About David


David Oaks, in action at one of many protests he has attended over a 30 year career of compassionate activism.

David Oaks, at one of many protests he has attended over a 30 year career of compassionate activism.

This is the story of David Oaks, a 58-year-old human rights activist from Eugene, Oregon whose lifetime of helping others has been transformed into a life of also needing help from others like you. We hope you will be one of those inspired to help him because we are confident that David’s commitment to helping others will continue even it must now be from a wheelchair.

David Oaks was born in Chicago, Illinois to working class, loving parents. He attended Harvard University on a full scholarship. He graduated, but not before experiencing emotional problems and the psychiatric system with forced drugging and solitary confinement. David decided he wanted, once freed, to take action to improve the mental health system. Eventually, with support from peers and his family, David used exercise, nutrition, counseling, wilderness trips, protest, and employment to recover mental and emotional well being. He has been off all psychiatric drugs since 1977.

These experiences inspired his activist work in the field of human rights in the mental health system, as well as in the environmental, peace and social justice movements. In 1986, David helped found what was to become MindFreedom International, an independent activist coalition united to win human rights and alternatives in mental health. MFI is now one of the main organizations winning campaigns for the vision of a peaceful revolution in the mental health system. While a majority of the members identify as individuals who have experienced human rights violations in the mental health system, MFI also includes family members, attorneys, mental health professionals and supportive members of the general public.

His public speaking for MFI took David around the world, including Eastern and Western Europe, Africa, Central and South America. In 2009 the respected Utne Reader magazine named David as one of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” He did all this though he was suffering from acute spondylosis, a severe form degenerative spinal arthritis that caused pain, brittle bone formation and increased rigidity in his neck and back. For years David successfully avoided activities where falling could be life threatening because of this condition.

Last December David fell off a ladder in his home studio and broke his neck but not his spirit. Despite numerous surgeries and complications including an infection caused fever that almost took his life,* David has prevailed. Currently with help and encouragement family and friends, he made fantastic progress at an excellent rehab facility in Colorado (Craig Hospital) for those with spinal cord injuries and had a warm welcome home celebration in his honor on May 18th (see the video clip).

David_Wheelchair_240pxDavid’s story is all about perseverance, determination and commitment, but he and his wife Debra face staggering financial challenges. Though their health insurance covers some of his medical expenses, to get any help from Medicaid, David and Debra were required to use up their meager retirement savings. That agency requires David and Debra to have no more than $2000 in the bank for the rest of their lives. Our healthcare system is essentially requiring them to accept a lifetime of poverty. In turn Medicaid is paying for part of the extensive renovations needed in their home to accommodate David and his wheelchair and will eventually provide pay for some of the home care assistance David will need such as help lifting and turning him every two hours from now on.

Fortunately an exception to this rule is the irrevocable trust fund set up for David which allows unlimited donations to be made that can be used for his medical needs not covered by insurance or Medicaid. That includes part of their home renovation so that David can live at home and for a van to carry his wheelchair. We estimate the total cost for both to be around $80,000. With your help and from others around the world, we will reach that goal. Keep in mind that this donation is not tax deductible or returnable.



(see below if you’d like to make regular, monthly donations…)


Please send whatever you can afford now to the “David W Oaks Irrevocable Trust.” You can use the DONATE button displayed above or send a check to the Chase Bank with the account number 3008433244 in the memo line:

David W Oaks Irrevocable Trust
c/o Chase Bank
1100 Willamette St
Eugene OR 97401

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We will keep all those who donate updated on David’s progress. Whether or not you can afford anything right now, we thank you for reading this appeal and urge you to please pass it on to your email, twitter and Facebook lists. Getting this appeal out to as many people as possible could make a huge difference in insuring that David and Debra are able to adequately take care of themselves while they continue their work as activist members of our global community.

Thank you again for any help you can provide,
The David Oaks Fundraising Committee

If you live in the Eugene-Springfield area and would like to contribute your time and labor for David’s care, please fill out this form so we can better organize times and tasks for those who can help out.

*More about the accident


David W. Oaks Reflects on 35 Years in Psychiatric Survivor “Mad” Movement – Filmed at the Oregon Coast, July 2011


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