NARPA Conference Inspires Activism

Submitted by admin on Sat, 02/11/2006 - 23:46


Posted on Feb 12, 06

For those of you who haven't heard through the grapevine or weren't there yourselves, this is Oryx Cohen's account of the recent National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy - NARPA - conference held in Hartford CT last Nov.

NARPA Conference 2005 (
Reclaiming Freedom: A Call to Action
By Oryx Cohen

“Being at this conference with so many survivors of the system, like me, makes me feel so free. It’s like breathing pure oxygen.”
Dianne Dragon, Freedom Center Organizer

The National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy’s (NARPA’s) 23rd conference took place November 17 – 20, 2005 at the Sheraton Hotel in Hartford, Connecticut. NARPA is a unique national human rights and policy organization uniting mental health consumers, psychiatric survivors, and ex-patients with advocates, attorneys, mental health professionals and other allies. For the past 25 years, many feel NARPA has offered the best national opportunity for mental health consumer/survivors and our allies to bond in solidarity for social justice.

As the co-chair of the NARPA 2005 conference, I am pleased to report that NARPA veterans (those who have been coming for 10 plus years) are saying that this conference was one of the top five NARPA conferences ever. For one, we drew over 250 people to NARPA 2005, our highest attendance in years. The hotel accommodations were very comfortable and both the NARPA and hotel staff went above and beyond to make this an enjoyable experience. Downtown Hartford was just a hike over the Connecticut River away and there were free shuttles for the less brave souls. But those folks who stayed in the Sheraton for four days, like me, were equally rewarded with top-notch keynotes and workshops including:

A keynote by Judi Chamberlin, a psychiatric survivor, longtime activist, and author of On Our Own. Judi talked about what it means to be a hero and reflected on the lives of Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez. She asked the question, can we afford to be silent when our brothers and sisters are still getting forcibly drugged and dehumanized right next door?

A keynote by Dr. David Cohen, author of Your Drug May Be Your Problem, where he presented a brilliant analysis that questioned the legitimacy of the entire drug prescription industry.

Three powerful keynotes by Attorney Peter Cubra from New Mexico, Aaryce Hayes, an advocate from Texas, and Mark Davis, a 20-year veteran of the consumer/survivor movement from Philadelphia. They spoke about the nature of freedom, fighting to end restraints, and Bisexual/Gay/Intersex/Lesbian/Transgender/Questioning Rights, respectively. I had a lot of fun introducing Mark Davis, who came to entertain and educate us over lunch on Friday as “Miss Altered States.”

Filmmakers Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation) and Angela Shelton (Searching for Angela Shelton) not only hosted screenings of their films Friday and Saturday night, respectively, but also participated fully in the conference. In fact, Jonathan Caouette brought his mother Renee, who is the star of Tarnation, to participate. They were blown away by NARPA, as they didn’t think an organization like this was possible (they’re from Texas). They were amazed and inspired to see so many people who had made full recoveries from diagnoses like schizophrenia.

Workshops included special tracks focusing on trauma (as so many of us have experienced trauma/abuse in our personal lives and retraumatization in the mental health system) and criminal justice (as our largest psychiatric institutions are now in prisons and jails). We were fortunate to have diverse presenters like Paul Wright, Gisela Sartori from the Yukon, and Sabine Dick from the Runaway House in Berlin, Germany; attorneys from advocacy organizations across the country including the Bazelon Center of Mental Health Law (Jennifer Mathis and Ira Burnim), Massachusetts’s Center for Public Representation (Susan Stefan), and the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (Jim Gottstein); progressive mental health professionals such as Dr. Peter Stastny from New York; and consumers/survivors like Jonathan Dosick from M-POWER, and Freedom Center Organizers Will Hall, Dianne Dragon, Martial La Roche, Abigail Adams, and yours truly.

Those of us from the Freedom Center would like to thank M-POWER for providing us with scholarships enabling us to attend. Because of NARPA 2005 we made several connections, which included meeting Attorney Galina Sergen from the Bazelon Center. Thanks to Galina, Freedom Center recently returned from a trip to Washington D.C. to do two presentations for them and the surrounding community. More importantly we established a relationship with the Bazelon Center that could help prevent future abuses and build the healing community we all envision.

We hope to see even more people at the NARPA 2006 Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Come help us celebrate NARPA’s 25th anniversary!


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