things were looking on the news. "Bad", I said, "all the Democrats are losing here". "WHAT? You've got to be kidding!" Yes, Kendrick Meek, who I voted for and who was a pro-choice Congressional candidate, lost. The National Organization for Women had him as a speaker at our state conference last year. I was impressed, and he was on my side on all the main issues. Alan Grayson, a true hero who I admire greatly, lost. Alex Sink, our only hope for a decent governor, lost.

Yes, folks, in case you didn't know already, I'm not a Republican. I don't talk politics much on this blog, because it's not the main topic here, and I realize it is a bit divisive. But I'm very interested in politics, because they affect my life. And our governments are relevant to mental illness too. After all, it is generally not the Republican party that increases social services programs' funding. It is generally Democrats. Like it or not, that is the fact of the matter. I am not totally enthralled with everything ever done by the Democratic party, but I definitely vote for Democrats, and am not the least bit ashamed to say that. I would vote for the Green party but they hardly ever get anyone on a ballot.

Programs like Medicaid, public transportation, public health, mental health treatment, all of these directly affect those of us who live with mental illnesses in a very powerful way. I depend on the government for certain things, as do many people I know who are either on disability, or living in subsidized housing, or relying on Medicaid to pay for their healthcare. In the future, hopefully, Obama's health plan will be useful, although, it would have been much better for all of those who have any kind of health problem if we would have had a national Medicare-for-all plan come through the Congress, but that's a lot to ask for when dealing with the corporate-funded politicians who don't want to give an inch of anything to anybody ever, even if it is something as vitally important and something that should be a basic human right, as health care.

So, I wasn't happy to see the House of Representatives become largely Republican the other night. I'm never going to be happy about it. It's not the end of the world, and certainly, there are many limits to what Democrats will do to help people too, but in my opinion the more Republicans there are in power, the worse the situation is for the people at large. Most people are not wealthy. Most people are not business owners. Most people are not white (shocking though that is to many). Most people are not adequately represented by politicians, as most politicians are funded by corporate powers that be. The guy that just become the governor of my state did so with many millions of dollars he had available of his own money. He basically bought the election, even though he is a known crook who belongs in jail. And there's nothing I can do about it.

I think it's vital for people to vote, and I have mentioned that here before. I regret that I did not mention it here in the past week, when the elections occurred. Women fought for 150 years to win the right to vote in this country, before we finally got it in 1920, a year when my great-grandmother was alive and well. I don't take this right lightly. There were years when I was psychotic and did not vote, either because I was too mentally out of it or simply because I didn't have any transportation and was preoccupied with my life problems. But now, I always vote. I would encourage everyone to do so, whether you agree with my views or totally disagree with them. It's important that people participate in a democracy, if we can call what we have a democracy (I'm not really sure it's an accurate term). But if you look at the track records of what our government has done regarding programs that help people - programs that are desperately needed by people living with mental illnesses - well, it's not a very pretty sight. The track record is quite ugly. What funding we do get for mental health and social services is won through hard fights. If there were no advocacy groups, no activists, no non profit organizations fighting in this battle, there would be no social service programs at all, most likely - no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidized housing, community mental health centers, health department clinics. If some politicians had their way, all these things would disappear. As it is, the funding in Florida for mental health is dismal at best. We rank 49 out of the 50 states when it comes to mental health treatment according to NAMI. We can't afford to lose any more ground. But on Tuesday, we just lost a lot.

I'm trying not to be totally pessimistic about this situation. I know that there are people in the government who do care and who will do the right thing. They're just outnumbered, particularly in Florida. We have a lot of ignorant people here, perhaps a lot of self-centered people who don't care about others, a lot of money being spent on very ugly political campaigns like the one that just elected a former CEO who plead the Fifth 75 times in a court case over the illegal misdeeds of the healthcare company he ran, as governor. Luckily, just recently when I spoke at the conference on homelessness, I heard the Secretary of the Department and Children and Families speak, and he definitely seems to be on our side. He had good things to say about the need for funding for programs that keep people with mental illnesses off the streets. He wants to get funding for clubhouses like The Vincent House, a great place in Pinellas Park for people who live with mental illnesses. But he's not the governor or a member of the legislature, and those people who are have a lot of say over the kind of funding our programs get. He can only do so much. I am hoping that he does as much as possible.

As I look to the media for information, I am often reminded of how biased much of the media is, particularly such outlets as Fox "News". H.B.W. at his blog, Letters from the Sanitarium just wrote this good post about Bill O'Reilly making jokes about suicide. Bill O'Reilly is not exactly one of my favorite people. But Amy Goodman is. She does an excellent radio program called "Democracy Now", which you may be familiar with, and has written a number of great books. I have seen her speak twice, and got an autographed book from her this past summer. She wrote this piece on the way advertising influences the media's reporting on elections. I think it is definitely worth a quick read.

Meanwhile, those of us who advocate for people who live with mental illnesses, for poor people, for homeless people, for women, for gay people, for people in general, will continue to go forward, and fight the good fight. I found a good example today of folks doing this at the website Minds Interrupted, about theatrical performances created to further awareness about mental illness. Also, taking after the excellent educational program Minds on the Edge, which you should definitely check out if you haven't already, this year's annual meeting of NAMI Florida will have a "Minds on the Edge" panel, and I am planning on being there along with the fellow members of our chapter.

In two years, we'll have another presidential election, and hopefully, by then, the majority of voters will see that the nation needs progress, not another move backwards. Until then, I won't give up hope. The "Tea Party" does not speak for the majority of the people, certainly does not speak for me, and will not have success at taking over this government if the people with brains that operate have anything to say about it.


  1. I'm Australian, so I grew up in an different (although relatively similar) two party political system. Although the system in Australia leaves a lot to be desired, there are many advantages over the US system, as far as I can see.

    1) Voting is compulsory. This means that, whether I think it is right or wrong, the party that winds up in power does basically represent the choice the majority want. And elections take place on a Saturday. Having them on Tuesdays, as in the US, is ridiculous. Various commentators have said that if the US had compulsory voting, the Democrats would have done much better.
    2) We have a stronger welfare state than the US. Unemployment benefits are not limited to a certain period, and not paid for by deductions from one's own paycheck, but from the government's tax revenues as a whole.
    3) While conditions are far from ideal, those on unemployment or disability can get essentially free medical treatment. And even for those who are not, we can get a certain proportion back through the Australian Medicare system (which is for everyone, unlike the US model, which applies only to people over 65, or the US medicaid, which applies only to low-income people).

    But looking the way things work in the US (admittedly from afar) the chances of any of these things happening there seem rather low.

  2. Oh, you make me want to move to Australia! Compulsory voting is an excellent idea. And it would be so logical for the government to pay for campaigns. People have tried to get legislation passed to do that here, but it did not pass, of course. I wish our country took a lesson or two from yours.

  3. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of things that need fixing in Australia too. But America's electoral and social welfare systems don't make a lot of sense to me.

    On somewhat of a tangent, I simply can't understand the mindset that health care should be something that should be paid for. In a civilized society, it should be a right.

    From what I hear, the northern European countries have it right. Taxes pay for civilization, and you get what you pay for. Higher taxes tend to mean that the population gets better services.


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