Community is an essential aspect of my life, a realization brought home recently by my mother’s death. My mother was a solitary person, an individualist, who feared exposure: she kept to herself. She was fond of animals, and though she was a nurse, people simply made her uncomfortable. She pretended she didn’t need personal connections and that things mattered more than relationships. She longed for the way things were… On March13th this year, Mom died (at 76) relatively young considering her access to health care, food and shelter.
There’s a growing body of research that says we live longer and better if in addition to safety, food & shelter, we have community, we have connections, and we have passions. And while social class is the primary determinant of health outcome, racism has a detrimental impact over and above that of low social class.
Mom's passing and the way she died — actually, more the way Mom lived — have made clear to my family the necessity of community. Beloved community where people share a vision of a just world; beloved community whose members work together to build it. Not heaven; but now.
Oppression is stressful and the stress of racism damages people’s health. Jeff Ritterman, with the Physicians for Social Responsibility, writes of the health risks caused by racism for African Americans in the U.S., “The physician who treats the hypertensive [African American] patient unwittingly performs the social function of normalizing the status quo by ignoring the root cause of the high blood pressure and focusing exclusively on the patient's response to drug therapy.” The appropriate physiologic response to a perceived threat is vigilance and preparedness to run or to fight, a persistent unremitting vigilance. This hypervigilant state comes with a price: heart disease, strokes, kidney failure and premature death are the results. A normal physiologic response (blood pressure rise) to an unhealthy social environment becomes an unhealthy necessity that for many leads to illness and death. One then asks: do beta blockers treat the problem?
When systemic social inequalities persist over geography and time, consistently impacting the health and wellbeing of people, it is fair to say health care is in fact part of the problem. And the immediate next question for many of us here is how do we use acupuncture for social good and resistance?
POCA provides resources and connections for patients, acupuncturists & punks in training to build a world that resists oppression. The bonds we forge as we work together to develop resources for the work of resisting help us create a thriving network of community acupuncture clinics and support for the people who frequent those spaces. Together we build beloved community.
Stress, isolation and economic insecurity are at the heart of illness in the 21st century. Racism and oppression are its heart center. Death in not a disease; when and why we die though can be. Whether we’re looking at why children of Harvard educated black parents have higher infant mortality rates than the children of less educated white people. (The infant mortality rate reflects death in infants before reaching their first birthday.) Or, whether we’re looking at why people over 65 with fewer social contacts have higher morbidity. Or, whether we look at the experience of pain and speed of recovery after illness of people enduring high stress. Economics, meaningful social connections, and stress levels caused by personal illness and social inequalities do matter. In our community acupuncture clinics, we treat many types of people in a variety of life situations: people who have to work while they’re sick, and in dangerous unhealthy environments. We care for people who are food insecure and at risk of hunger: one third of U.S. households with children headed by a single woman don’t have enough food. We provide acupuncture to survivors of violence and abuse, people who struggle to stay present in their bodies. These are the people we treat; these are our community.
Your membership in POCA connects you with both a vision and resources that can help you do the work of community building. By offering affordable acupuncture in a group setting to people who otherwise would not have access to care, we address the social underpinnings that cause disease. As community acupuncturists we use acupuncture to build community, provide comfort and rest, and nurture the inner capacity to heal and resist. As patients and volunteers at POCA clinics we empower ourselves to make live the vision of beloved community.
In a speech following the announcement of the Supreme Court decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s busses, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of [people].”
We rest gently napping in the treatment rooms of community acupuncture clinics. We don’t have to be like one another, we don’t even have to agree. And this is true within the Forums and Circles of POCA. But by being together we learn to understand and allow the process of community to transform us. We build connections and beloved community.
The Spring Membership Drive begins on May 1st and runs throughout the month of May. You are warmly encouraged to participate and organize *your* local initiative in your community. A few suggestions:
– Look over the resources provided to help you run your Membership Drive: POCA members see Forums>POCA Community>POCA Fishbowl>Membership Drive Spring 2015
– Consider holding a May Day event with free acupuncture to kick off your Drive.
– Set a goal for membership — renewals and new memberships — and share that in the Forums.
– Post your questions and suggestions there too: what works well at your clinic, challenges your having, so we can learn from one another how to build the beloved community.
I look forward to seeing you in Rhode Island at POCAFest!
Seminole Heights Community Acupuncture
Basin Economist Intelligence Unit. Does having a hobby help you live longer? National Health Services, NHS Choices.
David R, Collins, J. Disparities in Infant Mortality: What’s Genetics Got to Do With It? Am J Public Health. 2007 July; 97(7): 1191–1197.
Inequality and Health, Institute for Policy Studies
Paradies Y, Priest N, Ben J, et al. Racism as a determinant of health: a protocol for conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis. Syst Rev. 2013;2: 85.
Pascoe EA, Smart Richman L. Perceived discrimination and health: a meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull. Jul 2009;135(4): 531-554.
Ritterman, J MD. The Beloved Community: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Prescription for a Healthy Society
Huffington Post, 01/19/2014.
Unnatural Causes, PBS documentary
Williams DR, Neighbors HW, Jackson JS. Racial/ethnic discrimination and health: findings from community studies. Am J Public Health. Feb 2003;93(2): 200-208.