Keynote – Welcome to the Resistance
Welcome to St. Pete. First of all, I want to acknowledge that this land that we are currently occupying, along with the rest of the Tampa Bay region, was once the home of the Tocobaga people. Nobody is really sure how long they lived here. They may have been here for thousands of years before Europeans came to the area in the early 1500’s, but what we do know is that within 100 years of their first contact with Europeans they were extinct. You can still see some of the shell mounds that they left behind and most of us who have spent any time here have probably stood on top one of them without ever realizing it, but the people and their culture are all gone now
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge all the folks who worked really hard for the last several months to put this together (ya’ll know who you are). I also want to send a big shout out to the African People’s Socialist Party who (through their affiliate Uhuru Foods) are providing us with our meals. They have also been fighting for self- determination all over the world for the last 40 years. Currently, two of their members are running for local office here in St. Pete, including Jesse Nevel for mayor, who is running on a truly revolutionary platform centered on the idea of “unity through reparations”. So, Uhuru to them!
Finally, I just want to say that I’m pretty excited that we finally get to have a Poca-fest here in Florida. I am also really psyched to see the Florida punks so well represented here. I’m sure most of us can attest that life moves to a little bit of a different rhythm down here. I personally love it here.
Florida is home to some of the most beautiful, diverse, and unique ecosystems you can imagine. Anybody who’s ever sat under an oak tree with the Spanish moss waving in the breeze, while looking out over
a Florida prairie knows what I mean. But what we also have is a rich and storied history of resistance, cooperation, and freedom. Most of us have heard of The Seminoles, but what many people don’t know is that they are actually a diverse group of people made up mostly of members of the Maskoki tribes (who we call the Creeks for some reason) who were forced to migrate south after the Creek Wars, along with people of the Hitchiti, Apalachee, Mikisúkî, Yamassee, Yuchi, Tequesta, Apalachicola, Choctaw, and Oconee who were either already in Florida or who fled South during the US government’s genocidal program of native removal in the southeastern states. They were joined by liberated Africans who had escaped slavery, and still others in the pursuit of better lives here in Florida. The word “Seminoles” literally means “free people” and although they came from different backgrounds, they came together both as a means of survival and for a common purpose: To resist the dominant culture. The alliance that they formed was considered a threat to the US government and to the institution of slavery. They were able to resist what at the time was the most costly military campaign in US history, and to this day the US government was never able to force a surrender. They’re still here and they are still leading the fight to protect Florida’s land and water. So never forget that when we’re talking about Florida and the Seminole people, we’re referring to people who stood up to all of the might that the strongest nation on earth could muster, and never surrendered.
That is why It makes me very proud to be standing here with all of you wonderful people and have this opportunity to say welcome to the Resistance! …because whether you know it are not, whether you like it or not, that’s who we are. And that’s who we’ve always been. Now I’m aware that the word, resistance, has been thrown around a lot lately. So much, in fact, that its meaning has become questionable. So, when I say that POCA is part of the resistance, I want to emphasize that I’m not
talking about the phony white-washed resistance that began a few months ago, that is being sold to us by millionaires, and that will end the minute another millionaire more suitable takes the reins of power, restores the status quo, and puts us right back on the same disastrous path. The resistance I am talking about is one that is coming from the ground up. It’s one that has been fought tooth and nail for generations, and is one that, if successful, will completely rock the foundation that most of us are standing on.
I also want to emphasize that resistance can take on many forms and can look like many different things. It can look like people putting their bodies on the line to stop a pipeline from being built or like longshoremen refusing to load a shipment that is going to support apartheid. It can look like millions of women taking to the streets to send the message that “we are here” and “we are willing to fight”. Or it could look like millions of immigrants, risking their livelihood to call for a general strike, in a show of power that causes business as usual to grind to a halt. It can look like youth rising up in the streets after watching one too many of their friends and neighbors being gunned down. It can look like a city employee refusing to cut off the power to someone’s home. It can look like a massive prison strike, like blockades of roads or airports, like broken windows and burning limos. It can look like oppressed people taking up arms to protect their communities from violence.
