LETTER TO THE EDITOR…
Sometimes Still We Get It Right
Amid our concerns about our democracy, it’s important to take note when the process still works and good things happen. Two things recently are worth celebrating – for the nation as a whole, the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed Justice Breyer on the Supreme Court and, for us in Georgia, the state legislature’s passage of the “The Mental Health Parity Act.”
While we’ve come to expect the confirmation process to be grueling, the questioning of Judge Jackson by some on the committee was so completely disingenuous and of such a nature as to represent a new low. In the end though, the attempts to misrepresent her as soft on crime, and to connect her with pedophilia and Critical Race Theory didn’t work. It only reflected badly on those senators and, by extension, on the rest of us, leaving us again disheartened and dirtied. By contrast, Judge Jackson kept her head and retained her humanity throughout. She had come already with high marks from her peers and from many others across the political spectrum, including, it’s worth recalling, the Fraternal Order of Police. Her background, her wide experience and proven competence as a public defender, trial judge, and member of the US Sentencing Commission make Jackson an excellent choice for the Court. And then there’s the historic nature of her appointment as the first black woman confirmed for this role in the nation’s 233-year history. Senator Corey Booker’s “Nobody’s going to steal my joy” oration was a bright moment in the proceedings. It celebrated Judge Jackson’s and the country’s journey in reaching this milestone. It lifted her and us beyond the small-mindedness and ugliness that went before, and connected us again to something deep and true about the promise of our country.
There is also something very true in our state legislature’s acting decisively to strengthen Georgia’s response to the mental health needs of our citizens. As a state we have ranked at the bottom in services in this area until now. The bill “will help Georgians access mental health and substance use disorder treatment … by ensuring that public and private health insurance plans cover behavioral health equitably with physical health.” Another bill (Senate Bill 401) “provides for co-responder teams composed of peace officers and behavioral health professionals.” The already alarming rates of mental health challenges among our children and youth were made worse, of course, by Covid’s radical disruptions to our lives. In the Fall a coalition of the nation’s leading experts declared a national emergency in child and adolescent health, and on December 21 the US Surgeon General issued an “Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis.” Despite all this, there was a late attempt to scuttle the bill’s passage by some culture war warriors who variously misrepresented the bill as a measure that would protect pedophiles, “take our guns,” and that had been promoted by Stacey Abrams or the World Health Organization. In the end though cooler heads prevailed, and the continued from page
bill passed with unanimous support, a credit to Speaker Ralston and other leaders who stayed the course.
This demonstrates that good legislation can still happen when there is political good will on all sides, when people listen well, especially to the sufferers and their advocates, and when we remain focused and refuse to be drawn in by conspiracy theories and a culture war mentality.
If we will, then it can do all of us good just to be met with so fine and competent a fellow citizen as Justiceelect Jackson. We can be proud here for our country, proud again of our democratic ideals. And just so, there is something so right in our coming together to recognize the vital importance of mental health, and insisting that this needs the collective action of a caring society. There is so much promise in both these instances. … When we lay down our arms and lean in here, we find ourselves in a new place, the place of our common humanity. A place where there is room, room for all the pathos and promise of our human condition to be admitted. A place where the courage and beauty we are capable of can be nourished, where hope blooms and Joy will find herself at home.
“Love and fidelity embrace, peace and justice kiss. Fidelity sprouts from the earth, justice leans down from heaven … Turn, Lord, revive us. Nourish our joy.” Steve Bullington Adrian, Georgia