Friday, February 1, 2013

From Anarchist to Advocate

Learning from the pros on Anderson Cooper’s “Guns under Fire”

It’s a standing joke among my friends: before my blog post about my mentally ill son went viral, I did not know who Anderson Cooper was.

Let me explain this grave lapse of cultural literacy. After September 11, 2001, I sat in front of our television in slack-jawed horror, watching the towers fall over and over, for weeks. Then one day, I looked away from the TV and saw my four year-old son building a tower out of blocks and crashing his toy airplane into it.

So I gave up television. I didn’t actually mean to give it up completely—I’ve always been an early adopter and figured we would have the content on demand by 2003. My timeline was a few years premature. And by the time technology caught up, I was no longer interested in TV.

Now I get all my news from Facebook. It’s the perfect mix of local (kids, pets, vacations) and national, and since my friends are so clever, I trust them to pick the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and HuffPost articles I should read.  In that respect, Facebook has been a real timesaver for me. Okay, I’m not kidding anyone here. Facebook is a complete waste of time. But since I’m not watching “Jersey Shore” or “American Idol” or “Downton Abbey,” I feel okay about it.

Still, it’s become apparent that my Facebook friends aren’t quite clever enough. Because if they were, they would have been as agog over Anderson Cooper as the blurred-face woman in the picture above (she looked like a four year old girl about to meet a Disney Princess).

Cooper is the real deal—whip smart, funny, compassionate, able to shovel through the bullhorn bullshit that passes as public discourse these days and emerge with a squeaky clean smile.

When Anderson Cooper 360 decided to do a town hall meeting on guns, the producer, Kerry Rubin, called and asked me to talk about my experiences as a parent of a mentally ill son.

I couldn’t say no. And it was one of the most amazing and humbling experiences of my life.

I got to meet Amardeep Kaleka, a gun owner whose father was killed in a rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Sarah McKinley, who made headlines when she defended her home and her baby against intruders. Tio Hardimanwho works with Chicago’s youth to try to change potentially destructive behaviors and save lives. And Veronique Pozner, who lost her sweet young son in the tragic Sandy Hook shootings. 

Their stories all give nuance and complexity to a debate that too often looks like something drawn by toddlers with crude, bold crayons.

I also met Joshua Boston, the former Marine whose letter to Senator Diane Feinstein about her proposal to ban assault weapons also went viral. Josh is a passionate and articulate spokesperson for gun owners.

I shared a car on the way to the Town Hall with the inimitable Gayle Trotter, an activist, attorney, and mother of six who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about how guns actually make women safer. Gayle is as powerful an advocate for her Second Amendment rights as the Brady Campaign’s president Dan Gross (one of my oldest son’s heroes) is for gun control.

(In case you missed it, I’m not an anarchist—I’m a Libertarian. Not a big fan of laws, generally speaking. But also not a big fan of gun violence and school shootings.)

And I’m not a big fan of former NRA president Sandy Froman’s repeated use of the word “insane” on the program (at least she avoided “deranged” and “evil”). Every time she said it, I winced. Still, thanks to the First Amendment, Froman has every right to use that word, and while I wish she wouldn’t, I am not going to engage in ad hominem attacks (Dan Gross, on the other hand, was consistently respectful to people who suffer from mental disorders).

Highlights of the afternoon included meeting Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Jeffrey Toobin, and watching Kerry Rubin in action—she’s like a conductor who takes raw notes on a score and turns them into a full orchestral suite.

In my own moment on camera, I got one good line in—“Why can’t we use our resources to make people less dangerous?” I don’t really remember the rest of what I said, just that Anderson Cooper’s eyes are really that blue.

In the end, Cooper couldn’t solve the gun problem in one town hall meeting. But he gave a hint at how to solve it when asked which team he favored in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Cooper responded with a grin, “Beyoncé.”

Sometimes when we can’t agree on something important (Ravens or 49’ers, for example), we have to look for something we can agree on. I am grateful to Anderson Cooper and his entire team for an impartial and thoughtful contribution to a vital conversation about guns and mental health, and for including me in that conversation. 

It’s not easy to be an advocate, but sometimes our causes find us, even when we don’t expect them. I’m grateful for the opportunity to change a national conversation. Maybe it’s not about guns: maybe it’s about mental health.  


meg said...

I was just flipping channels (falling asleep) and saw you! I found you via that viral blog entry, was thrilled to see you there, and thought you did a GREAT job! The applause you got was well-deserved. Great post here, I cringed at some of the slant as well: I am NOT an NRA supporter, even as I think gun control distracts from the more important Mental Healthcare issue). You are doing a great job, and I hope your voice is heard and helps create improvement. keep up the good work!

