Guest Post: Lucas Van Meter


This summer I was a receptionist at WCA part time. One day  we got an email from an acupuncturist who we had sent a postcard to. I decided that it would be interesting to email back and try to reason with him so I took some time to write a response. Some of the acupunks on the CAN Board thought it would be a good idea to post it, so here it is.


I received a post card yesterday touting your upcoming event in MN.Struck by the name Working Class Acupuncture I decided to give you a write.

Your inclusion of the word acupuncture with working class is something I've never encountered in medicine before I've just never had the option to add politics when I go to my “Working Class Dentist,” or my 'Working Class Optometrist”, or my “Working Class Dermatologist,” or my “Working Class…well, you supply the profession.” . Over the years, I've encountered very little of class separation in medicine. Oh yes, I'm very aware that choices for the wealthy exist that don't exist for the poor, but I've never seen terms like Wealthy, Rich, Upper or Middle class, or any other descriptions that imply class division in medicine before yours Yet, here you are, it seems, sarcastically trying to draw distinction to class references. Subjectively, it's almostlike you're trying to pick a fight by politicizing it. What I'm understanding by your choice of names basically is saying: If you don't identify with working class you're not part of our clinic. Which, if it's the case, just makes the general public's acceptance of acupuncture even more confusing and difficult.

Seven years ago I opened a walk in acupuncture clinic, offering $15 treatments, directly in the center of the downtown Minneapolis business district. There are approximately 35,000 people within 2 blocks of my location. I thought I would be overwhelmed. I could not sell them on the concept of a “Working Class Clinic.” After months of empty rooms, not making the rent and trying anything to get patients into my door, I switched to a more traditional clinic approach, offering massage, acupuncture and herbs. It made the difference in my remaining open. These working class people were not interested in easing their working class problems.

Located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, I center my practice on treating work place conditions, i.e., what ever makes you feel lousy while at work. I don't differentiate my client base by class. It runs from someone flipping tacos to CEO's of large corporations, and every occupation in between. (You want some bad working class working conditions. Try sitting on a terrible cheap chair in a cubicle, staring at a computer monitor, hammering on a keyboard for 6.5 to 8 hours a day, with a ear piece hanging while someone on the other end blars in your ear.. IMO this environment is worst that most factories from the 50' and 60's. They hadunions back then that would change things.) Seeing as I work with “EVERYBODY” in THE working class, I don't understand what are you trying to define by the term working class. These days the revolution is about community, not about economics. It's about a shared planet, water, air, food. limited resources, sustainability. All the common things necessary to survive. (Marx's essay was about the sharing of the commons, not the means of production.)

Were you steeped in some romantic lore, reminiscent out of the “Dr. Zhivago” or “The Long March” era's when you choose your name. Aren't those era's so 20th century. So yesterday! So divisive! Sure acupuncture is steeped in the “Revolution.” But that's a different revolution, it's the Chinese and not our revolution. If you ask your patients about the “Revolution” I'll bet the majority would talk about gaining independence from England. Revolutions are expressions of historical fact, not of changes taking place today. The revolution is about being at the beginning in 1972 when James Reston wrote about his acupuncture appendectomy in the NY Times. The revolution is about not having books, teachers, schools, clinics, and mostof all acceptance, recognition and credibility by the medical profession and more importantly the general public. It's about 17 years of rejection at the state legislature. It's about ridicule and suspicion and being threatened with lawsuits. It's about being called a quack, a fraud. The revolution is working in a clinic very similar to yours in 1991 in the ghetto in St. Paul. It's working in the walk in treatment clinic that opened in 1984 in Minneapolis, treating a client base that may be similar to yours today. It's about treating people in prisons and treatment centers and half way houses and detox centers and intensive care units. It's about research and clinical trials measuring the efficacy and outcomes of acupuncture treatments. These early “Pioneers” all knew in their hearts they were taking part in the “Revolution” but no one ever took it upon themselves to express it as a revolution. Sorta like the Tao, if you speak the word Tao you do not know the Tao.

The revolution is about the change happening always in front of your nose. (But then it's change and not a revolution.) Actually it's between your fingers. The needle's the change. It's been a revolution since the Yellow Emperor. The needle doesn't make a distinction of who's being treated. The needle is the treatment. It treats everyone. Not just those who can'tafford medical care. Not just the “Working Class.”

I apologize for being frank and perhaps blunt, but my hope is that an understanding of the divisive limitations of something as specific as “Working Class,” while it may promote a singular cause, is a divergence away from helping to change those that encounter acupuncture. It has always been my philosophy that tuning to the path of the Tao of Acupunctureis leading our civilization towards what it needs to be unifying and harmonizing. Helping to heal the divisions that exist due to social, economic or cultural rules and norms. The mission, these days, is about making vibrational medicine available and understandable to those who don't know anything about it, so they too can travel the unchanging path of the universe. While I commend you on your hard work and success, it's clear, to me, that the term revolution means different things to different people, but the use of the term Working Class and the layout of your web site makes me believe that your revolution may not have been my “Long March.”


M.S. L.Ac.

