Healing histories: disrupting the medical industrial complex

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This is a shared blog post, introducing a timeline; an interactive history of the US medical industrial complex that we have been working on for the last ten years. Our plan is to release it in 2020. We, Anjali Taneja, Cara Page, and Susan Raffo,  first met as organizers and practitioners in 2009, working towards the US Social Forum in Detroit in 2010. We were a core part of a larger team co-led by us and the Kindred Healing Justice Collective in partnership with Project South, EMEAC and others. Our team built and then held the health and healing justice practice space and the Healing Justice and Liberation People’s Movement Assembly (PMA). The PMA was a strategic gathering of healers, health care workers, organizers and cultural workers who came together to look at the conditions of our people and the opportunities for transformation. Anjali was also involved with the medical response team which worked closely with the health and healing justice teams. Our timeline began at the People’s Movement Assembly*. After the Forum, the three of us decided to keep studying and learning together and to continue building the timeline as the focus of our learning. We have now grown to a co-curation team of 5 - 7, including support from student research assistants at the Barnard Center for Research on Women; Nicola Glenn-Douglas, Emily Chu Ying, and LeahJo Carnine of Casa De Salud. 

This timeline of the US Medical Industrial Complex informs and shapes a vision for collective care and safety while integrating models of wellness that seek to transform and intervene on medical violence (eg. scientific racism) and societal abuses of our private and public healthcare. As healers, medical practitioners, organizers, media makers, and cultural and memory workers, we wanted to show how, from the beginnings of the institution of colonization & slavery, the state has systematically determined who is “normal,”, “healthy,” “diseased,” and “dangerous” as a way of determining access to its rights and benefits. The medical industrial complex emerged as an extension of policing and state violence to control the biology and healing practices and to define the line between “normal” and not.  

 The timeline includes histories of this ongoing criminalizing and pathologizing of blood, bones and genetic memory as an extension of state control and a legal and cultural war against indigenous, Black and People of Color, LGBTQGNCI, people with disabilities and poor people.  It grounds itself in the evolution of race as a political and cultural tool, and the process of the state control of traditional, ancestral and cultural healing practices. This timeline begins to look at the intertwined histories of: reproductive and birth justice; disability justice; big pharma, the war on drugs; the medicalization of queer and trans lives; the emergence and evolution of public health systems; the impact of technology and digital surveillance on all of these things through a critical lens of the MIC as an extension of policing of our communities.  It also seeks to map and elevate our resistance to these systems. 

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In 2019, we will begin sharing this timeline with small teams of healers, health care practitioners, organizers, cultural workers, researchers, bioethicists and visionaries. We will be asking them for feedback on the timeline, as well as reflections on how it can be used. In 2020, our goal is to release the timeline for public use, along with a curriculum for organizing conversations and communities in your local community. If you are interested in staying connected and being notified of the public release, share your information with us and we will send you updates as they are available.

This timeline is not a quick timeline, it’s not a timeline at a glance. Much of what we are currently doing is identifying software that can help hold this timeline and make it accessible for a reader. There is a lot of information here. We have built this timeline in support of deeper work. We know that trauma, whether individual or generational, is about disconnection from a sense of self and others, a disconnection from histories. We know that healing is about supporting reconnection in a way that feels right for those who have been hurt. 

We also know that this timeline is not finished and probably will never be. Where does a conversation about health and healing and the systems that seek to control or support them end? We have not included as much as we have included. We are excited and grateful to learn from you about the ways in which what is on this timeline and what is not on this timeline has shaped you, your kin and your communities.

We hope this timeline will bring together people who might not traditionally work and learn together. Our goal is to build analysis and understanding but, deeper than that, we want to support relationships and practice. To wrestle with such questions as: how is the current history of family separation at the border tied to histories of family separation and tied to the medicalization of the family, histories of eugenics, and histories of family wealth accumulation? What does the history of public health say about the support or control of poor/working class, migrant, Black POCI, LGBQTI families? There are very few of us whose lives and histories are not impacted by what is on this timeline yet many of us have been separated from its truth by design. 

