An article by Myra Kovary, a member of MFI’s United Nations team and the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, in which she describes the connection between Bastille Day and the history of the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance.
By Myra Kovary
Ithaca, New York
July 1, 2008
In the mid 1970’s, I wished my harp teacher a “Happy 4th of July”. My harp teacher’s name was Alice Chalifoux and she was the principal harpist with the Cleveland Orchestra from 1931- 1974. Her family was of French origin and her response to me was that she celebrated Bastille Day rather than the 4th of July. I was surprised by her response and I never forgot it.
Several years later I was involved in organizing a demonstration with a group of comrades from the Mental Patients Alliance of Central New York in Ithaca. I recalled my harp teacher’s comment and I also remembered (from my high school history class) that at the beginning of the French Revolution when the French citizens stormed the Bastille, they freed the prisoners from the Bastille. Some psychiatric inmates were also freed. I was also reminded of the scene in the film “The King of Hearts” when a British soldier opened the gates of a mental hospital and freed the inmates. I suggested that we hold our demonstration on Bastille Day.
The first Bastille Day demonstration was organized by the Mental Patients Alliance of Central New York (in Ithaca) on July 14, 1981. We held our first demonstration against forced psychiatric treatment on the grounds of Willard Psychiatric Center — a notorious psychiatric center operated by the State of New York in Ovid, New York. We invited George and Mary Ann Ebert and others from the Mental Patients Alliance in Syracuse to join us. We carried signs saying “Forced Treatment is Torture”, “Fry French Fries, Not Brains”, “Stop Forced Psychiatric Treatment”, etc. We honored friends and comrades who did not survive their experiences with psychiatry. The next year, we demonstrated outside the Tompkins County Mental Health Department in Ithaca. The Mental Patients Alliance of Central New York (in Ithaca) has since reorganized as the Ithaca Mental Patients Advocacy Coalition (IMPAC). IMPAC continues to hold occasional Bastille Day demonstrations in Ithaca. The Mental Patients Alliance in Syracuse has reorganized as the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance (also knows as The Alliance). Since the early 1980’s, The Alliance has taken the lead in spreading the word about Bastille Day throughout the mental patients liberation movement.