	I’m not sure if you were looking for a response but if anything I have a
	few questions for you. Although, first I feel like I should try and explain
	what we do and why we have the name we do.
	I remember when we were first trying to start our clinic it was called
	“Window of the Sky”. It was a small practice at first and we didn’t
	really know what we were doing. We knew that we wanted to help people, like
	all acupuncturists, but we also had a difficult time making a living. So
	for the last seven years we have been trying to create a clinic that can
	both help people who need it and be economically viable at the same time.
	So, before I began to explain our name, my first question to you is how
	should one DO this? As I’m sure you’ve read on our website we have
	managed to build a model that we believe works fairly well. I’ll explain
	it briefly here just to highlight a few points. We charge people using a
	sliding scale from 15-35 dollars. We just let them pay whatever they want
	to and don’t ask them any questions about it. Most people pay 15 but some
	also pay 35 and lot in between. Sometimes new patients are a little nervous
	about this and mumble something about being unemployed when they say they
	can only pay 15 dollars but that is what the system is designed to avoid.
	We think that people should be able to pay whatever they can for
	acupuncture and they should not feel self-conscious about their economic
	situation. In this way we hope to include everyone as much as we can. A lot
	of people can’t afford 15 dollars and some people have enough money that
	they can go to very specialized acupuncturist who will pamper them for 200
	dollars a treatment.
	We see about 500 patients a week and are still expanding. Also if you have
	looked at the community acupuncture website
	( you will see that there are
	many others who have done similar things. Now I’m not saying that just
	because we are successful we deserve anything. I do think it is significant
	that we get to treat so many more people who normally could not afford
	acupuncture. I could understand someone not agreeing with us about what we
	do, it’s been fairly constant since we started, and I’m not sure how to
	answer. To us the bottom line is that community acupuncture helps people.
	It’s not political; it’s not about being morally right. And as much as
	we would like to be nice and gentle at all times we feel that something
	needs to be done even if there is friction. Once again I could see someone
	disagreeing and I do not know if we will be able to see eye to eye.
	To reiterate the earlier questions, do you think we should DO anything
	differently? Is there something that we could be doing, not semantically
	but practically, that we could change to help more people? This is what I
	really care about although the idea of names is interesting and I’ll
	share my thoughts on it.
	I think we changed our name from “Window of the Sky” to “Working
	Class Acupuncture” because we wanted to make a strong statement. Our
	general appearance has the same vibe with the fist as a logo and “Join
	the revolution” as are motto. In a way it’s serious, because we do
	believe that working class people are getting the short end of the stick,
	but it’s also kind of a joke and I hope you can see that. We’re being a
	bit flamboyant with our ideas because it helps attract people’s attention
	and thus facilitate change.
	But on a more serious note we do believe that medicine has many class
	markers in it. Lisa talks about this for many pages in her book but I can
	try to give the gist of it here. The general idea is that most acupuncture
	is not only expensive but also sold as something with an exquisite and
	exotic feel to it. We coined the term “boutique acupuncture” to
	describe all those facial treatments and other upper class based markets of
	acupuncture. We feel that when you look at all of these elements and see
	that virtually no working class person feels like they belong in that world
	and couldn’t afford it anyways. It amounts to a form of classism. If you
	don’t agree with us here you probably won’t agree with a lot of the
	things we say, including our name. If that is true I urge you to think
	about it but I can’t change your mind and we might have to agree to
	disagree. If that is a divisive thing to say I feel that it cannot be
	avoided. We feel very strongly about this subject and to let go of those
	beliefs would be to give up our own willpower.
	So assuming you can at least pretend we might be right I’ll go on.  The
	name working class acupuncture draws a big circle around the problem of
	classism. We wanted to bring it out into the open so that hopefully we
	could change it. When we use the word revolution we simply mean change. And
	change is an odd thing that can bring up a lot of problems. Change can mean
	conflict and division. This seems to me to be the heart of your concern. So
	I ask another question, if we strongly believe that we need to change the
	way people practice acupuncture should we do so at the cost of division and
	conflict? Once again I could understand someone saying “The most
	important thing is to stay united and peaceful” but we can no longer
	accept that. We feel that to accept the current state of things is a defeat
	and that the change we wish to bring is worth some division.  Maybe we are
	being a bit self-righteous but would you deny us our ability to strive for
	the change we see as necessary? Another way of putting it is that I hope
	your “long march” allows some new people to join it or at least walk
	their own way. Maybe new ideas and directions are important. Maybe if we
	don’t constantly have new revolutions, what was the revolution of old
	becomes the status quo.
	And one thing that I’m not sure I should bring up because you probably
	did not think about it much before writing it and I don’t want to be
	unfair was this: “These working class people were not interested in
	easing their working class problems.” It has become far too easy to say
	something like this without really thinking about what it means. I think
	this is symptomatic of the classism that pervades acupuncture. It’s
	actually really hard to get people, especially working class people, who do
	not feel like they belong, to accept acupuncture. One of the reasons we
	chose the name we did was to make it give a message that even working class
	people could get acupuncture. We’ve had people come in and say that they
	came because of our name. But if one dismisses them for not feeling that
	they belong that’s basically saying that the majority of our population,
	which is less entitled, is ignorant and should be punished for it. To me
	this feels like freeing oneself of responsibility by blaming the less
	entitled for not giving one everything one wants. 
	I’ll also talk about the Tao a little bit because you brought it up. I
	couldn’t help but remember a very amusing comment by Hence Po Chu-i in
	one of my translations of the Tao Te Ching. It goes like this: “He who
	talks doesn’t know, he who knows doesn’t talk’: that is what Lao-tzu
	told us, in a book of five thousand words. If he was the one who knew, how
	could he have been such a blabbermouth?” Of course the Tao Te Ching
	itself tells us that paradoxes exist in the world.
	I wonder if I have clarified anything for you. Is our name divisive? In
	some ways it is. Are we trying to exclude the upper class? Perhaps they
	feel a bit excluded but seeing as how they are a small minority that
	virtually all acupuncturists serve we feel that the excluded working class
	that is always dismissed is more important right now. I want to end by
	asking you a few questions in hopes that I might understand how this all
	looks to you.
	Do you think that there is a problem with how acupuncture is practiced in
	the US? Is it classist? If so, how should we fix this? What role do new
	revolutions play in your mind if any? The most important thing to us right
	now though is what should we do? What actions should we be taking? Because
	to us if we can help people, especially the people who need it, we will be
	If I didn’t really clarify anything please ask a direct question so I
	know more what to respond to. I would be interested what you think of all
	this. I’m not trying to start a fight, just trying to understand how
	other people think about what were doing.


