Where we started
Woodbine is a hub for building autonomy in the wake of a dying culture. Our mission is to expand collective material and organizational capacities in order to build revolution in the 21st century. With a workshop, library, kitchen, and meeting space, we focus on efforts to self-organize, connect, create infrastructures, and develop greater individual and collective efficacy. The Woodbine Health Autonomy Resource Center is a communal space in the neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens. It is part of the Autonomy General Assembly, which is a gathering space for the different projects that are housed within Woodbine. The idea behind Woodbine comes in the wake of Occupy, but takes its motivations from the Zapatistas in Chiapas, the ZADs in France, communities in Rojava, and all those who have struggled for liberation.
As we begin answering questions of autonomy, we are faced with the myriad of material obstacles in our way. Health, or our lack thereof, can be seen as a crucial weakness in the revolutionary struggle. We are tied to a “modern” health system that fundamentally removes our bodies from a larger physical reality. We are made to become cells in revolt, aberrant genes, failed organs, physicalities riddled with disease. Disease becomes individualized as “health” and “wellness” becomes commodified. States of mental health become symbols of individualized weakness. Propensities toward depressed states, or anxious disorders, and “imbalances” in the brain necessitate chemical intervention, while never addressing the overwhelming emptiness of modern life. An insane mind is the mind that can adapt to an insane society, and from the news today, we are surely going insane. Insanity as the only rational response to an insane world, but what contemporary visions of “health” require of us, in order to perpetuate this economy, is that we be atomized, necessarily taking on our struggles alone, seeing them as the individual product of a weak, chemically imbalanced mind. If we refuse this logic, begin to express the anger necessary for a health that recognizes the truly horrific nature of the time we’re living in and develop shared practices of care that diffuse that isolation, we can begin to grow the collective backbone we so desperately need.
Apart from a critique of modern theories on health, we as a community have lost all control over our health. Our individualized choices to workout, eat right, not smoke, etc are important, but wholly insufficient to answer the demands of this century. In order to access healthcare, we are tied to jobs that are literally killing us, whether it be mental depravity or physical degradation. Many people are in constant fear of losing this state granted access, but then are also in fear of having to access such a system, a system that is the cause of more than 50% of bankruptcies. Because we have relegated health to these institutions, we have lost our ability to heal ourselves. We no longer know the abundance of nature in helping to create health. Most people cannot perform basic first aid or use simple techniques for health. Many communities lack any cognizance or skill to handle the inevitable emotional collapse of our comrades. In addition, these institutions fundamentally cannot address the issues of climate change, economic collapse, or disruption of key infrastructure. They are as weak as we are, as evidenced by the effects of superstorms on the health infrastructure of New Orleans and New York. How can these institutions help us when the very air we breath is killing us? How do they help us adapt to a world without clean water? To answer the sadness in our souls to live in a world where we have killed all the fish in the ocean?
To answer simply, they cannot.
They are tied to the same system we are, replete with the same fundamental limitations. But we are not the same. While we are in chains, we are not of the system.
We have not always lived this way.
And to remember this fact is to regain our humanity.
Where we are now
Within Woodbine, the struggle for autonomy has been broken down into specific “tracks”, meant to focus our attention on tangible obstacles to building functioning communities. The health track is composed of a mix of health professionals and those with informal training in various health practices. We place an emphasis on re-creating a sense of community wellness and the dissemination of skills. We work to create ties with those who practice herbal medicines, massage, kinesiology, acupuncture, meditation, yoga and other forms of so called “alternative” medicine. We work on owning our own definition of wellness, from the physical to the mental. In addition, we investigate current systems of western medicine, skills, and ultimately, work to develop an ability to manipulate these institutions to serve our goals. We do not reject modern methods of medicine, but rather recognize the need to detach the knowledge from the oppressive institutions that guard it. Food and the environment have a fundamental role in health, and because of this, will have their own tracks to address their wide breadth of knowledge. Overall, this track allows us to answer the questions of how do we begin the process of removing our physical and mental minds from an oppressive system, to reclaim our control over health and use health to increase our collective autonomy.
Within the city, there is a public health infrastructure with clinics and hospitals. While there are significant problems associated with these institutions, they do provide much of the emergency and chronic care in the city. There are also spaces dedicated to holistic type medicine, although many of these are inaccessible to large portions of the population. For these reasons, we started by building a health resource center within our Woodbine space. The space is meant to be a means to involve community members, understand the care-related skills they have, and be an informational center. We have public open times for the community, staffed by one of our members. We also have begun offering a series of basic skills, including basic first aid, wound care,community health, food and nutrition, wellness, and many others. Our goal is that participants can use the informational aspect to understand their disease process, find resources of different modalities, and either receive aid in navigating the health systems in place or find treatment within the space itself. And finally, we have a preventative aspect, with our communal Sunday dinners, organic farm share, and weekly workout sessions, where we are beginning the process of owning our own health.
Where we are going
Our overarching goal is to examine what health autonomy would look like for us here in the city. We are beginning with the basics by providing ways to interact with neighbors, to think of health in a communal sense, and to aggregate the people and resources from which to begin our journey. Our short term goal is to continue with our introductory skill shares, create concrete ways to navigate the overwhelming health infrastructure that exists, and build a health community. We are also 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 must find ways to do so that protects providers and patients. As we progress, we will consider creating a larger clinical space, with more emphasis on offering a range of clinical modalities. Finally, as Woodbine looks to expand our sense of territory to upstate NY, we will look to an expansion of the project to include a more rural context, likely in the form of a functioning low-fee/no-pay clinic.
As we move through the journey towards health autonomy, we find ourselves in a context that has removed us from our ability to understand our reality . We fight that disconnection and work to build the infrastructure that can allow us 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.
My questions for peers doing related work elsewhere…
- How do you create sustainability? Donation based/grant based/fee based?
- How do you interact with existing structures?
- How do you work with or around licensures/certifications to provide safe care?
Woodbine Health Autonomy FB group