Wednesday, June 7, 2017

URGENT! CALL TO ACTION-Vote for the NAMI Board to Focus on Serious Mental Illness

Teresa Pasquini
El Sobrante, CA
JUN 3, 2017 — Dear Supporters,

First, it is critical that all signers of this petition, “educate, empower and engage” your local affiliate leaders in the upcoming NAMI Board of Directors election issues. There are critical decisions at stake and we all have to make our voices heard for the voiceless.

As I stated in my previous update, I strongly support the “Focus on Serious Mental Illness” ticket for the upcoming NAMI Board of Directors election. The ticket is made up of Lauren Rettagliata, Dj Jaffe, Mary Zdanowicz and Robert Laitman, M.D. Additionally, I also strongly support Frankie Berger who is NOT on the ticket but is a very strong advocate for people and families living with serious mental illnesses.

The voting process is currently underway and it does not allow individual members to cast votes. Therefore, it is imperative that each of you contact your local NAMI affiliate or State NAMI Org in writing and tell them to support the candidates who will focus on the needs of our families and loved ones who are living with serious mental illnesses.

Second, I want to express my strongest disappointment with the recent controversy started by the President of NAMI, Steve Pitman. This week, Mr. Pitman sent an email to local and state affiliates with a not so subtle message that I believe inappropriately steers members against the five candidates I listed above. This email and another written by the Executive Director of NAMI Maine has created a lot of controversy and anger among many NAMI members who feel that these NAMI leaders abused their power in an attempt to influence this upcoming NAMI Board election. See Pete Early's blog discussing this controversy:
NAMI Board President’s Email Sparks Controversy. Called ‘Unconscionable’ By “Focus on Serious Mental Illness” Candidate

I assume Mr. Pitman is a very good man and I respect his service to NAMI. However, the 5 people that I support for the Board of Directors are also good people who are dedicated advocates. They deserved a fair chance to present their positions without collusion and clear ballot engineering. Why are NAMI leaders allowed to campaign against these good people who are NAMI members in good standing?

Mr. Pitman’s email suggests a “big tent” vs. “small tent” competition between those who have declared a desire to focus NAMI on SMI. This again feels like “othering” to some of us who support the SMI focus and believe that our families have been left out of the “big tent” and forced into the “small tent” just like some of our loved ones have been forced into solitary jail cells. We do not feel embraced by the NAMI President's message. One advocate said, “No the issue is not big tent versus small tent-unless one wants the current circus show to continue. The issue is how can NAMI best improve the lives of those with serious mental illness. The MI in NAMI needs to mean something.”

It is clear from the comments on this petition that we all want NAMI to mean something more to our families. I know that Lauren Rettagliata, Dj Jaffe, Mary Zdanowicz, Robert Laitman, M.D. and Frankie Berger are committed to a tent that holds all perspectives with radical respect.

Sadly, I believe the 2017-2018 NAMI Board election has been compromised. It is the obligation of any non-profit’s Board and Executive Director to ensure trust in the organization and its board election process. Elections must carry the highest level of integrity and credibility that ensures those who are running feel it was fair. If there is a perception of tampering then the outcome may leave a smell of illegitimacy for those who lose or those who are elected. We have seen that scenario played out in our recent Presidential election. That has been bad for our democracy and it is also bad for NAMI. We must voice our objections to the current NAMI Board of Directors to the perceived bias against certain candidates. If unity is the desired goal, then NAMI must make equal room for all perspectives.

Finally, I became a NAMI member again last week before this controversy began and I won’t let this controversy push me out of the tent, big or small. I have a right to be in NAMI and voice my perspectives and it felt good to rejoin and re-engage. I felt warmly welcomed by my local NAMI Contra Costa chapter who also welcomed Dj Jaffe to speak at our NAMI Contra Costa FaithNet community training. I didn’t hear anyone complain about his presentation and heard many comments praising his book, Insane Consequences. There were many peers and family members present who were thrilled to have their books signed and photos were taken with the author. It was a great day of community building and shared learning. Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be at the state and national NAMI organizations, too?

I often refer to myself as a recovering angry mom. I have worked hard to take my anger wall down and work towards a system of care for all. So, I refuse to be silenced, shunned or pushed into a small tent. I have worked in local, state and national partnerships with many peers, families, providers and organizations to help improve the health, mental health, and mental illness systems. I have fought hard to protect the rights of families like mine and peers to be equal partners in co-creating system change.

Many family members with SMI adult children feel silenced, marginalized and unheard by NAMI’s shift to a “big tent” philosophy. It is my hope that NAMI will find a way to make room for us all to be together again in one tent and feel welcomed and embraced. I have seen it happen. It is possible.

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