Skip Van Meter
Author: Skip Van Meter

Skip is Lead Acupuncturist and Co-Founder of <a href="" target="_blank">Working Class Acupuncture</a> in Portland, Oregon. With the earlier part of his life spent acquiring knowledge about geology, urban planning and teaching high school, he has now been an acupuncturist for 19 years, using about a 1,750,000 needles poking his patients. He likes all things soccer, has three fabulous sons, the best wife in the world, and a great dog and two cool cats.

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  1. Out of context

    All of the examples given by M.S. are all licensed physicians and are pretty much essential services, well OK, the dermatologist is debatable. While acupuncture is awesome, its need is more for society than for specific problems like a cavity (it was really hard to get that out without starting shit, so please give me the benefit). Part of acupuncture is about getting people healthy again in that I see myself as giving people’s bodies a kick in the arse to get the healing going. The other part, especially in this WCA/CAN perspective is about social justice, social health.

    It is certainly a good idea, as he writes, to see everyone as working class and I think that is the overall message of WCA; it’s not exclusive, it’s inclusive. The sliding scale exists to allow some balance for different people in the community. Hell, I’m even open to some barter for people who can’t afford the bottom endof the scale. One city I lived in during high school (West Vancouver) was/is a very, very wealthy part of the world and most of the homes around my grandparents house there had a kick ass house and a pretty serious car, but no furniture. These guys were so tapped out that they ate on the one sofa in the place watching a shitty TV, just like me back on the farm. So I don’t care if someone comes to my space in a Bugati or a Yugo, everyone is welcome (although I’d really like to sit in that Bugatti).

     It’s pretty easy to take the “Working Class” out of context around here. I’m rpretty new myself to this and I got a few chuckles at first reading about everyone talking about their own working class upbringing.

    It reminded me of the Monty Python sketch about the Yorkshiremen (?) sitting around trying to one up (down?) each other; “Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at six o’clock in the
    morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of ‘ot gravel, work twenty hour
    day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would thrash us to
    sleep with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!”

    I hope that brough smiles to some, it’s all in good fun n’est pas? If you can’t laugh at yourself, I’ll do it for you.

    It’s nice to see these kind of things, because as I said I am new and I don’t know yet what to say to people who start up on the “assembly line acupuncture” routine. I don’t get into class so much myself, for me it’s just about provding good care to the people around me. From the business perspective, it was a terribly hard sell trying to do acupuncture for $60 like everyone else for all those years; if this is what people can afford, this is what I’ll charge.

    Well, that’s enough BS from me today, I made cookies and after hanging drywall I need a treat, have a g’night.


  2. Good Job, Lucas

    Your response to this practioner was so well written, that I thought it was Lisa, initially, until you mentioned Lisa.

    I am confused, is this practioner angry that his/her CAN (but pre-CAN) clinic did not take off successfully.

    If he or she really has had the opportunity to work in prisons and half way houses and detox centers, and got paid for it, then I am envious.  Minnesota is definately more progressive than North Carolina.  There are no NADA centers here that employ acupuncturists.  I would actually love to work in NADA clinic and collect a paycheck and not have to fret about quickbooks and quarterly taxes, and gorilla marketing. Sam would love to work with prison inmates.  As a newbie punk I would love to make that happen, but I do not know how and I need to practice my craft in the meantime.

    I am greatful for textbooks and schools, and teachers, but I want to ask this guy/gal, “what is revolutionary about 6 figure salaries collected by the NCCAOM staff?”  “What is revolutionary about $25 per CEU credit?

    I am glad that this practioner has a successful practice and treats a diversity of patients.  He/She did not mention how much the taco flipper and the CEO are paying for treatments.