No organization can do everything. Every organization can do something, and each organization is charged with the social responsibility to do that which it can, it is built to do. A. Philip Randolph
Since I’ve realized how important self-organizing is to POCA Tech, I’ve been trying to take advice from other organizers. Asa Philip Randolph founded the first official African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He was also a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and shared the podium with Martin Luther King that day. Given how much he accomplished during his career, this particular piece of advice — no organization can do everything — is striking, and good to consider as we go forward into a new year.
Over the weekend I covered a student clinic shift for another POCA Tech supervisor who was out of town. I always come away from those shifts with a lot to think about, because supervising is such a complex job. Today I’m filtering my experiences through A. Philip Randolph’s lens.
What happens in a community acupuncture clinic is ultimately about organizing, at every level. First, the punks who are working have to organize themselves, internally, which is a lot harder than it looks from the outside. Second, the clinic has to be organized in such a way that it’s easy for a lot of patients to use it, day in and day out. This means both other clinic workers and volunteers organizing themselves internally to do their particular jobs, and the clinic systems being organized well enough for the clinic to run smoothly. The patients who come in participate in how each clinic shift self-organizes (as we all know, some shifts go better than others).
Organizing’s hard work.
So it’s worth asking: what is your clinic built to do? What is your practice built to do? What are you as a person, a punk or a punkling or a clinic worker, built to do? (There’s a great discussion inside the forums about how punks construct their clinical personas, and –surprise! — nobody does it the same way.)
My supervising shift on Saturday included several new patients, which made for some interesting conversations with the punklings. This is true of every interaction between patients and punks, but it comes up most clearly in a new intake: neither the punk nor the clinic itself can help everybody. Part of what a patient is looking for in the first encounter with the clinic is the punk’s professional opinion about whether or not acupuncture is worth trying.
Many people come in to the clinic with conditions that are likely to be long-term projects. I found myself saying to the punklings: the most important part of an intake for a chronic condition is answering the question, does this person like acupuncture? Because if they don’t, they won’t be back, and you can’t help them. In figuring out the treatment plan, I suggested considering points that were easy to needle and likely not to hurt, to minimize the chances of scaring them away and maximizing the chances of them coming in often enough to see significant results. (As it turned out, our new patients were quite game for points like Pc 6 and Fu Ke. It was a day of people who really liked acupuncture, whether they had had it before or not. And it helps that the punklings are such good needlers already.)
The truth is, in any clinic, not everybody will like acupuncture, not everybody will like their practitioner or the space or the person at the desk, and so not everybody will come back. You can’t control that. So you might as well focus your energies on identifying, and getting better and better at, what you are built to do. (There’s another great discussion on the forums about the intensely personal nature of growing a CA practice.)
This is true for POCA as well. I’ve heard that over the years, POCA’s inbox has filled up with every possible suggestion about what POCA should be doing that it isn’t doing, or what POCA should stop doing that it’s been doing. You can imagine, right? So it’s good to think about POCA being charged with the social responsibility to do what it’s built to do: be a cooperative. POCA can only provide what its members are willing to share.
And with POCA Tech, we’re learning more and more how the school can only do what it was built to do, which is to be POCA’s school, to be the supplier of punks to the cooperative. It can’t be a beautiful humanitarian organization that lowers the cost of acupuncture school for anybody who wants to go, it’s not built for that. Not at all. Based on questions that come in to POCA Tech’s inbox, I recently re-wrote the Prospective Student FAQs. This was my favorite:
Q: So should I expect the POCA Cooperative to be all up in my business about what I’m planning to do with my education after I graduate?
A: CONSTANTLY. Being a POCA Tech student is not unlike acquiring a large, nosy, sometimes quarrelsome extended family. If you want a school where people will let you alone to do your own thing, don’t apply here.
This seems like a good place to put another quote about organizing, this time from Noam Chomsky: I try to keep it in the back of my mind and think about it, but I’m afraid that the answer is always the same. There is only one way to deal with these things. Being alone, you can’t do anything. All you can do is deplore the situation. But if you join with other people, you can make changes. Millions of things are possible, depending on where you want to put your efforts.
Your thoughts, comrades?