Based in Poultney, Vermont and launched in September 2020, MadFreedom was founded to address the grim reality that in the United States, we have the highest rates of unemployment, the highest rates of disproportionate incarceration, are most likely to be killed by police, and die 20 to 25 years prematurely. Sixty-eight percent of Americans do not want us marrying into their families and 58 percent do not want us in their workplace. While most of us are able to work, surveys of U.S. employers reveal that 50 percent are reluctant to hire someone with a past psychiatric history, approximately 70 percent are reluctant to hire someone currently taking antipsychotic medications, and 25 percent say they would fire someone who had not disclosed a mental illness. We are the butt of jokes on late night television, scapegoated for gun violence and routinely demeaned in the media. America’s president frequently refers to his detractors as “psycho” or “crazy” and the media reprint these epithets without a murmur of critique.

If we are to ever achieve our full rights as human beings and citizens, we must acquire political power. MadFreedom seeks to build a movement to acquire that political power to end the oppression and discrimination against us.

MISSION

MadFreedom is a human and civil rights advocacy organization whose mission is to secure political power to end discrimination and oppression of people based on perceived mental state.

VISION

MadFreedom envisions a world where every person regardless of race, gender, sexuality, ableness, class and mental state has the freedom to live their life on their own terms without coercion and with equality under the law.

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FAQs with MadFreedom’s Founder

When I was thinking about a name, I was certain I did not want a name that included mental illness or mental health because those are the ideological terms of our oppression. I also did not want this endeavor to be confused for a mental health/mental illness organization and I did not want to be referred to as a mental health advocate.

I like the term “mad” because I see it as a political term rather than a medical term. I come to the term “mad” after having worked through the labels “black,” “woman,” and “queer.” What I’ve learned from that journey is that the names by which we are called never quite apply to us, but in answering them, we find our voice and our power. The term “mad” can either be evaded or embraced, but for true liberation, I do believe it must be embraced. I don’t feel that I can be free if I’m afraid of or shamed by that term.

For me, madness is not about whether I’m crazy. It’s about regardless of whether I am, I’m still a human being and I insist on the same rights and protections as those who would oppress me on the basis of my mental state.

When I embrace the term mad, I’m saying I love myself. I’m saying I’m proud of who I am, whether mad or not, crazy or not, unwell or not.

I “identify” as mad in the same way I identify as black or queer. Those terms are not who I am; they are what I believe. They are political identities not biological or social identities. I get my identity from my politics; I don’t get my politics from my identity.

The term “mad” is a way of entering a movement to change the world. It’s making this axis of oppression visible.

Finally, “freedom” conveys the change I am seeking, i.e., freedom from coercion, particularly forced drugging and psychiatric incarceration.

Every movement I have ever been a part of, from the civil rights movement to the gay rights movement, has left some members of the movement behind. I do not want MadFreedom to replicate that. Thus, the tag line reminds us that our work is not finished until every person in our community is free from coercion and is equal under the law. Additionally, the tag line is intended to signal to social justice activists outside of the Mad movement that they cannot be free until we are free and to invite them to work with us for true liberation.

I think to embrace the term mental illness is to internalize our oppression. One of the major assumptions about mental illness is that it is an illness and should be considered and treated as an illness.  “Mental state,” on the other hand, describes a condition without accepting or rejecting whether that condition is in fact an illness. For example, while I believe that people do experience extreme states that the dominant culture calls mania or psychosis, I do not necessarily believe that those extreme states constitute a mental illness or disorder.

The Mad movement is the only movement on behalf of marginalized people that includes every demographic. That is, people of all races, genders, sexualities, class, ableness and mental states are subjected to oppression because of their perceived mental states.

Because none of us is any one thing, MadFreedom’s advocacy will always address the multi-dimensional ways in which people experience oppression because I understand that oppression of people based on mental state differs by race, gender, sexuality, class and ableness.

MadFreedom’s work will not be done until everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class and ableness, is free from oppression and discrimination based on mental state.

No. I’ve always envisioned MadFreedom as a global organization and I aspire to grow MadFreedom to every corner of the globe. Initially, MadFreedom will be national in scope with also a statewide presence in the State of Vermont.

No. I intentionally chose not to organize MadFreedom under U.S. tax laws as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Such organizations may not engage in lobbying. Lobbying is critical to carrying out MadFreedom’s mission.

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About the Founder

Wilda L. White is the founder of MadFreedom. Wilda is a psychiatric survivor and life-long activist who has been involved in the gay rights, civil rights, and women’s movements. She’s a former executive director of Vermont Psychiatric Survivors and was the inaugural chairperson of the Vermont Mental Health Crisis Response Commission. She was a name partner in a San Francisco litigation law firm, an Assistant City Editor at the Miami Herald during the time the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, a management consultant with McKinsey and Company, and the inaugural executive director of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, her alma mater.

Wilda served as a director of the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association and as a director of the Oakland Unified School District, as a Jerry Brown appointee during the time he served as Mayor of Oakland, California. Within one year of her co-founding an Oakland, California community development organization, the San Francisco Business Times named Wilda one of the 10 most powerful people in Oakland.

In addition to holding a law degree, Wilda also earned an MBA, with distinction, from Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration. Wilda is also licensed to practice law in New York, California and Massachusetts.

Wilda lives in Poultney, Vermont (USA) with Marley, her black lab.

Wilda L White portrait photo