We are Cara Page, Susan Raffo and Anjali Taneja, who first met as organizers and practitioners in 2009, working to build collective care and safety at the US Social Forum in Detroit in 2010 and beyond. We continue to collaborate to elevate and amplify 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.
Here in Digital Narratives for Abolition (DNA) we will offer short reflections about different moments in time (past, present and future) to build a digital narrative for abolition towards transforming the medical industrial complex. We will explore what can be dismantled, to interrupt or end exploitation and experimentation by the medical industrial complex* and what can be conjured and imagined to center collective care, healing, & safety within our communities. In other words, sign up for the blog posts. We won’t overwhelm your inbox!
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Working Definitions: We wanted to define what we mean by a few different terms:
- Abolition: demanding the end of prisons, policing and surveillance as an extension of violence and colonization.
- Healing Justice: HJ was created to intervene on generational trauma from systemic violence and oppression; policing and violence by recovering, remembering ancestral/medicine and/or building new traditions that center our psychic/
emotional/physical/mental/spiritual & environmental well-being for our collective liberation.
- Medical Industrial Complex:
- Relies on wealthy, white, cis, heterosexual, able bodied, male, and Christian ideals of whose body is healthy and whose is diseased; whose is pure and whose is sinful.* (*from Patty Berne, Founder/Artistic Director of Sins Invalid)
- Prescribes who is expendable and who is deserving of access to quality & dignified spiritual, emotional, physical, psychic, environmental and mental care and who cannot.
- Determines whose body is criminalized and pathologized based on what is beauty and desire; and what bodies are fit and unfit to survive; and who should exist for the purpose of labor and production.
- As an extension of state control and violence it uses institutions as a platform for surveillance, policing and erasure of those seen as expendable, uncured, ‘unfit’, and ‘abnormal’.
- Relies on doctrines of fear, curative models and disease based capitalism to enforce and militarize global response of care under the false guise of global security; and criminalizes practitioners and traditions outside of western based militarized models of care.
- Generational/Historical Trauma
- Passing on the memory of an emotional/physical would of traumatic incident to each generation on a cellular level and passing on generational grief if unhealed*
- One of the long-term impacts of generational trauma is collective disassociation or a loss of memory.
- Generational trauma can mean that those impacted by this trauma don’t remember what it was like to not live under constant stress and surveillance.
*Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart
- How Generational Trauma can show up: The below comes from our own reflections on the different ways in which generational trauma shows up in or is held by individual and collective bodies.
- Generational trauma is not genetic destiny. Instead, our bodies hold the memories of past traumas as a quicker response to conditions that mirror our histories. This means that our bodies, at the genetic and cellular level, are primed to respond or not respond to the conditions surrounding us in the present moment. Generational trauma at this level is a kind of biological expectation of harmful or stressful situations with the response to those situations already ready to go. While this is a useful survival strategy, it also keeps the body in high readiness or activation, which saps at the body’s resilience.
- What are the stories your people tell, or don’t tell, about what you can expect from life and the world around you and how you will survive what happens? What did you learn, directly and indirectly, when you were small about how your community gets through? John Mohawk, Haudenosaunee, writes that “culture is a community’s collective agreement on the best way to survive.” Some of those collective agreements might include how someone remains strong and clear about their beauty and power in the face of systemic oppression. Others might include agreements on hiding, on defying, on appeasing. And finally, other examples include how community and kin groups operate around you: do people take care of each other, compete with each other, ignore each other? Do you assume that your kin members will die young or live to old age? Are children treated tenderly or raised to be tough in order to survive? How you were raised to experience and understand safety, belonging, and power both with people like you and people not like you will tell you something about how your community holds and resists cultural and collective trauma.
- Generational trauma also shows up in how systems and institutions have been created and then maintained. This is particularly true when those systems and institutions prevent, either directly or indirectly, the healing and integration of historical wounds such as white supremacy, gender supremacies, ableism, wealth hoarding and other wounds. The prison industrial complex and the medical industrial complex carry forward the shape of generational trauma by what is asserted as normal and what is defined as abnormal or criminal.
