Solidarity across difference: organising for democratic alliances

Mckeown, Michael orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-0235-1923 and Spandler, Helen orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0970-5141 (2015) Solidarity across difference: organising for democratic alliances. In: Madness, Distress and the Politics of Disablement. Policy Press, pp. 271-286. ISBN 9781447314592

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Ideas which help bring mental health users and survivors together with the wider disability movement are increasingly important given the current threats to welfare provision and the need to defend (and sometimes extend) support, both to mental health service users and disabled people. Questions arise, however, over the extent to which such understandings, and the means by which they are arrived at, might foster solidarity – both within the survivor movement itself and between the movement and potential disabled allies. This chapter will not critique the merits or otherwise of particular models and theories of distress and disability (attended to elsewhere in this book). Rather, we will explore how individuals and groups might take part in discussion and debate to arrive at a better informed politics of mental health and disability (and understanding of the links between them). This should, in turn, lead to more productive alliances within and between mental health and disability movements. This is not to say that separate and autonomous organising within specific disability groups is always ill-advised. However, a broader politics of social change also requires alliance-building across difference.

We recognise that any aspirations for alliances or consensus ought to be tempered by an appreciation that relations along the way are likely to be unsettled and unsettling (Church, 1995). As in any context where ideas and strategy are open to debate, there is an ever present possibility of the sort of acrimony or ‘splitting’ that can be the enemy of collective action. We suggest that ideas about deliberative democracy and relational organising might help frame strategic debates between or within different user groups about contested issues such as who is more ‘deserving’ of support or whether we need more or less professional intervention. We start by outlining these ideas, then explore particular settings where critical dialogue among and between psychiatric survivor activists and disability activists can be worked with. Building on our experiences of community campaigning and trade union struggles, we explore their possibilities for forging productive alliances.

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