And it can also look like ensuring everyone has enough to eat, that everyone has adequate housing, and is treated with dignity and respect. It can look like neighbors forming a childcare collective so that parents can work to provide for their families. It can look like free skools, skill shares, and community gardens. It can look like people welcoming new neighbors who are fleeing from yet another imperialist war.
It looks like affordable and accessible healthcare. It looks like putting solidarity into practice with the understanding that ideals like freedom, justice, prosperity, and security mean nothing unless they apply to all of us. It looks like living cooperatively not competitively, working and conspiring with other members of the community not at their expense. It means understanding power dynamics and working to dismantle systems that keep people powerless even if, especially if, it means you have to give away some of the power and the privilege that you inherited.
It means whatever our skills, talents, interests, or vocations are, we need to ask ourselves – who are we serving? Are we serving our own selfish interests? Are we using our creative abilities to help further exploitation and prop up an unjust system? Or are we truly serving the people? Are we actively creating the kind of world that we want to live in?
Nearly a half a century ago. On June 17, 1970 members of the Young Lords, an activist organization dedicated to Puerto Rican independence, human liberation, and neighborhood empowerment, were faced with a tuberculosis epidemic. TB was a disease of oppression, it had been all but eradicated in middle and upper class America (and in white America in general), but it was epidemic in the south Bronx. The tuberculosis society had an x-ray truck in the neighborhood but they were using it mostly for propaganda and political purposes and not much else. They were making no real attempt to actually get people to use the x-ray facilities, and no real attempt to help people who were suffering. The Young Lords took action. They liberated the x-ray truck and put it to use helping the people in their community. They had always said that the time will come when the people will take over all of the institutions and machinery that control and exploit their lives. It’s telling that one of their top priorities was related to healthcare. Six months later this
same group of people joined with the black panthers and other allies to take over Lincoln Hospital and create the people’s drug program, also known as Lincoln Detox, that would eventually lead to the development of NADA.
The point is revolutionary organizations and movements for self- determination have always placed a high priority on healthcare. Not because it’s glorious or sexy, or because of some abstract idealism, but because it’s a basic necessity. This is just one example. The Black Panther Party, along with free breakfast programs, mandated that all chapters work on opening free health clinics. The Young Patriots, an anti-racist, revolutionary organization based in Chicago (but made up mostly of poor whites from southern Appalachia), following the lead of the Black Panthers, did the same. The Cuban revolution despite suffocating sanctions made healthcare a priority and developed a program of social medicine that is unrivaled anywhere in the world. And In revolutionary China, the barefoot doctor program was created to train farmers, who would then go back home to provide a basic level of healthcare in their communities. For a more recent example we can look to the Zapatistas. One of their main political goals is to build an autonomous health system, what they call “healthcare organized from below” with an emphasis on traditional knowledge in order to reduce dependence on a repressive healthcare system that discriminates against and marginalizes indigenous and poor people. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work of Mamas Against Meth in Pine Ridge. Part of their work highlights the connections between the oil and gas industry and violence against Indigenous peoples. Their main fight currently is against a meth epidemic that looks eerily similar to the heroin epidemic that devastated black, brown, and poor communities and movements in the 60’s and 70’s. The list could go on and on.
What all of these different groups recognize(d) is that healthcare is inextricably linked to self- determination and empowerment of any community. Our capitalist system actively steals the means of, and represses the use of healthcare for and by people in poor and oppressed communities while simultaneously pretending these same communities don’t exist. Acupuncture is stolen medicine. There is really no denying that anymore. While restoring and increasing access is a wonderful thing for the people involved, it does nothing to address the power imbalance at the root of the issue. Restoring control, however, that is revolutionary. That is why POCA Tech is so important to this movement. When education and licensure is restricted to the privileged, our clinics merely increase access. By removing these restrictions, POCA Tech aims to restore control. Along these same lines, I also want to give a quick shout out to Elizabeth Ropp and the rest of the folks in New Hampshire for the work they are doing to give control of NADA back to the people who need it most.