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We are putting out this blog post about our work for a few different reasons. First, we are excited as we get closer to the end point. It’s been a lot of years of thinking and building together. Being public also helps hold us accountable to our own work. Almost all of our work has been built without any kind of funding* or support other than our passion for this project and our love of each other. We wanted to share this project and reflect on the ten years of effort and relationship. US work culture tends to be built on a rapid idea-to-action timeline that pours resources into good ideas that rise in a moment and then, very often, disappear a short time later. Our goal has been to work on this timeline and let it be, literally, shaped by time. We wanted to bring in the rigor of our learning and changing so that we could deepen what this timeline is, what’s included, and how we understand it living in the world around us. Working over the last ten years has also meant living and learning through the shifting and expanding nature of work identified within the framework of healing justice. From the beginning, when Black/POC/ LGBTQ communities in the South named “healing justice” as the framework that named healing as integral to political liberation by  addressing the impact of trauma on our communities and movements and the importance of lifting and building cultural healing approaches to support our transformation, they included an awareness of the systems, both historically and in the present moment, that work to prevent this transformation. That is the understanding that our project grows from.

Our goal is to support emerging partnerships that come together to revision, remember, and recreate the practices that support our individual and collective healing and resilience and that are grounded in liberatory practice. Basically, we come together to dream of revolution, one body at a time.

As this project moves towards sharing, we will continue to take responsibility for our mistakes while also joyfully sharing our successes with all who made this possible.

Anjali Taneja is a family physician who is passionate about community-based healing, decolonizing medicine, and collective liberation. She is the Executive Director of Casa de Salud — an innovative, culturally humble, anti-racist, and accessible model of care for integrative healthcare and advocacy for low-income and marginalized communities in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Anjali also serves shifts in the emergency room of a small rural hospital in the Navajo Nation, two hours west of Albuquerque. Anjali served as a family physician at Casa de Salud from 2009-2012 and then returned as the Executive Director of the organization. Anjali is a member of the Creating Health Collaborative - an international collaborative of health innovators who are invited to share their ideas and visions of health beyond healthcare. Anjali sees her work as bridgework between healers and healthcare providers, and collaborative accountable work on models of community care that are responsive to the community and that inspire a new paradigm of care while pushing back on the medical industrial complex that has caused great harm in the United States. 

Cara Page is a Black Feminist Queer cultural/memory worker, curator, and organizer. She comes from a long ancestral legacy of organizers and cultural workers from the Southeast to the Northeast. For the past 30+ years, she has fought for LGBTQGNCI, Black, People of Color & Indigenous liberation inside of the racial & economic justice, reproductive justice and transformative justice movements.  She is co-founder of the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective & the Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative, and a former ED of the Audre Lorde Project. Currently she is lead organizer & curator of Changing Frequencies, a global project seeking to transform generational trauma and intervene on the Medical Industrial Complex (MIC) through political & cultural strategies. (https://carapage.co)

Susan Raffo  is a queer bodyworker with ancestry in both the colonized and the colonizer. She has studied craniosacral therapy through the Upledger Institute, the Milne Institute, and with Body Intelligence. She is also informed by Global Somatics, a practice that emerged out of Body Mind Centering and by a range of nervous system integration models. For the last 16 years she has focused her work on the connection between what happens in systems and communities with what happens within individual bodies both through work with the US Social Forum movement, as well as most recently through the People’s Movement Center. Based in Minneapolis and from Cleveland, Ohio, Susan happily lives with her partner, Rocki, and their daughter, Luca. To find out more about her work, go to www.susanraffo.com

*Special Thanks to Casa De Salud & Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW).

  • Please note This timeline was first shaped by another timeline project in the early 2000’s; a partnership between Cara Page while she was National Coordinator at the Committee on Women, Population & the Environment with Project South and Patty Berne of Sins Invalid. This first timeline focused on eugenics, ableism, racism and social movements. We are grateful for that work and its foundational role, in addition to the work of others fighting the MIC.