Advocacy is Not Dead . . . but we may be killing it!

In an email discussion through one of our North Carolina advocacy web sites, it was stated that “real advocacy is dead in North Carolina.” The writer also expressed a concern that  advocacy in North Carolina has been compromised because of political or financial motivations.  For many years, this has been a frustration shared in many discussions across North Carolina.

Trust, an attribute of transparent relationships where all voices are equally respected, for too long has not been a characteristic of our politics, our practices, or our communications in this state.  And once trust is lost, much is required of all parties involved to truly regain it.  

For trust to be restored, people have to be willing to take risks.  Someone must risk taking a first step toward a plan, a path, a simple discussion, a potential solution–even though there is the chance that his or her efforts may be rejected or misinterpreted.  And sometimes, a person may even need to publicly and frankly admit they may have made a mistake, or that they have been wrong.

Distrust is like a cancer.  It spreads its worst effects so easily in conversations, accusations, and destructive tactics.  And worse, it spreads beyond one social group to another–as long as we are connected, then we are at risk of this cancer.  So there is distrust within groups and there is distrust across groups.  Even advocacy organizations have difficulty working together because of this lack of trust and suspiciousness. 

Now we face 2011.  A terrible budget shortfall now  threatens the services we do have.  With finite financial resources, North Carolina must offer better quality services that are more readily accessible, better connected, and values-based.  Further, our state will have to respond to the investigation of its failure to serve citizens, harboring them instead in large institutional settings.  Hopefully, thoughtful system changes will decrease crises and will promote well-being, honoring the strengths and individual will of consumers to improve the way they live–no matter what the disability. 

But how will our state make gains in any of these areas during this upcoming year without our first taking the necessary risks to restore trust and hope among ourselves as advocates?  Because now, more than ever, our involvement as consumers and otherwise rights-oriented advocates is necessary.  

And if we are to succeed, we need to be able to approach law-makers and administrative decision makers with a unified voice, real facts, more true stories shared by system users, and well-studied solutions.  Because legislators and DHHS will have to think like they have never thought before.  And they will need the help of the grass roots to develop real answers.

The rubber is about to hit the road.  Will we all be there?  Will we empower change to become progress?  Are we willing to put aside assumptions and work together?  Because there is too much at stake if we don’t.  So it is time to reach beyond our distrust and work together.

Please keep watching this site if you are interested in collaborating to gain real ground in 2011.  There will probably be a coordinating effort in early February.  As NC CANSO hears details, we’ll be sure to let you know! 

 or in any other capacity involved in our public mental health services.

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NEW LEGISLATURE, UNCERTAIN TIMES, AND OUR NEED TO BE INVOLVED

The tension in Raleigh will grow in the next weeks and months as there will be new lawmakers filling chairs who are of a new party majority for the first time in 100 years!  Then the two opposing forces–poor economic times and federal demands for more services to ensure that citizens’ rights are respected (options to adult care home living) will create a stage where consumer activists must play a role!  This tension can be dynamic, producing positive change with your well-considered input.  Or the tension can just be a deterrant to any cooperation among lawmakers if they stall over opposing views.  Our voices can help make the difference! Be sure to stay tuned to this site and to the NC Mental Hope advocacy web site (http://ncmentalhope.org/ to keep up with news articles and impressions on the isssues. We may all need to go to Raleigh together this spring!

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