Public Service Announcement, Part Two

It’s been three weeks since Acupuncture Today ran their first article on the collapse of the AAAOM and I have a prediction to make.  

Remember that paragraph at the end? “There are already conversations among disenfranchised leaders of other organizations about creating a new national association to compete with and eventually replace the AAAOM. Were this to happen, the profession would be split into divisive factions making it difficult to ever make headway on national issues.”

Were this to happen? It IS happening; it’s ALWAYS happening; it’s the story of the acupuncture profession’s life, at least in the US. But I predict that it’s a matter of time before 1) people start blaming POCA for “fragmenting the profession” thus being responsible for the failure of the AAAOM as well as any current or subsequent national organization, and 2) at least one other voluntary acupuncture organization approaches POCA about making some kind of alliance in the name of “unity”.

See, I did not just fall off the turnip truck; I know how these things work. So let’s try to save everybody some time and get to the second part of our Public Service Announcement. Before you blame us for anything or try to get us to help you with something, please familiarize yourselves with POCA’s reason for being, which is to share acupuncture.

One of the things that came through my inbox this past week, a nifty thing unrelated to the collapse of the AAAOM, was a Grassroots Economic Organizing newsletter with a link to this article about the book Toward A New Common School Movement. Here are a couple of quotes:

“…When land, labor, and other social and natural resources necessary to sustain life are held and valued as collective property they can be said to form a commons. As Nobel economist Elinor Ostrum has detailed, communities have historically developed ingenious strategies for governing access and usage of common property resources in order to maintain their collective value and benefit over time. Commons cannot be separated from the notion of enclosure, which signals efforts to transfer aspects of the commons from collective management for common benefit to private ownership for private gain.”

“From the natural world to the social world, the commons appear everywhere in peril. The all-encompassing drive for profit and endless commodification is despoiling the shared basis of life on the planet, and as a set of global crises widen and deepen, demands for authentic democracy and community become the minimal demands for the survival of humanity.”

One way to describe what POCA does is to say that we believe acupuncture is part of the commons, and so we build structures to make it easier to share.

Almost all other acupuncture organizations are focused on what Will Morris calls “closure”, which is remarkably similar to enclosure, which is the opposite of what POCA is trying to do.

Let’s take another quote from the book Toward a New Common School Movement: “To begin, it is important to note that a new common school movement has an inevitably hopeful dimension to it. The common can be built and expanded, and it can never be fully enclosed because there are parts of human experience that cannot be turned into property and have to be held in common. Compassion, ideas, social relationships, and the planet itself must be held in common.”

Doesn’t it make sense to add acupuncture to the list of human experiences that cannot be turned into property?  A modality so old that nobody knows exactly where it came from or who invented it, whose effectiveness depends on the inherent healing capacities of the body itself?  Doesn’t it sound lovely and hopeful to build more of the commons — say, a cooperative — around it?

So please don’t ask us to help you enclose it in the name of unity, because 1) we don’t want to, and 2) it won’t work.

As I said in the last post,  it’s like someone hit the rewind button and  it’s clear that a lot of things in the acupuncture profession are exactly where they were in 2007. The problems that the AAOM and the Alliance had are pretty much the same problems the AAAOM is having now, except that now they’re even worse. Instead of 1500 members, they have 327. Some people would like to blame it on the current AAAOM leadership, but that’s not fair. The truth is that regardless of leadership, the acupuncture profession in the US has not been able to create any sustained unity, engagement, or enthusiasm around closure — or enclosure — or whatever you want to call not sharing acupuncture.

The rewind button doesn’t apply to everything, though. Up through 2006, the only organizing platform that the fledgling community acupuncture movement had was the online comment forum for my column in Acupuncture Today. We got ourselves a very basic website with forums at the end of 2006 when we incorporated the Community Acupuncture Network, which turned out to be in the nick of time because Acupuncture Today cancelled my column in early 2007. Maybe a hundred or so people were involved at the beginning of CAN, which at the time seemed like a lot. Today it’s POCA that has 1500 or so members, and we’re growing.

