The terror of the shooting at Northern Illinois University is a different sort of terror than the terror of September 11th. We can easily racially profile those Arabs that crashed planes into the World Trade Center and start wars in other countries to deal with our anger and anxieties. Yet how do we deal with it when the person who perpetrated the terror looks like us, was a good student and so on.
Recently, I’ve received emails and read blog posts suggesting a few different approaches. The first is by poligirl on DailyKos. She talks about growing up in a family where people talked openly about mental illness. She talks about dating a boy who had all the signs of mental illness. She tried to raise the issue with the family, but they didn’t hear her. Instead, the boy took his parents hostage and ended up in a standoff with a SWAT team which ended in his suicide.
Then, from the Group Psychotherapy mailing list, I learned the story of Larry Trapp. Larry was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan, who had plans to blow up a synagogue until the Cantor reached out to him, touched the underlying hurt and ultimately brought Larry out of his hatred.
All of this ties to a discussion on mailing list of Democratic activists that I’m on. One person wrote:
I just heard that Illinois has declared the university a disaster area so they can get FEDERAL FUNDS for grief counsellors. Does this make any sense? I'm sorry about what happened, but why should the rest of us pay for grief counsellors for a local event in Illinois? Anybody got a clue?
It sure makes a lot of sense to me. First and foremost, I believe that what has made our country strong and great is our willingness and our ability to help out our fellow Americans in their times of need.
Yet forgetting the altruistic aspect, there is another part we need to consider. As I read through the reports out of DeKalb, everyone is asking how this could have happened. Steven Kazmierczak seemed like the bright, helpful student, yet digging deeper, he had a troubled past. Would access to better counselors in the past have prevented this atrocity? Will Federal Funds to help people in DeKalb deal with the grief prevent future similar atrocities? I don't know, but personally, I believe it is a wise investment in the effort to keep our country safe, whether or not you have any commitment to your fellow citizens.
It is wrong to use profiling to suggest that Arab people, or people with mental illness are likely terrorists. There are many Arabs and many people with mental illness that lead wonderful lives. Yet as the stories above illustrate, by taking mental illness out of the closet and providing help to people that need it, we can make our world a better and safer place.
Perhaps it is anticipation of the AGPA conference that has brought some of my dreams to the foreground. Perhaps it is something else affecting my sleep patterns. I’m not sure. Yet, last night, I had another curious dream that has stuck with me until the morning.
I was off in some other world. It wasn’t heaven, but something closer to God’s command and control center, where he was sending people and angles to deal with issues on earth. I wasn’t sure what I was doing there and no one else seemed all that sure why I was there either. Apparently, any regular person there was supposed to have some sort of mentor or agent guiding them. In addition, there were these little tokens, sort of like the plastic toys, no larger than an inch tall, that you were supposed to have to help you get back and forth and help with your mission. As an example, one was a small pink plastic giraffe. I had no such tokens either.
So, I was trying to find a mission, a mentor and appropriate tokens, or at least to find a way to get back to earth.
February 1, 1983: Another day with nothing to say. NY Times picture of Reagan at National Conference of Religious Broadcasters praying. “The man with his eyes open is the Secret Service agent”. The hand reaches, pauses, reaches, pauses, but does not grasp the subway pole. I did not read anything except the Times, and hence, again, my writing seems to suffer.
February 2, 1983: Ab’s birthday, ground hog didn’t see his shadow. Late night drinking with Steve. Tomorrow bleed, presentation, opera. Read a little wrote a little. Good thinking at prayer group. Good night. Thirty words a night and I call this writing?
February 3, 1983: It was the beginning of your typical New York romance. A weeknight opera, after a hectic day. Great discussion. Literature, scotch, subways. I reached the two gallon mark today. Violets, wither, get poisoned. Valentines day, like back in grammar school. Send lots of cards. Concern about keeping writing private.
