STOP SHOCKING OUR MOTHERS AND GRANDMOTHERS-a brief report on the Toronto march-and-demo

This was a Mother’s Day like no other. If you didn’t participate in the arts-based, feminist-driven anti-electroshock march and demo on Mother’s Day, May13, in Toronto, you missed an empowering and historic event. Its theme and demand was STOP SHOCKING OUR MOTHERS AND GRANDMOTHERS. On a bright, sunny and clear Sunday afternoon, 140 people – young mothers, women survivors of sexual and physical violence, shock survivors, antipoverty/social justice activists, antipsychiatry activists, and advocates – came together to rally and protest against electroshock (electroconvulsive therapy or “ECT”)–particularly its increasing use on young women who’ve just given birth and elderly women over 60. Another blatant example of psychiatry’s traditional targeting and preying on some of the most vulnerable among us. So-called average citizens and highly educated health professionals believe that “ECT” was banned or outlawed years ago – unfortunately they’re wrong. In fact, electroshock was never banned and is being increasingly prescribed and administered to many thousands of women and elderly people, and fraudulently promoted as a ”safe, effective and lifesaving treatment” for “bipolar affective disorder”, postpartum depression, and other types of ”mental illness.”

Organized by the 4 year-old Toronto-based Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA), about 100 of us first assembled around 1:15pm in front of the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry – a notorious shock mill located at the northeast corner of College & Spadina. At 1:30, we started marching peacefully and loudly shouting anti-shock chants along College Street en route to Queen’s Park, the site of the rally & demo. For a change, the Toronto police, who had signed a copy of our march permit, didn’t once harass us but rode near us on their bikes. A lot of credit for keeping things cool must go to our volunteer marshals, coordinated by shock survivor-activist Mel Starkman; they wore bright-yellow armbands and acted as our friendly escorts.

On the march from the Clarke to Queen’s Park we chanted and shouted slogans like

STOP SHOCK NOW

ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR, WE DON’T WANT YOUR SHOCKS NO MORE,
FIVE-SIX-SEVEN EIGHT, SMASH THE PSYCHIATRIC STATE

HEY-HEY, HO-HO, ELECTROSHOCK HAS GOT TO GO,

SURVIVORS UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED,

HEY-HEY, CPA (Canadian Psychiatric Assn),
HOW MANY WOMEN DID YOU SHOCK TODAY?

Mot of us proudly carried an anti-shock sign; all the signs were made a couple days before by hardworking and creative members and OISE students as members of CAPA’s Arts and Media Committees. Our messages were crystal-clear, feminist, powerful, empowering, demanding, and consciousness-raising:

STOP ZAPPING SISTAH
STOP ZAPING MAMA
STOP ZAPPING AUNTY
STOP ZAPPING GRANNY

PLEASE DON’T ZAP MAMA
MEMORY IS SACRED
SHOCK CAUSES MEMORY LOSS
ECT IS HEAD TRAUMA
ECT KILLS MINDS

MEN ARE ADDICTED TO SHOCKING WOMEN – WHY?

ELECTROSHOCK – THE GENTLEMAN’S WAY TO BEAT UP A WOMAN
ELECTROSHOCK IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
MAKE CANADA A SHOCK-FREE ZONE

Roughly 20 minutes later, we marched into Queen’s Park greeted by other women and men and kids and keynote speaker/CAPA chair Dr. Bonnie Burstow
Bonnie first read out the names of 27 or more organizations endorsing our demo– a powerful mixture of women’s advocacy, survivor support, and social justice groups and coalitions. She pointed out why this demo focuses on women– they’re the main targets of shock; 2-3 times more women than men are electroshocked in Canada, the United Sates and other countries; women suffer more trauma and damage, the latter fact conclusively substantiated by the recently published ‘Sackeim study’. As Bonnie also asserted, this demo marks the start of an international campaign and movement to universally ban electroshock – for the first time, similar anti-shock demos were held simultaneously in two other major cities: in Montreal by Action Autonomie and MindFreedom Ireland in Cork, Ireland. This historic fact was loudly applauded. As Bonnie also stated, electroshock always causes brain damage including permanent memory loss; it seriously violates people’s human rights including the right to health and life. Electroshock is not a medical treatment – it’s an assault on the body-mind-spirit, “menticide”.

Several women shock survivors also spoke out; others sent CAPA personal and powerful statements, which we were honoured to read aloud. Paivi Laine, who also spoke out at the CAPA press conference on May 10 and two years earlier during CAPA-sponsored public hearings in Toronto City Hall, was very impressive as she courageously voiced some of her personal pain and determination to help abolish shock. Bonnie, Shaindl Diamond, and I read out personal and powerful statements of support from a few other shock survivors: Sue Clark in Ottawa, Wendy Funk in Whitehorse, Yukon, and Leonard Roy Frank in San Francisco, California. Support statements and greetings from sister organizations Action Autonomie in Quebec and Mindfreedom Ireland were also noted and deeply appreciated.

A few moments of powerful drama unfolded as we witnessed several women sitting on chairs as if waiting to be shocked, then suddenly falling to the ground one-by-one holding 10-foot-high women puppets. Another featured attraction was listening to the talented folksinger/artist Roger Ellis and violinist Shelley Coopersmith; they made us feel more relaxed and empowered as they and the rest of us sang Roger’s new song STOP SHOCK TREATMENT. The nutritious free food and happy voices of children and hugs from sisters and brothers, friends and relatives including the presence of my daughter Lisa made this Toronto demo very special and supportive.

I will remember and be inspired by this demo for many years to come, and hope many other women’s organizations, psychiatric survivor groups, social justice and human rights coalitions in many other cities in Canada and other countries will soon join our struggle to abolish electroshock. As Bonnie asserted in her Anti-Electroshock Proclamation, “We vow to return, return, and return again until this abomination is no more.”
– Don Weitz

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