- Transformative Justice builds strategies to prevent, interrupt and transform harm and violence through accountability processes that do not seek to punish and outcast those who have caused the harm. ‘An overarching framework that believes we cannot end violence with violence’ Mariame Kaba
We also believe that this work is and has to be deeply personal. It is grounded in relationships. Particularly when working with histories, it is easy to get lost in the content as though it were just information. For that reason, we also want to take a moment to tell you why each of us, individually, is in this work. In particular, the histories that inform our present and which then inspire and incite our futures.
Cara Page: As a Black woman of mixed ancestry, as a daughter, and great granddaughter of Black Seminole people, Black Southern migrant sharecroppers, and European immigrants, raised by folk & jazz musicians, artists, organizers and scholars. As a survivor of family violence, I believed early on in healing from family cycles of violence to build our collective survival. I am a Black Queer feminist rooted in the incantations of Black feminism, southern Black radical traditions and movements that have shaped me in the service of the work for liberation and transformation for Black, People of Color & Indigenous communities globally.
I was born into the Medical Industrial Complex when I was birthed at the Salvation Army Hospital in Philadelphia, PA in 1970, where the nurses forced my mother, who was in post-partum distress, and was instructed to put me up for adoption immediately because it was the 70’s and she shouldn’t raise a Black child. We were separated at birth and then when she realized she was heavily sedated and was coerced to sign the adoptive papers she fought to get me back from the adoptive parents a week later. My journey with eugenics and purity of race begins there, as many of our lives do at birth, when we are tagged and sorted based on gender, race, class, ability, migrant status, etc. I would learn later, the language for this and understand these were the machinations of white supremacy, population control, the eugenic ideas of beauty, status, purity of blood and ‘normalcy’.
I was changed by the feminist poetry and writings in the 80’s of Sonia Sanchez, James Baldwin, Toni Cade Bambara, Maya Angelou, June Jordan, Essex Hemphill, Gloria Anzaldua, Chrystos, Cherrie Moraga, Barbara Smith, Toi Derricote, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker an so many others. And birthed by the reproductive rights, health and justice movements, racial justice and Black radical traditions of the South that would guide me several years later towards healing justice.
I went on a journey in the late 90’s to the early 2000’s to begin to discover how practices and traditions of healing and transformation from generational trauma was integral to resistance. I would explore the question of; how have we held the loss and grief of our movements & freedom fighters as part of our organizing including: the Black Power Movements, the Zapatistas, the Young Lords, the American Indian Movement and Boarding School Healing Project, Asian & Chicano Student movements and other political traditions. I began asking the questions: How can we resolve immense pain and loss inside of our resistance movements and how can this inform and shape how we intentionally build our collective survival and resiliency in relationship burnout, policing, massive incarceration, displacement of our traditions and the killing of our lands and communities?; How do we heal and transform from interpersonal violence, child sexual abuse, communal volence, systemic oppression, colonization and slavery as Communities of Color, Black people, Queer & Trans, women, as survivors in our lives and movements? I would come to use the phrase ‘healing justice’ at an abolitionist meeting on fighting eugenics within private prisons and ask the question, ‘how is healing inherently a part of justice within our movements and our struggle for political liberation’?
This would become the foundation for the conception of ‘healing justice’ as a political strategy and lead to the conception of the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective in Atlanta, GA in 2005. In 2006, Kindred Collective was co-founded by a multi-racial, intergenerational, Black feminist led, collective of southern based energy/earth/body based healers, health practitioners, birth workers and organizers that began with creating sacred memorials to freedom fighters at the Southern Regional Social Forum in Durham, NC. We would build out the concept of healing justice in a southern context, and become co-architects of a national healing justice strategy with comrades across movements in the US & Global South. We would join feminist human rights defenders and practitioners/healers in the Global South towards building collective care and safety at the intersections of fighting against capitalism and fascism, and fighting for LGBTQGNCI liberation, economic justice, racial justice, and transformative justice towards elevating a cultural, spiritual and survival based economy that centers traditions that ensure the collective survival and thriving of our people. Much of the lineage of this work has become the root of my new cultural organizing project, Changing Frequencies, a cultural/memory project creating political and memory archives, installations and actions to discover, confront and transform generational trauma from the exploitation and experimentation of the Medical Industrial Complex. I am a co-partner of the Healing Histories Project towards building new futures that center our collective well being & safety.
