What We’re Built to Do

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?

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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.


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  1. It is brilliant to know and be clear about what you are built to do. “Built to do” brings “purpose” down to earth and gives it roots. I want to think about this deeply.

    Thank you Lisa,


  2. Love the reference to family. I often feel that I consider POCA like family. We don’t always agree on things, sometimes I want to leave because I don’t like the politics, sometimes crazy uncle so and so is driving me nuts, sometimes I am crazy uncle so and so, sometimes I really need a glass of wine to stay calm and keep smiling. It really is just like family lol! Other times I miss POCA, I want to be included, and go to the gatherings, and give everybody a huge hug. We are definitely one big, dysfunctional, family…”normal” is so overrated.

  3. This is such a great topic. Supervising at POCA tech has provoked some seriously pensive times for me and at the end of the day it is really all about this exact thing, what are we built to do? Being clear about this in my mind is often the determination of whether I say something or not to a student who is in discovery mode. Something I have struggled with is how do I help support new punks figure that out, what we are built to do, while still allowing them to discover and explore what it’s not about and what we’re not built to do so that they can learn by error?

    For me, community acupuncture and becoming part of a team of kick ass punks has been filled with so many gifts. I think one of the greatest gifts is that it has really right sized my ego around being a practitioner. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I don’t mean that I was ever a cocky, holier than thou, I have the power to heal you type of practitioner. It was more of a figure out what you were coming in for before you got there and spend a lot of time researching and crafting an elegant group of points that I felt was worth giving because I had done the work to know that this might be the treatment that unlocks your chronic pain and changes your life forever. If your not a person who is wired that way the weight and stress of that kind of thinking can weigh pretty heavy on a person. When I got to CA the shear time constraint allowed me to break free of that pressure and just practice. Practice helping people feel better in this moment and getting out of my own way in order to do so. Their 20 year long back pain might not go away today after their first treatment but their improved mood, new found state of relaxation and a good nights sleep might help and when they’re still coming in a year down the line, because they decided that they like acupuncture I have no doubt that their original back pain will be much improved at that point.

    All of this also allowed me to understand that this treatment and this experience is not about me as a practitioner at all. I mean it is in the sense that I need to be a competent, safe, accommodating, present practitioner that is doing a whole bunch of stuff all at once while appearing to be calm cool and collected all the time 🙂 But it’s about so much more. I often think about when I used to work in inpatient drug and alcohol rehab centers. I would have some people come into the treatment room and not get treated but they still liked to come in to the room of folks getting treated, sit quietly and they would always remark that this made them feel better even though they chose not to get needled. What I’m trying to get at is that there is so much more going on when someone comes to a CA clinic that is doing what it is built to do than just us putting needles in. These are the things I want our interns to start to understanding during their clinical experiences because that’s when we really begin to understand how to practice like a punk.

  4. Love it! And this really touches me deeply personally too. My little clinic has been busy seeing ~6000 treatments a year, but in many ways I am so unfit to be an entrepreneur like those tests you take on the internet about entrepreneurship.

    I fail all those….

    I am terribly risk adverse. I think about everything in a catastrophic way. I am sensitive to perceived criticism whether by myself or other people. And I am so shy and so bad with people. I remember doing something Christmasy with one of my volunteers and friends and she said sometimes she has to explain to patients I am just really focused and it’s not I dislike them when I am not friendly ;). My health is not that great.

    But in someways my clinic has been okay in spite of all that because I just focus on doing what I can as best as I can do it.

    I can’t be everything to everyone and my clinic teaches me that lesson everyday. 🙂