Grassroots–not astroturf.

Next month, the NAMI National Conference will be held in San Francisco.

Things will be happening. Steve Lopez will be cruising the hallways. Pete Earley will give his always dynamic speech while accepting his most recent–and well-deserved–award for mental health activism. And on July 5th, the first evening, there will be a screening of how this 50,000 strong grassroots organization all began.

Back in the day (and sadly, not so many days ago) the docs were pretty sure children who “caught” schizophrenia had really “cold” mothers. It wasn’t about brain chemistry. It was about faulty parenting. Just another strand of prejudice to claim as our heritage.

There were a few families, however, who bravely stood up and said two things. The first thing was, “We have mentally ill people we love.” Still today, some people are afraid to tell anyone if they have a child, sister or parent with a mental illness. Yet, I find as soon as I start speaking about the novel I am working on with a young mentally ill protagonist based on our own family story, I consistently and unintentionally solicit stories that have never been shared. It makes me wonder just how inaccurate the statistics truly are.

The second thing this group of heroes said was “Docs, you’re wrong.” They challenged the notion that mothers who don’t breastfeed their children long enough cause them to have schizophrenia. (As ignorant as this comment seems, and despite years of research to the contrary, there are still some old docs out there who believe it.)

These people–these roots–dug their heals into the ground and challenged the medical community. In the documentary to be released Fall ’09 called “When Medicine Got it Wrong,” NAMI goers will see what advocacy is all about. This is not the astroturf activism we so often see where advocates just advocate to look good. This is the kind of activism that needs to spread to all areas of predjudice and discrimination to truly form a more peaceful planet.

Wouldn’t that be cool?