Susan Raffo: Born in the early 1960s, I come from lines where my ancestors chose or were forced to leave behind culture and tradition in order to keep their children safe. Most of those lines are various flavors of European and Christian and some of those lines are native to Turtle Island. Across my lines, I am either the third or fourth or fifth generation of this leaving-behind-other-cultural-ways of attending to collective safety and wellness in order to focus on the individualizing and privatization of whiteness. I honor the request that I have received from two different elders that I not let the genocide win but to also claim all of my lines and all of my experiences so I name and slowly learn to honor my Wabenaki and Anishinaabeg lines while not pretending to be more than I am: a light-skinned woman raised to experience the world as a white woman. I honor all of the places my people come from, including Germany and Italy, and know that many do not have the benefit of naming the places where their people were before. I feel deeply that my purpose is to work to ensure that no one has to leave their people, their land, their culture in order to keep their children and elders safe.
I was raised by a mother with physical impairments as the result of a car accident that happened to our family when I was 6, resulting in the loss of our father and brother. The particular set of my mother’s injuries and then the various medical interventions means that her body doesn’t fit the standard medical profile for how a body is “supposed” to be. From when I was small, I listened and sometimes saw doctor after doctor who did not listen to what she knew about her own body, instead minimizing her own knowledge for what they believed which often, along the way, caused her more pain.
I came out in the late 1980s as a lesbian first, then a dyke and then queer and I answer to all of those names. I came out and was mentored by radical lesbian feminists who were building separate healthcare and childcare and food and family systems. My earliest politicization was in the women’s anti-imperial movements of 1980s England and was deeply impacted by work that built connections and relationships across British imperialism and the institutionalization of racism and white supremacy. I spent significant time at Greenham Common where I witnessed and benefitted from physical and mental healthcare structures and practices that were woven in to a long term occupation site.
In the early 2000s, I started to turn more fully towards becoming a practitioner, studying craniosacral therapy from many different craniosacral schools, Global Somatics (a descendant of Body Mind Centering), and different approaches to working with how trauma is held in the body, including becoming a NARM-informed practitioner. It was meeting the work of Kindred Healing Justice Collective that helped me believe that it is possible to weave organizing and healing together. It reminds me of my earliest Marxist training: that the means of production can not be separated from the product that is produced. The same thing holds true for how we hold and work with trauma: the impact of doing the work of change can not be separated from the impact of the work of making change.
I live on the unceded traditional homelands of the Dakota people – in Minneapolis. After George Floyd was murdered, I became part of REP (Relationships Evolving Possibilities), a project that stems from Black love and liberation, with a vision that all communities thrive when our needs are met. REP is grounded in the belief that as a community we have the ability and capacity to love and protect each other without giving our agency to systems that were built to destroy, consume, or commodify us.REP is an engagement strategy that facilitates the formation of localized pods for mutual aid and reinforces transformative crisis support within community networks.
Anjali Taneja: Building systems of care and healing, pushing up against the conventional healthcare system in the United States, are both my survival strategy and my passion.
I am a second generation Indian-American, born to Indian immigrants in New Jersey. I grew up with a tension between norms and dreams, between tradition and modern, and between necessity and urgency. I’ve been a generalist since a very early age, always exploring the intersections of culture, politics, health, global forces, economics, and more. My curiosity led me to pursue a college major in International Relations and consider working in international diplomacy, before I realized the work was here. Afterwards I moved to New York City to pursue my Masters in Public Health and to pull late nights DJing at clubs as a resident DJ at MUTINY. Both of these expanded my imagination greatly.