Our role in this struggle is just one among many but is an important one none the less. Acupuncture is a very simple, yet very powerful medicine. Healing is literally created out of nothing. It’s low-cost, low- tech, and can be used almost anywhere by almost anyone. I don’t think I need to tell anybody here the profound effect that acupuncture has. It can improve health, relieve pain, and help a person get through another day, but it’s effect on the whole community is even greater than that. Let’s think for a moment about the effect that pain has. Elaine Scarry provides an excellent description that I think many of us can recognize immediately. She says “It destroys a person’s self and world, a destruction experienced spatially as either the contraction of the universe down to the immediate vicinity of the body or as the body swelling to fill the entire universe”.
Fear also has a similar effect. Caitlin Johnstone describes fear as “debilitating to the creative, expansive, intuitive mind’ and goes on to say that fear “makes you highly predictable and manipulatable.” When we are in pain, sick, exhausted, afraid, and overwhelmed, we become isolated and easy to manipulate. We become so focused on the 6 inches in front of our face that we are unable to pull back and see the bigger picture. We stop thinking for ourselves, and we become content to choose only from the terrible options presented to us by those that we perceive as authority figures
And when the means to care for ourselves and for our own communities are taken from us, and we are kept dependent on the same system that oppresses us, then we become nothing but hopeless individuals fighting solely for our own survival, and our communities break down. Capitalism thrives in this environment. Fascism thrives in this environment. Our clinics directly counter this. Not just by helping people feel better but by creating space where self-reliance and self- determination are nurtured, space where the power of collective action and the importance of community are unmistakable, and ultimately space where resistance can grow. Just imagine if every neighborhood had one of these. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there.
Two hundred years ago, back when Florida was mostly virgin forests and wild-flowing rivers, the many different people who made their way here, dreaming of freedom and hoping to make a better life for themselves and their families, began working and living together purely as a means of survival. Along the way they found much more than that. They found a common purpose. And that is a powerful thing.
The Seminoles didn’t form on a whim. Nobody just decided one day to wake up, move to Florida, and become a Seminole. They formed and
were shaped by the cultural, political, and environmental conditions that were present at the time. What does that have to do with us 200 years later? Everything really. Our clinics, and this organization do not exist in a vacuum. They exist, for many different reasons really, but mainly they exist because a lot of people from different backgrounds, with different interests and talents came together in response to the cultural, political, and environmental conditions that are present today. Through POCA we found the space where we feel liberated, where we can unapologetically be who we are and put our individual creative talents to use working for something much bigger than ourselves. What some knew instinctively and what some of us had to learn along the way (and are still learning), is that we ourselves can never be liberated while others are oppressed. That we have a responsibility to our communities to work toward changing the conditions that give rise to most of the suffering we see in our clinics every day. That only when all members of our community are empowered can we begin to cultivate hope for a shared future.
We are living in exciting times. We’re either going to figure out a way to live that has a future on this planet… or we’re not. There are people who have a vested interest in keeping this ecocidal and genocidal system going at all costs and there are people who have been resisting this same system since its inception. POCA and our clinics are built for times like these. The forces that formed the Seminoles, that caused the young lords to take action, and are shaping the resistance movements of today are also the exact same forces that brought all of us here together, that formed our clinics, and that shape our practices. We may use different tools and tactics and have different areas of focus, but in the end, we’re all fighting the same enemy and we’re all working toward a common goal.
One thing that most of us, here in this room, have that most others do not, is the privilege of choice. So, we have some choices to make. And it starts by asking ourselves a simple question: What kind of world do we want to live in? If we can answer that question and be clear on our intent, then all we need to do is decide for ourselves what actions we’re willing to take each and every day to make that world happen. So, Welcome to the Resistance!