After Occupy: How we are developing structures to empower community health, access to resources, and preventative medicine

“A Resolution” points to the sparks that are creating a new light in the growing darkness: the revolutionary wave that spread from Tunis to New York; the Kurdish freedom struggle and the war against ISIS in Rojava; the riots and blockades sparked by the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner; and the retooling and remaking of life with “civilization starter kits” and “removing the dust” from indigenous knowledges and practices. “We, the people who work every day, who think we ‘don’t have time’ - we are the only ones who can do this,” said a Woodbine co-founder. “No one’s going to do this for us—no politician, no technological innovation, no international agreement. If we want a different future, we are going to have to make it, from where we are and in every place.”

 

 

The Woodbine Health Autonomy Resource Center is in Ridgewood, Queens. It is part of Woodbine, a hub for building autonomy in the wake of a dying civilization.

Our goal is to examine what health autonomy would look like and how to begin to build it for ourselves here in New York city. We are beginning by providing ways to interact with neighbors, to think of health and care as a communal process, and becoming a point of aggregation where people can come together and share resources. We currently facilitate health related skill shares, create concrete ways to navigate the overwhelming health infrastructure that exists while lessening our dependence on it, in order to build an autonomous health community.

We are beginning to experiment with providing care outside of the realm of state control. This practice may involve working outside the structure of licenses, certifications and insurance. Our intention is always to heal, and so we are finding ways to do this that protects providers and patients.

Within Woodbine, the struggle for autonomy has been broken down into categories of the most urgent material necessity, meant to focus our attention on tangible goals toward building power within our community. Health autonomy is a crucial part of this. The health resource center is run by a mix of health professionals and those with informal training in various health practices. We want to re-create a sense of agency over health through a focus on the dissemination of usable, teachable skills. We are working with peers who practice herbal medicine, massage, feldenkrais, acupuncture, meditation, yoga and other forms of so called “alternative” medicine. We are creating our own definition of wellness, one that is congruent with the realities of our time. There is also a large focus on prevention of illness, of re-fostering the idea of a healthy life, not merely the absence of disease. This is how we begin the necessary process of removing our physical and mental health from systems that would damage them further, to reclaim control over health and use it to increase our collective autonomy.

We do not reject modern methods of medicine, but recognize the need to detach its knowledge from the oppressive institutions that guard it. We are attempting to change our orientation to institutions of western medicine to one of use over dependence; a manipulation of the systems that surround us. While there are significant problems with the city’s public health infrastructure, they do provide much of the emergency and chronic care here. We realize that there needs to be support for people needing to navigate these without the fear of accruing a huge amount debt, alongside the emphasis of practices that will ultimately lessen dependence on them. The spaces dedicated to holistic medicine or alternative care are largely inaccessible to large portions of the population because they exist for those who can afford them. For these reasons, our center is meant to involve community members, help us understand the care-related skills we already have, and be an informational resource for accessing all types of health modalities. We have public open times for the community, staffed by one of our members, to assist in that process.

Our skills workshops so far have included basic first aid, wound care, acupressure and intro to traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and an intro to medicinal plants. Coming up we will have workshops on navigating existing healthcare systems, nutrition, addiction and ongoing fitness skillshares. Our goal is that participants can use the resource library to learn about things relevant to their own health, potentially explore different modalities, and either receive aid in navigating the health systems in place or find treatment within the space itself.

As we gain ground in the journey towards health autonomy, we see just how disempowered we have become when it comes to being able to give and receive the kind of care necessary. We have to fight that disconnection and build the infrastructure in order to give ourselves the space to envision a new existence. We look forward to hearing your stories, to understand your struggles and to collectively create the foundations to answer these monumental questions.

 Editor's note: We are building a collaborative bid for the MacArhur Foundation's 100 Million USD with our peers in 40 + countires. You are very welcome to join us if you are doing work at the intersections of care, open knowledge and technologies, and communities. Learn more at  http://openandchange.care.

The production of this article was supported by Op3n Fellowships - an ongoing program for community contributors during May - November 2016.

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Comments

Great post

Alberto's picture

... and great video (Nadia showed it to me). I am impressed, and looking forward to get to know you better. 

(Adding this post to the opencare community group)

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ability to go beyoind it ,

Simonedb's picture

ability to go beyoind it , sense making, strnght, strong eliefe these are the words that i felt more powerful adn fitting to the video and the project description.

i feel the strength of a group with a shared mission and vision, soemthing that is strongly missing the modern individualistic society, and by the way it is based on a shared concrete experience of care.

this is many many are looking for as a way to sense making postmodernity values, for sure attarct intersted to more concretely understand how it works, how could develop, how could go beyoing queens and the founding group.

how much it is posisbile that co-living communities become a point of reference to each neightboorhood social growth...and then a nertwork of them become soemthing more impactful...

single energies are often burn out or depressed by being alone or istitutionalised or politiced....here i see a cognitive breakthru...

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healthcare in political context!

steelweaver's picture

This really spoke to me. Healthcare is largely seen as a 'value-neutral', apolitical issue, and it's so important to put it back in its political context, and to see that our attitudes towards it are framed by the wider values of our society. It looks like Woodbine are doing some great work on this.

Attitudes towards alternative medicine are a case in point - not only is there resistance from the medical institutions [often ignoring solid evidence supporting the practice], but ordinary people pick up on that and are averse to being involved with something that doesn't have the approval of the medical 'authorities'.

I wonder if the Woodbine folk have encountered any resistance to 'woo' things like TCM and Feldenkrais, and if so, how they have overcome this?