Soon after, I started on my medical school journey, a tough awakening about what conventional western medicine training and practice truly embodied. I felt so different from others around me, and had come from an environment of expansive thinking and dreaming, to one of rote learning, problematic norms and cultures, and a sense that my fellow students and I were disconnected from the history of the medical field in America, or even in Newark, New Jersey — where the university hospital itself was a site of racial tensions. I immersed myself as much as possible in the community in Newark, trying to learn about political and health forces, and campaigned for Cory Booker, who successfully won his bid for Mayor of the city.
Serving in the hospital in medical school was eye opening and rewarding, but also brutal. Every cell in my body felt like it rejected what I often witnessed daily — whether racism, the extreme medicalization of social issues, or the sense that our work ended in the hospital ward. I survived medical school part through my small friend crew and through my involvement in the American Medical Student Association and my year as a full-time Jack Rutledge Fellow at the organization, organizing medical students around the country and doing both grassroots engagement work and policymaking work. And upon graduating from medical school, I was a founding board member of the National Physicians Alliance.
After medical school my journey took me westward, and I pursued family medicine residency and fellowship training at a county hospital in Los Angeles. My fellow resident physicians were social justice-oriented, looked beyond the walls of the hospital despite our 80 hour work weeks *in* it, and inspired me. My time working at Homeless Healthcare LA, at a drop-in syringe exchange in Skid Row, and my rotations in Chiapas, Mexico and rural Tanzania (and experiences at the World Social Forum in Nairobi) informed and shaped me.
I struggled with the sense that many ideal minded physicians would go on to practice a form of medicine in the US that was different from what they dreamt of. I witnessed a number of my colleagues settle into jobs that required them to compartmentalize dreams and work, often tolerating systems full of burnout culture, RVUs and “productivity” incentives — or that gobbled them up into large hospital and healthcare systems or even exhausting environments in sometimes federally qualified health clinics.
In my search for something different, I was following the work of Casa de Salud in Albuquerque, since its inception as the Topakhal clinic, and felt this would be where I could help build a system that lifted up intersections of caring, healing, healthcare, anti-racist medicine, and organizing to build power with community. I moved to Albuquerque and worked as a family physician, organizer, and program developer at Casa de Salud — and also started working emergency medicine shifts at a rural hospital in the Navajo Nation. I served for 3 years in this role, before moving out of state, but returned in 2015 to lead the organization as its second Executive Director, and the ability to vision and implement high quality care, integrative healing with numerous healing modalities alongside western/conventional medicine, and organizing and advocacy to build power with our community, has been rejuvenating.
Early on in my time with Casa de Salud, in 2009 and 2010, I met Cara Page and Susan Raffo, my co partners in this Healing Histories Project work and much else — through national organizing work for the the US Social Forum’s healing justice work and healing/medical response, in Detroit. I knew then that my work would become bridge work between healers and healthcare providers, towards collective liberation.
For 2 years I also served as the medical director for the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center’s Jail Narcotics Treatment Program, providing methadone treatment for incarcerated people with opioid addictions. My advocacy around preserving the program when a warden wanted to unilaterally and abruptly stop providing treatment in the jail led to me being escorted out of the jail as well as a community advocacy response that resulted in strengthening treatment in the jail. I’ve also learned so much through my fellowship with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, and the critical nudge I received from the international Creating Health Collaborative, where I shared visions for healthcare and healing with a team of innovators around the world.
I know what is possible, and I’m so passionate about supporting healthcare workers and healers in imagining and building. This leads me to CureThis, which I founded with others more than a decade ago. CureThis was (and will be again!) an online platform for healthcare workers and healers who are looking to build new models of care. CureThis sunsetted after 6 years, but will be revived this year, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, while the world is hungry for new models of care.
I am incredibly moved and excited about this work here, with our Healing Histories Project. To my fellow healthcare workers, I see you, we will together remember the history we weren’t taught in our training, and we will use this knowledge to transform our systems of care.