Until the community acupuncture model came along, nobody in the acupuncture profession questioned — at least not in public — the conventional wisdom that everybody COULD afford $75 for an acupuncture treatment, they just didn’t WANT to.  If patients didn’t get acupuncture, it was not because it was too expensive, but because they had silly, non-acupuncture priorities.  When the community acupuncture model was new, I had lots of people tell me it wouldn’t work because making acupuncture affordable wouldn’t accomplish anything. It wouldn’t bring more patients in because they would just continue to spend all their money on beer, cigarettes, and cable TV. Now that WCA’s three clinics are delivering over a thousand acupuncture treatments a week, and POCA as a whole is providing 750,000+ treatments a year, nobody says that to me any more because it’s obvious that lowering prices does, in fact, bring more patients in.

There’s no polite way to say this next part. The conventional wisdom that all patients could afford acupuncture, but they just didn’t want it — what the acupuncture profession both believed and taught until we came along — was delusional. Not based in reality. Once we questioned the delusion, we opened up the possibility for those 750,000+ treatments to happen. We accepted that our potential patients had genuine limitations in terms of their financial resources, and we accommodated them.  We built relationships with all kinds of patients that we would not previously have had access to — and who would not have had access to us — and we found those relationships to be rich and sustaining.

We’re into repeating patterns, or fractals, around here, so I’m going to venture to suggest that you could repeat this at the next level. Question the delusion of trying to enclose something that belongs to the commons — accept genuine limitations — accommodate them — build rich and sustaining relationships.

POCA is a successful, growing organization in part because we’ve accepted the present reality that an acupuncture degree does not entitle anybody to wealth, power or status. We’re not fighting it; we’re building on it. Our goals are modest, realistic, and achievable. While other organizations are trying to raise $3 million for sweeping pro-acupuncturist legislation that can’t possibly pass, we run membership drives to raise funds for another $7500 microloan to open another POCA clinic in another place that doesn’t have affordable acupuncture.  We do do-able things and we encourage ourselves with results.  Nobody likes futility. If people are going to work hard to realize a vision, they need to see that they are making real progress.

And we are! So if you are unhappy with the lack of unity in the acupuncture profession, maybe you should join us and help build the commons.

Author: lisafer

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  1. Yay!!!! Achievable goals, wider access and participation, satisfying relationships, sharing…

    Sounds so much better than being part of this:
    (from will Morris’ article on Turf Wars)
    “Weber identifies 4 types of closure.
    1) Exclusion exercises hierarchical dominance of inferior social groups by closing off access to opportunities and resources. This occurs through the creation of specific skill sets and entry credentials that protect and secure a privileged access to the market.
    2) Demarcation and interdisciplinary control occurs when members of a discipline monitor and regulate closely related occupations defining and controlling boundaries between them.
    3) Exclusion suppresses vertically while demarcation does so horizontally.
    4) Inclusion refers to subordinate’s attempts to access the advantages of higher-level groups. The privileged elite dismisses it as usurpation.”

    The passage of time makes this so much more ironic, especially #4. This has long been the moan and rallying cry of acupuncturists feeling left out of “the medical system” and yet a blueprint for how they exercise enclosure themselves, to a fervor lately.

    And yes, as you say, it never really works long-term. This has always confused me about the message from so many in the profession: “we want to be universally recognized and accepted (inclusion)!” but we want to do it by essentially enclosing the medicine out of existence. Weird.
    But I guess if we look at it, most revolutions are really about inclusion in many ways. Probably helps not to be using exclusion as a means to get it.

  2. for all my crunchy quasi socialist capital point of view I always felt the “market” (ie; we call them “people”) should be the end arbiter of what they need, afford etc etc. If they want it, can afford it, they support it…

    If the big alphabet orgs are unable to provide a service for the market that is useful, needed or affordable, then I don’t see the point in supporting them either… If they aren’t committed to bringing acupuncture to more people then I don’t see the point of “unifying” with them… they should “unify” with the patients instead.

    A structure should serve a purpose beyond preserving its own existence.

  3. recently one of my acupuncturists for my CA clinic said to me “I got around to going on the POCA site and reading the forums this week. I think I actually understand the philosophy behind CA now and it feels good”.
    People tend to make judgements about something like CA before they even find out what it is all about. It is about being of service which is our basic reason for existence. If we are valued by society for our contribution then we will be compensated in a way that will allow us to pursue and further our work (thank you Deepak Chopra for that). Those that try to place value before service play a game of Russian roulette where some will succeed and some (many) will fail. This leads to closure within our profession which leads to division amongst our peers. Between the haves and the have nots.

  4. I left this world (the delusional one) behind, one year ago. I don’t understand why it still exists at all. I really don’t understand anymore.

    Too much actual work to be done.