Dee Jones said...

Anderson Cooper is one of the few shows that I watch that are news related. I do appreciate how he can maintain an impartial judgement when presenting news or doing a town hall meeting.

I am glad you were able to be there!

Keith Birmingham said...

You are right. It is not about guns. It should be about the mental health of our society. The conversation across America is about mental health and control. In WDC, it is only about control. We are a nation of "too many laws" and not enough acceptance of responsibility. Visit any prison in this country and ask an inmate that is there for burglary what he will do when he is released. The "university" he is attending is the best. It will teach him to find an unprotected home. Some may have a gun with a 7 shell clip. He will have an AK47. He has gun control. You have a problem.

1prophetspeaks said...

Get your son out of the mental hospital!
They are concentration camps. The drugs are torture and deadly. I know many who have died from them. I was on them.
The nazis killed mental patient with psych drugs in the t4 euthenasia program. This genocide has continued worldwide since, using mental health as a cover. It is all orwellian doublespeak.
Dr Peter Breggin has written many books warning about toxic psych drugs. He is a prophet. In a recent case where he testified, a Canadian judge finally ruled that prozac caused a teen to commit homicide.

Psych drugs cause suicide, homicide, mental illness. All the mass shooters were ON THEM.
See Dr Rima Laibow's website

She is a NY trained child-adult psychiatrist who says the drugs are all toxic, and she never used them in 40 years practice; she uses other techniques that WORK and heal people. She also says the vaccines, which all have squaline, a poison designed to make people sick and die, are causing neurological damage which causes mental illness. She told Jesse VEntura on his show CONSPIRACY THEORY WITH JESSE VENTURA that the global elite the social engineers whose goal is depopulation of the planet by 90% are using healthcare to do it thru poisoned vaccines, toxic drugs & more. She told Ventura one of the global elite told her "it is getting near time to cull the population". All these shootings are by design - programmed genocide.

I think your son is called to be a prophet. Many autistic kids are. I am a life long musician. You, as a musician are also called to be a prophet. Autistic kids are prophets in training.

see my articles at and

Message to families of Mental patients

Autistic kids are prophets in training

What kind of Musician are you going to be? God's call to musicians. Musicians are called to be prophets, intercessors & healers.

The mental health system is a front for nazi genocide.

SCHIZOPHRENIA is NOT a serious mental disorder

sesilia patrick said...

the way you stated this whole story attracts everyone towards your blogs...summer soccer camps is an appreciable
step taken for the people want to be involved in soccer sports though these are somehow
heathful activities as they increase ones decision power.....

Ellen Haskell said...

Thank you for all you are doing to get this discussions going, Liza. I am trying to do the same thing with my blog: I was trying to clean up my writing before contacting you, but I don't have time to wait any longer; my nephew, Jeff Haskell, is in crisis. His father, my brother Greg Haskell, killed himself two on April 12, 2010. Your blog forced me to face up to what Greg meant when he told me that our father's shotgun was loaded with three rounds. He and I were living with our mother... My nephew is now an orphan. His mom died because she gave birth to him. It was years later, but still due to her pregnancy. She was diabetic and had been told not to bear a child. Jeff grew up with a severely mentally ill father. Greg was bi-polar if not schizophrenic. Reading your viral blog post was like taking a stroll down memory lane, with Greg clutching me around my throat and cackling as he swung his fist closer, and closer, and closer to my nose. I don't remember what happened after that, but my oldest brother, Al, said he beat the crap out of Greg to get him off me. I was about 11 then, which would have made Greg 18. Jeff is now 26, an orphan, has had two major head injuries, hasn't completed the 9th grade, and keeps getting himself thrown in jail -- because he is in crisis! I knew that, but until blogging about it I never realized what the kid has really gone through. I can't help him alone. I'm trying to help you, too, by telling people what mental illness is like from an insider's perspective. But number one is getting my nephew the help he needs before he heads down the same road his father did. He is so brave. I have been contacting news stations, because I can't think of anything to do BUT attract attention to him to get him the love and support he needs. When I asked him today if he realized what that would mean, with everyone getting right up in his business he said, "I don't have anything to hide." He knows he is in crisis; he lives with that reality every day of his life. His grandfather died this weekend, which is what drove home the reality for me that this kid needs help NOW, not after I have time to finish editing my blog. Please connect so that other people read this, too. THANK YOU FOR BEING SO BRAVE. I think of you and your family every single day.

Ted Garvin said...

The only shows I watch are public television and Jeopardy.

As a fellow sufferer, the only person who can help your son is himself. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Never get too hungry, too tired, etc.

God bless and keep you.

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