I should also put in a shout for the Chinese tradition of Yang Sheng - non-industrialised health practices that aren't just about physical fitness, and that can be suitable for those recuperating or without full physical mobility.

If you have a community library, Peter Deadman's latest might make a great addition - not only does it cover a whole range of areas [general health, pregnancy, ageing, etc] but it cites lots of western science to back up the older eastern practices. 

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agree

Alex Levene's picture

"Healthcare is largely seen as a 'value-neutral', apolitical issue, and it's so important to put it back in its political context"

Couldn't agree more with you here. Certainly, given what is happen in the UK at the moment it is really important that both the wider community and the medical professionals themselves understand that they stand in a highly politicised space. I think it's time we stopped demanding our doctors and medical practitoners pretend they somehow exist outside of the politcal world around them

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In the USA all healthcare is political

johncoate's picture

"Obamacare" is arguably the number one political debate along with immigration and national security.

Another aspect is student loans.  For years students have taken out loans to attend universities.  For years the government set low interest rates and wasn't aggressive in going after delinquent accounts.  That changed some years ago and those loans are now both very expensive and likely to scar your entire working life if you don't pay them on time.  I submit that is has a chilling effect on people seeking careers in medicine and health care at the higher levels.  And it is certainly a huge reason why there is such a shortage of general practitioners compared to specialists.  A GP has to take many more years to pay off their student debt.

I could go on and on.  But the point is that it is impossible to separate health care from the political debate in the US, and probaly everywhere else.

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You are unusually politically sophisticated!

Alberto's picture

I may be way off the mark here (I am not British), but I think @steelweaver is thinking of the way the Leave campaign in the recent Brexit referendum used NHS funding as am electoral promise to sell their product: "Support us, and there will be more money for health care!". They can do this because everybody agrees that funding public health care is a good thing. In this sense, even though it's still entangled with politics in complex ways, public health care as a principle is bipartisan in the UK. Italy is the same: it's part of our identity. Attacks do not come from groups trying to defund it, but from groups trying to parasitize it, for example supplying it with (super-expensive, proprietary) equipment. 

We (Italians, possibly the British too) do not think of health care as political because it's not divisive as a basic choice. I appreciate ours is not a sophisticated position.

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US/UK

steelweaver's picture

Thanks, @Alberto, you are right, I was mostly thinking of the UK example, and the way in which healthcare at the point of delivery is seen as a neutral, technocratic institution. The recent junior doctors' strike shows the same pattern: doctors being criticised for 'politicising' healthcare, as if everything about it is not already political.

But I would venture [not living there, but observing from afar] that there is a similar issue in the US - people think of the status quo as 'normal' and don't see that it already has a political dimension, so attempts to disrupt the massively wasteful insurance/medical cartel [as Obamacare made some small steps to do] come up against lots of resistance even from people who might benefit from change.

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American opinion seems easy to manipulate

johncoate's picture

in certain ways.  Millions of not very bright people who derive their understanding of the world through a mix of TV and their own predjudices and assumptions view the healthcare status quo as being one where they have more individual choice.  (Obanacare = socialism and "death panels.") Over here that is like a core religious belief, so if you can convince people they will have fewer choices then it isn't that hard to get them to oppose it, even though it is not in their economic interest to do so.  Indeed the fact that Ronald Reagan got elected largely with the support of such people is a perennial case in point.

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But with so many refugees now

johncoate's picture

placing increased demands on health care - and the budgets that support it - it it not becoming more politicised in the EU?

Also, Open Care is a distinctly apolitical effort, but after it gains some traction both specifically and as a meme that propagates, I see a danger in attempts at co-opting or using it by political forces wanting to channel the narrative - and the money - to a particular agenda.  Of course this is from someone in the US where everything is political on some level.

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not so many

steelweaver's picture

I can't speak to places like Germany and Sweden, but the numbers of refugees in most EU countries are very low compared to the overall population - and the ones who managed to get there tend to be younger and more able, so not placing huge demands on health care per se.

That's an interesting point about the apoliticality of Open Care - in the party political sense, of course it should not be aligned with a particular side. But if politics just means 'how we organise things in our society', then it is very much political - and if it does bring about significant change, it's bound to be seen as such by some people.

A current example - kind of the opposite to Obamacare - are the moves in the UK by the current government to privatise aspects of the NHS. They will say that it is not about political ideology, it's just about being more 'efficient' and using 'the invisible hand' of market forces to drive costs down, and that we can't afford not to in a time of 'austerity' - but every one of those terms has an ideology behind it; assumptions and values about what healthcare is, what a society is, what government is for, etc.

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Twas ever thus..

johncoate's picture

> every one of those terms has an ideology behind it

Absolutely correct.

Over the past eight years, in addtion to other duties as a manager of an organization, I administered the health care benefit for my employees.  This all took place during the whole Obamacare/socialized medicine debate.

As you know, in politics, one gets ahead by identifying and demonising a bad guy.  In that debate the bad guys were the health insurance companies.  Plenty of blame to go around with that group, no question.

But in shopping for the best plans, I noticed something interesting.  If we opted for a plan where the pharmaceudicals were all generic, the premiums for each employee was reduced by half.  By half!  No other cost reduction option even came remotely close to that.  So, if half the expense is going to the drug companies for their proprietary drugs, then shouldnt they have figured a little more heavily in the national debate?  (Actually it did with one candidate - Bernie Sanders.)  

One would think, but in my view, that would have complicated things too much for the huge numbers of people who need everything in the public sphere dumbed down so they can grasp it.  (I hate to say such things because it sounds so elitist, but after decades of involvement with the public dialogue I can't avoid that conclusion.)

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Impressive

johncoate's picture

Great work.  I salute you.

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