Editor At Large: As I See It
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
When I was young I was proud to vote. I felt it my responsibility as a citizen. Also, it meant I had the right to go into the voting booth and vote for the candidate of my choice. Voting meant a great deal to my mother, a naturalized citizen and me. She voted because she had the right. Maybe because of my mother I still vote regularly. I personally felt empowered. I felt a part of the process.
Change, I have learned, is gradual and takes time. Viewpoints of political candidates should to some degree mirror your thoughts and values for what is needed from the mental health system. Without knowing where individual candidates stand on mental health issues is throwing away your vote.
Lately, choices of candidates are blurred. Whether you are a New Democrat or a Compassionate Republican, the differences are blurred. You have to go below the basic issues that the news media and the politicians give us.
Join consumer advocacy groups. Learn the issues and give testimony at mental health hearings. Put your name and address on mailing lists. Send letters to the media when their views are outrageous and stigmatizing. Give your name and that of your support group. Don't sit back and let others speak for you.
I generally vote as a disheartened consumer. Legislators don't speak to mental illness issues all that often. If we continue to vote, politicians will realize we are a viable voting block. Visit your legislators with issues that concern you and those of consumers. In time, stigma must be eliminated. We must show a more positive attitude towards our own illness. We must not have others stand up for us.
The National Voter Empowerment Project encourages consumers to register and then vote. The Project takes no political position. We have the right to vote. Yet, it is ironic how many consumers don't realize they have the right to vote. I'll put it another way. We can't be kept from voting because of mental illness. We can vote for politicians who understand our needs.
When you realize only fifty percent of eligible voters do vote at all, we have a great advantage. We have issues that haven't been met. However, we can use our vote to get our issues met. We can be a voting block in a way that benefits us in meaningful ways.