My Break Up Letter to Capitalism

Happy May Day! And thank you to everyone who's been buying the new book: in April we raised $554 for POCA Tech! In honor of May Day, I thought this might be a good time to post an excerpt — the chapter that was the fastest, easiest, and most fun to write. I hope everybody got to do something enjoyably subversive today.

Dear capitalism,

We need to talk.

First, I want to tell you, I’ve grown a lot by being with you. Relationships change people, and you’ve changed me. I don’t want to minimize what you gave me, just because our relationship has gotten rough.

Owning my own business is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Anybody’s who’s known me for a long time can see that. I didn’t have a choice about building everything from scratch, but it was a big deal for me to discover I was good at it. I found out I was resourceful and persistent, which is an antidote to the pervasive sexist messages in our culture about women being less capable than men. Double points for what that means for a survivor of sexual violence.

You made me feel like I could do stuff.

I like knowing I’m scrappy. I like being an expert at bootstrapping. I like being able to look at men in business suits who work for big corporations – you know, the ones who run the world – and think, Dude, you wouldn’t last 10 minutes where I come from; you couldn’t hack it. Maybe you can earn a lot of money working in a business, or running a business you inherited, but let’s see you make one. Out of nothing. During the 2012 election, when Mitt Romney kept talking about being a job creator, I was like, ha ha ha me too! And I bet I started with less than you, Mitt.

You gave me freedom and you gave me confidence, capitalism. I’m never going to try to write you out of my history. But it’s complicated now.

I’m an acupuncturist first. That’s what I built my business out of, my skills at relieving people’s headaches and regulating their menstrual cycles and releasing their stiff necks (you know how great that is, to put a couple of needles in someone’s wrist and all of a sudden, the agonizing crick in their neck lets go and they can turn their head? Best feeling ever!). For better or worse, I look at the world as an acupuncturist; I look at health problems in terms of their root and branch. So, you know what our main problem is, capitalism?

You hurt people.

You made my clinic possible but after working in it for a decade, there’s just no way around the conclusion that a large proportion of the suffering I see in my patients is coming from you. I started realizing this when I was doing intakes, and I joked with new patients that our name – Working Class Acupuncture – fits because so many people we treat are coming in with work-related problems. So many repetitive stress conditions, so many injuries that turned into chronic pain when people couldn’t take time off to heal, so much damage done by grinding minimum wage jobs. People coming to see us because they can’t afford to go to the doctor – you know how scary that is, when your patient can’t afford their inhalers? People can die of asthma attacks. Or the flip side, people injured by too much medical care that they got thanks to the profit motive in our healthcare system: too many surgeries, too many prescriptions, too many side effects.

Like my colleague Whitsitt said, “The violence of our economic system is written on our patients’ bodies and minds.”

And you know what else is inescapable after a decade of running a community acupuncture clinic: the realization that you’re not really on my side as a small business owner, either. You like to pretend you are, but you’re not. Everything costs too much because everybody I do business with is trying to pad their bottom line, trying to put a little distance between themselves and the edge of the socioeconomic cliff. Don’t try to tell me I’m afraid of hard work – you can’t get away with that line with me. I think we’ve established that I like work. I just happen to know the difference between work and running to exhaustion on a treadmill.

It’s like so many relationships: in the beginning, I loved your potential. I loved the promise of your possibilities. I loved how you made me feel: like the world revolved around me.

But if I’m honest with myself, a lot of the time you treat me like shit.

Oh, and don’t forget my family. You know my father walks with a limp because when he was a kid he got hit by a car and there wasn’t any money to take him to a doctor. I don’t know how I put that out of my mind when I was so excited about our relationship, capitalism, but I guess I’m good at repressing stuff. For awhile, anyway. But it’s too late to pretend that I don’t know a lot about violence written on bodies. I know as much about that as I know about running a small business. And I realize now that I didn’t have much of a choice about having a relationship with you, since you’re the one calling the shots.

Remember what Ursula LeGuin said about you in her acceptance speech for an award from the National Book Foundation? We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings.

I’m not going to judge myself, or anybody else, for whatever compromises we need to make with you in order to survive. But from here on out I want to be clear that our relationship is about the power you have over me, that’s all there is to it. You don’t have my heart or my will or my imagination. I’m not giving you any more creativity or loyalty or hope. You can keep your rewards.

This isn’t goodbye because I don’t have the ability to leave you, but from here on out I’m putting all my love and belief into the possibilities of what might come after you’re gone and what’s already happening in spaces you don’t completely control – because those do exist, and I even carved out a couple myself without fully understanding what I was doing. I don’t mind living in your interstices. I’ll be a mouse in your walls. I’ll chew through some of your wires if I get the chance.

And I’ll wait. Because I believe I deserve something better than you.

Yours truly,


Author: lisafer

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Conference Keynote: Breaking the Ceiling

The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. Lisa, you are a badass and I love you! You say the things that need to be said-for our patients, for each other and for ourselves. Thanks for being our fearless leader and the voice for our community. I am so damn proud to be a punk. I can’t wait to read the rest of the book.

  2. Your book is simply awesome!! I will have to read it a couple of times just to absorb everything.

    Anyone want to make a comment about the new company called “Modern Acupuncture” with franchises available? The company even has Robert Doane and Marilyn Allen on board! Just thought that was an interesting take on things when look at all that you put up with getting community acupuncture even established.

    With the political climate and the current state of medical care in this country and the world, it will be interesting to see what develops.