Mixing advocacy approaches give me fresh insight.
“I am young, involved and in control of my destiny.
I am free, powerful, hopeful, and people like me…. there are many.
Sixty pushups, a six mile run, or sixty miles to Lees Summit.
I can get there with no gas – I’ll watch OPEC plummet.
Setbacks I take ‘em, with pancakes and bacon
Whipped cream on my coffee, and let life just come through me.
This world I do give a damn, thought I’m not the man
I do have a plan, and power, and a way….”
This is an excerpt from one my earlier poems called “I Pay No Gas Taxes.” My plan, power, and way is to unite the mental health advocacy community with the bicycle pedestrian advocacy communities. I use interactive performances combining spoken word poetry, audience engagement, and statistical information about the importance of exercise for mental wellness. I’ve ridden my bicycle the 200 – 300 miles each way from Kansas City to Wichita, KS, Lake of the Ozarks, MO, and Omaha, NE for mental health conferences.
People at the conferences say, “I didn’t know you could ride a bicycle that far,” or “Thanks for showing me a new possibility.” Physical wellness and exercise are extremely important topics in the mental health community. People who have been diagnosed with a “serious mental illness” have a 25 year lower life expectancy than people without that diagnosis, mainly due to preventable cardiovascular risk factors. Transportation is often the biggest hurdle for people with disabilities, and active transportation is a crucial solution to both problems. Mixing advocacy approaches is essential to solving our community problems.
How I’ve been mixing advocacy approaches in mental health advocacy and bicycle pedestrian advocacy work
One of the first presentations I put together was called “Building America: Changing Lives and Communities with Active Transportation.” It included statistics, spoken word or performance poems, and an indoor scavenger hunt or wellness discussion activity based on the alley kat races held by bike messengers and urban cyclists. I went around and performed this workshop at 4 of the 7 community mental health centers in metro Kansas City. People wrote on their evaluations concrete action plans, like, “I will promise myself something and go after it,” or “Go back to an activity I was happy with,” or “I plan to contact the government and president about mental health.”
In 2008 at the national mental health consumer conference in Buffalo, NY, 650 people at the conference had the opportunity to learn more about the power of active transportation. The program was called, “informative and inspirational” and “the most interactive workshop I attended at the whole conference.” One person said, “I really like the ideas about how improving life for a group improves the whole society.” The Building America presentation contains a powerful and mobilizing assertion that bicycle pedestrian advocacy improves the life of even inactive motorists, just as civil rights improves the lives of white people, women’s liberation frees men as well, and mental health advocacy improves the lives of people without any disabilities. This is an idea first developed by Saul Alinsky, one of the first “radicals” and community organizers.
How art can bring people together when mixing advocacy approaches
By using spoken word poetry in my presentations, I can communicate complex ideas and emotion in a much more dense form. One of the very first presentations I did was about competing in the Olympics in Judo. I put together a 60 minute talk with 32 slides. Then later I wrote a spoken word poem about the experience. My 7 1/2 poem had more images, stories, and a lot more emotion than the 60 minute talk. This is what I mean by density.
I have a poem called “I Am Urban,” about experiences relating to the world during her everyday bike commute. “….I slide through the glide as ride. I greet who I meet with a bell and a wave. All the teachers at Crestview say hi when I ride by. I ring for the suits at the Max stop at city market…” In 2008 this poem was incorporated into a kickoff party to launch a program called KC Fit Net. This was a walking challenge sponsored in collaboration with Corinna’s former employer, Mental Health America of the Heartland, and the seven Kansas City community mental health centers.
Twenty five mental health service recipients from each of the eight agencies were given a pedometer and helped to track steps to increase their walking for a three month period. We helped people to log their steps into the website and to encourage people to keep walking. The leading walker from her agency gave a speech at the awards ceremony at the end describing all the things she discovered when she started walking.
“I walked through Loose Park everyday,” she said. “I saw a hawk that lives in this park in the middle of he city. I got to say hi to the same people with their strollers each day. I saw the leaves change, and I got to enjoy the crisp air. I got my nephew walking, and we worked on our recovery together.” Some of the other 200 people who participated in the program talked about losing weight, sleeping better, improving their diabetes, needing less medications, and finding a new sense of peace and accomplishment with the simple act of walking more.
Mixing advocacy approaches was crucial to my recovery from 12 mental health diagnoses.
I am still passionate about active transportation because it was one of the things that helped me recover from 12 mental health diagnoses. Sometimes I can sum up the story by saying, “I was really ill for a long time, and now I am not,” I tell people. “Now I have a great life with an exciting full time job, lots of friends, engaging hobbies, and place I am proud to live.” I attribute cycling with much of this change. In the mental health field there is a concept called personal medicine, developed by Pat Deegan. Personal medicine is both the reasons we find for wanting to stay well and the things we do in order to stay well. Pill medicine is what we take, but personal medicine is what we do.
I love helping people find what works for them to stay well. This is what we talk about now in our Poetry for Pesonal Power events that I’m doing across Missouri. We have students talk about what helps them get through tough times in their lives. Some of the students come up with really amazing experiences. Mixing advocacay approaches helps me to constantly know of fresh ways to see problems.