published Friday, August 31st, 2012

David Cook: The mental illness of politics

Holy Bear Bryant, I had such a good idea for today's column.

I was going to compare politics, which has become as joyous as triple root canals, with college football season, which is like a birthday every Saturday.

I had some good lines: With college football, you get Hail Marys, SEC tailgating and ESPN Gameday.

In politics, you get Super PACs, Washington gridlock and the ever-thrilling George Will.

In college football, after scoring a touchdown, they go for two.

In politics, after scoring Bush One, we get Bush Two.

See? You were going to love it. I was walking into work, about to start writing.

Then the baby fell on her head.

Just outside on East 11th Street, a block from City Hall, a CARTA bus opened its doors and out poured a single mother and her three small children, crammed in a double-stroller with bags of diapers, a black Bible with crumbs between the pages, empty food wrappers and baby formula.

Her story tumbled out: No place to stay, no money, no life but a troubled one. As if life was proving her point, her stroller hit a bump and one of her children -- the 1-year-old girl -- fell out, head-first onto the concrete sidewalk.

It was more dramatic than life-threatening. There was no concussion, but the moment made me stop. Those football-politics jokes weren't funny anymore. (Yes, I hear you out there. They may not have been that funny in the first place).

"I'm tired of ... crying," the mother said.

On the national stage, we have political conventions, where folks in suits talk about making America better. Republicans speak about self-made men and bootstrap self-determination. Democrats will speak about government as an agent of help, where welfare and social programs are not dirty words.

Within this mother's story, it would seem both sides are ridiculously wrong. And right.

I made a call to Mary Ellen Galloway, an old friend and executive director of Family Promise, which used to be called Interfaith Homeless Network.

Family Promise connects homeless families and children with area congregations who serve as hosts, providing shelter, home-made meals and kindness. Family Promise then help families find permanent housing, employment and solid ground for their kids.

The mother washed into the Family Promise conference room like an accidental hurricane. At times, as if paralyzed, she would just stand there as her kids ran around. She had mac and cheese, but no forks or plates. Formula but can't find bottle nipples. Flotsam, jetsam.

The Family Promise intake coordinator — who last year saw more than 250 families and could have seen 250 more -- tried to reassemble the mother's life. Fruit and juice for the kids. A hotel room for the night under the condition she returns the next day to enter the Family Promise program.

But all the king's horses and all the king's men may not be able to put this woman back together again. Her files revealed she suffers from a mental illness and its frequent consequence: an unwillingness to accept help, or take medication, or make the right decisions.

"We can't make people take advantage [of our services]," said Galloway. "They have a right to self-determination."

That's the Republican word. Freedom, even if it means to refuse help.

"But this lady didn't wake up this morning deciding to have a mental illness," said Galloway.

There's the other side: generous empathy. A perspective that says individualism is an illusion.

What will it take for us — politically — to move past the mental illness where each side stubbornly refuses to see past its own agenda? How do we save this woman whose children fall out of her grasp?

"That could be any of us," said Galloway.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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justobserving said...

I'm not going to use this space to try to make a political statement. I just wanted to say one thing. I don't see eye to eye with you on practically anything, Cook. But, I will say this. At least you took the time to do what many, many people wouldn't do. You actually took the time to try to find help for this family. I did notice one thing though, you reached out to a community based organization, not a big government program. Oops, sorry, I just couldn't help myself. Never the less, I give you credit for at least trying to help.

August 31, 2012 at 8:50 a.m.
jesse said...

In Dante's divine comedy there is a scene where souls are pushing boulders up a mtn.side only to have them roll back to the bottom when they reach the summit!(i think it was in Purgatorio!)This is a good analogy to trying to help folks that refuse to be helped! I'm going thru this w/one of my kids right now (Rx drugs!)(her m.d. is a dealer,IMO!!)

You have to keep trying BUT man it gets you down!!

August 31, 2012 at 9:14 a.m.
Leaf said...

Haven't read Dante since high school, but Sysiphus(sp?) was the boulder guy in Greek mythology. Yep, it feels like that sometimes. No matter whether it's a government or non-governmental organization providing the framework, it's individual people who actually make things happen.

August 31, 2012 at 10:02 a.m.
Walden said...

Leaf said: "it's individual people who actually make things happen."

Refreshing comment from you Leaf. You may have hope!

August 31, 2012 at 10:31 a.m.
Lr103 said...

justobserving, dont' forget that organization, like most, receives the bulk of its funding from local, state and federal government. For sure, they receive private donations too. However, private donations are often unreliable, irregular, unpredictable and can't be counted to be the sole source of their remaining in operations.

August 31, 2012 at 12:42 p.m.
justobserving said...

Lr103, that may be true so long as they aren't a Catholic organization that doesn't offer birth control.

August 31, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.
Lr103 said...

Don't be fooled, justobserving. Even churches, Catholic too, have a way of getting their hands on federal dollars. They just use a different strategy when applying.

August 31, 2012 at 1:01 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Where is/are the baby daddy/daddies?

September 1, 2012 at 3:41 a.m.
shen said...

LaughingBoy, the dads are probably sitting in some jail or prison somewhere for a minor offense. America incarcerates more of its male population than anywhere else in the world. Not even in developing and undeveloped countries are so many non-violent offenders wasting away in some prison or jail cell. And it doesn't seem to be slacking up anytime soon. As one of the most powerful unions in America is the union of prison guards. Who have powerful lobbyist who dictate prison policies and trends.

September 1, 2012 at 10:46 a.m.
shen said...

I dunno, JonRoss. Some people get away with breaking the law for years, decades even and never get arrested for it, although the law know about them and their illegal acts. Look at those rowdy young adults the Hamilton County Sheriff's office busted up around Apison back in June of this year. Seems like they'd been carrying on with their illegal drinking and partying for quite sometime; dating back and beyond to their parents, and maybe granparents. Up until the June bust all they'd gotten was a citation, without an arrest to damage their future. Those arrests really irked some of their parents. Some of'em warned the sheriff he might just have to go looking for another job.

Now we know anytime a group of young people, and some old ones too, come together in an uncontrolled situation where there's drinking going on, there is also other illegal and dangerous stuff taking place. Guess, who gets arrested and who doesn't often boils down to who knows who and what connections they have.

September 1, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.
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