February 4, 1983: Tired. These late nights are taking a toll on me. Climbing into bed to read and listen to music. Tom Hoeft goodbye lunch today. Lots of Sangria. The kind you lose track of how much you’ve had after your first couple sips. Image of yesterday: Manikin on bicycle.
Last night, as I sat at a gathering of disabled people in Second Life, friends were providing me quotes from Sen. Obama’s speech at the Wisconsin Founders Dinner via Twitter. The juxtaposition was striking.
Those who read my blog know that I write about whatever strikes my fancy, from technology, to Second Life, to group dynamics, to politics, to the personal. I seek to draw themes from all of them to mix them together and the combination of Obama’s speech and the talk in Second Life provides a wonderful opportunity.
In politics, I supported Sen. Edwards this time around. Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama both seem a little too conservative for me, a little too closely connected to the corporate interests and existing power structure. Yet the current criticisms of Obama actually lead me to be more supportive of him. His critics talk about all that he has to offer is just words. Well, as a writer, I find that criticism offensive. Legislation is, after all, just words. The landmark civil rights bill of the 1960s is just words. More importantly, it is the ‘just words’ of Martin Luther King, Jr. that helped bring about such legislation. The Letter from a Birmingham Jail was just words. The “I have a dream” speech was just words. No, if you want to alienate people, disparaging other for having just words seems like a good starting point. Maybe that is part of why Oprah has endorsed Obama. She realizes that words are important, that they can move people to action.
Yet more importantly is the question of Barack Obama needing a ‘reality check’. Personally, I think we’ve had a few too many reality checks of late. We do need a little more hope. Dr. King’s letter from Birmingham jail was a response to those asking for reality checks back then. Critics were calling the actions of Dr. King that landed him in Birmingham jail, “unwise and untimely” and the calls for a reality check on Sen. Obama sound very similar.
So, let’s take a reality check from an unlikely and unreal venue, Second Life. Second Life is a place where people can create avatars, representations of themselves, that interact with one another. These avatars can be different from how people are in real life. The unattractive can become more attractive, people can become animals, they can change genders and they can experience disabilities or freedom from disabilities that they can’t in real life. The woman with a fused backbone can jump on a trampoline, a wheelchair bound person fighting MS can go down a waterslide.
I believe it was at SXSW Interactive 2005, that I was on a panel exploring the future of democracy, deliberative, direct and digital. As we explored the role of political parties, the idea of institutional memory came up, and it seems as if the Internet is changing the way we maintain institutional memory.
In 2003 and 2004, I was a volunteer in Gov. Dean’s presidential campaign. I established many close friendships during that time. When Gov. Dean decided to end his presidential bid, many of us reached out to each other online. We dealt with our grief about seeing the person we thought would best lead the country leave the race. We talked about what Gov. Dean’s delegates should do, and whether we should still vote for him in the primary, or if not, whom we should support.
We vented our frustrations about the sort of campaigns other candidates had run. We complained about the media, and most importantly, we sought ways to remain together to work on the issues that were important to us.
During that time quite a few mailing lists and websites formed. Sometimes there were conflicts between people from different groups. After all, we were all people that had cared passionately about Gov. Dean and the issues he stood for, and we cared passionately for how things would be handled afterwards.
People looked created different legal entities, 501(c)3’s, 501(c)4’s, State PACs, Federal PACs, 527s, and so on. Dean for America shut down, and a new organization, Democracy for America emerged.
I wasn’t involved with the Kucinich campaign in 2004, but it seemed like a similar process happened there, and out of it the Progressive Democrats of America emerged. PDA and DFA had a lot of similar goals and looked at ways to work together, me, and many of my friends ended up getting involved in both.
Now, it is 2008. This time around, I was a Sen. Edwards supporter. He has now suspended his campaign, and I’ve been invited to join two mailing lists of Edwards supporters, in addition the dozen or so I had been on during the campaign. I’ve been asked to participate in various online sites and hear discussions about other ones yet to emerge. Like in 2004, I, and all of us, wait to hear what Sen. Edwards will suggest we do going forward.