Icarus Winter Solstice '05 Update

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Solstice for the national Icarus organizing collective was a raucous party at Sascha and Ashley's farm in upstate New York with much dancing, singing, and music playing. The past year has been a time of tremendous growth and success, exciting and scary, joyful and difficult.

Icarus Project has four paid part-time staff and some paid consultant time, but at its heart this is a volunteer project; our staff put in way more hours than could ever be compensated for. We've been focusing on expanding our volunteer worker base because the amount that needs to get done is growing by leaps and bounds. We're also expanding collaboration with the emerging radical mental health movement around the country, with people inspired by the Icarus Project stepping up to start new groups.

We've brought a new amazing webmaster on board, Linda42, who has years of old school computer programming experience and has been slicing and dicing Icarus code with ease. The original site forums were taken down in summer after a hack attack and major security issues, and Linda installed a new, better functioning solution based on open source software. Linda has also been busy at work in her alchemical laboratory reverse engineering our site architecture, and we're fast establishing a firmer foundation that will overcome some lingering site issues. Also joining the web team is Rafael McCloud, whose knowledge of the myriad of contemporary software solutions is of tremendous help.

After learning the hard way that an open community still needs to keep an eye out for safety and group responsibility, we've put a call out to everyone on the site to help keep things within the bounds of our Users Agreement. A new feature on the forums allows anyone to report a questionable post with the "RPT" button, and we are pulling together a moderation team to help keep things feeling safe and supportive. We're also streamlining the forum structure, adding some topic areas and clarifying others, to deepen the range of discussions going on and keep the ideas flowing.

Local organizing is getting rolling across the country. The hub of activity in New York City, combined with the discussions taking place on our website and widespread distribution of our book, have generated requests for information about forming potential local groups in Tucson, AZ, Boston, MA, Seattle, WA, San Francisco, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Austin, TX, Baltimore, MD, Washington, DC, and London, England.

This year we have individually and collectively participated in and co-organized dozens of talks and workshops, inspired members of our website to connect The Icarus Project with local events, and ditstributed our book Navigating the Spaces to the brink of running out of its second printing. We spoke on a mental health panel at the Portland Zine Symposium in August; Icarus Project members from Austin, TX, Portland, OR, and New York City came together to facilitate a mental health workshop at Born of Flames, a conference on community solutions to sexual assault; we were part of the Freeskool radical mental health classes in Berkeley covering such topics as shamanism, wellness practices, and medication; and we joined a San Francisco panel discussion organized by the intenational human rights group Mindfreedom. Icarus was at a radical feminist skillshare and concert in Oswego, NY, and a punk rock benefit in Brooklyn in September drew more than 300 participants, while, at the other end of the spectrum, presentations at the International Society for the Psychological Study of Schizophrenia and Psychosis in Boston, MA and the International Network of Treatment Alternatives for Recovery in Killarney, Ireland greatly expanded our contacts with progressive mental health professionals and advanced our goals of reshaping the mainstream system's views. Mission Mental Health, a public agency in San Francisco serving thousands of people, recently consulted with Icarus about revising their Mission Statement to be more oriented towards self-determination and client empowerment, and we're in ongoing dialog with radical mental health activists from Buenos Aires, Argentina on shared visions and global movements.

New York City has been taking off with on-the-ground radical mental health activism. The Icarus student group began in September, and meets weekly at New York University in the Kimmel student center off of Washington Square Park, partnering with Students For Social Equality. In October, the NYU Icarus group helped organize a successful major event titled "A Celebration of Dangerous Gifts." This event was co-sponsored by Sacred Slam, a cooperative art organization that challenges popular misconceptions through poetic performances. More than 75 people attended the event, which featured a mix of poetry and music centered around mental health themes. After the performances, twenty students participated in a discussion with The Icarus Project that explored what it means to create a truly effective listening space where people feel comfortable talking about such difficult subjects as: "What does it mean to be considered crazy in a world that's obviously mad?" "Can the urge to kill yourself actually be an urge to want your life to change?" "How do we create community in such an alienating place such as New York City?" The event was a resounding success and participants left moved and inspired. Exciting collaborations are emerging with WNYU, the campus radio station, The Washington Square Press, the daily student paper, NYU's Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Student Services, the Rita Project, a neighborhood art therapy organization that works with survivors of suicide, and the Olive Leaf Wholeness Center, a holistic health organization that provides alternatives to traditional psychiatric treatment.

A host of other Icarus activities are taking place in New York City: lively Icarus meetings open to the general public meet on a bimonthly basis at the 6th Street Community Center on the Lower East Side. A monthly Icarus-based support group has been forming at Fountain House. The NYC Icarus Project has also made an official partnership with Food Not Bombs, an international grassroots food distribution, self-empowerment project. Every Sunday Icarus Project members cook meals with Food Not Bombs at ABC No Rio, another community center on the Lower East Side. It is these non-traditional partnerships that we believe will help broaden our reach and expand the participation of diverse communities in unconventional but effective mental health activities.

As we moved into the dark and cold of winter, our own struggles with madness started to rise again, as they usually do in the times of holidays and family contact. The great thing about the Icarus project is that caring for each other is our work too: we're a support group as well as an organizing effort, creating a new way of working together that doesn't put "˜productivity' against "˜vulnerability,' where we can be fully human, with all our pain and crisis and suffering, while still forming part of a collective effort. We try to keep it timed so that at least two people are stable while others are on the mania-depression-schizocoaster, but occasionally the calendars don't sync and we all go down, or hit orbit, together. High points help break the gloom: news that an Icarus radio show had made it to broadcast all the way in New Zealand, getting a new website member posting about the mysteries of psychosis "” from India (!), and plans to travel to New Orleans to do solidarity work with Common Ground, a radical community health care center.

Today we're holed up in the Hudson Valley taking stock and knuckling down on writing the support group manual that will help organizers around the country pull togther groups for mutual aid and support. Funding is always an issue, so if you're looking for somewhere to put additional tax-free donation money this season of giving, keep us in mind. And we're always up for meeting face to face: you'll find the whole collective at NYC hub meetings for the next few weeks, and our upcoming road trip will bring us to the National Conference on Organized Resistance in DC Feb 3-5th, where we're giving a workshop with the Freedom Center.

Happy holidays and best wishes to the transit strikers,

the National Icarus Organizing Collective.