Category Archives: Uncategorized

Babies, Birthing Parents, and Midwives Birth Justice and Liberation!

Check out my review of Catching Babies, an incredible movie about birthing justice in action, made by the amazing Barni Qaasim.  Published in make/shift magazine, Fall 2012.  Then you have two more ways to support amazing anti-racist feminist media: subscribe to make/shift, one of the few print magazines left that is worth reading, and organize a screening of Catching Babies in your hometown!

Catching Babies

Directed and Produced by Barni Axmed Qaasim; Produced by Jennifer Lucero

Iftiin Productions

Catching Babies documents birth justice in action.   Filmmakers Qaasim and Lucero share an intimate, honest, and beautiful portrait of four students and four clients at Maternidad La Luz, a birth center and midwifery school in El Paso, TX.  Without commentary, Catching Babies depicts a powerful counter-narrative to the white-dominated natural birth resurgence and racist media portrayals of undocumented women birthing “anchor babies” as a devious attempt to gain citizenship status.  With an artful style that exudes respect for midwives and birthing parents and gentle pacing that mirrors the births portrayed, Catching Babies is a love poem to empowering, women-of-color centered holistic birth.

Viewers are invited to witness a birth model that runs counter to the dominant medicalized system through which the United States has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the Global North and one of the greatest rates of disparity between the healthcare that white parents and parents of color receive.  The people of Catching Babies are reclaiming a world in which birth is a personal, family, and community event, instead of a medical one.   Cemelli de Aztlan, one of the mothers profiled, refused to see a doctor who wanted complete decision-making power about her pregnancy and birth: she says, “In choosing midwifery care I was seeking the healing and the comfort and the care that I knew I would not get in the hospital and that I knew was in my own bloodline as an indigenous woman.”

Some scenes show the complexities of service work existing within a confusing landscape of charity and solidarity, including the white student with minimal Spanish language skills learning to provide healthcare for predominantly monolingual Spanish speakers and the fact that all leadership of the clinic and school shown are white.  While this movie doesn’t explicitly analyze these power dynamics, it highlights the students who are working from a solidarity model, learning to midwife in order to support their own communities.

Kennasha Roberston, one of the student midwives profiled, explains, “My idea is to be able to work with women in my community, African American women, […] to educate them about natural birth and the different options that we have […]That’s why I’m here, for them.”

Catching Babies shows what birth can look like, as part of a system of accessible, empowering, holistic healthcare that lifts up the dignity and liberation of birthworkers, parents, and babies.

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October 24, 2012 · 2:26 am

Privilege, reparations, and communities of care

So my friend B wrote this blogAnd then some amazing people responded to it.  Absolutely all of those pieces of writing are worth readingEvery single one. So many brilliant things have been said about ableism, class, burnout, grassroots healing, and care.

I’ve been thinking about B’s piece a lot since I first read it a few days ago. I have had a lot of different responses and big emotions related to it since then, about privilege and other things, but right now what I’m thinking about is how different our roles in this conversation are.  I’m thinking about how so much of this discussion is so relevant to our different relationships to heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy.  We with privilege tend to universalize our experiences, to mistakenly assume that what happens for us can be assumed to happen to others with less privilege.  That’s one of the things B’s writing missed, while it also raises lots of important and challenging questions about what collective care really is and how we get there.  So I want to respond, but this response has an audience.  This response is directed towards white people, men, cisgendered people, straight people, middle/upperclass/rich people, people with ability privilege, people with citizenship status in the place where they live.   There is so much incredible and challenging writing coming out right now about care from people of color, queer and trans people, disabled and chronically ill people, women, working class and poor people that we should be paying attention to and learning from.  I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said and in more articulate and profound ways, but I want to ask those of us with privilege some questions about where we in particular stand in this conversation.  So to people out there who experience privilege in one way or another, who are reading this, I say “Take a deep breath and keep going—disagree with me if you want, but please follow me through to the end.  This is going somewhere and your defensiveness is worth overcoming.”

I don’t think we need to end self-care—that’s an intentionally provocative title that I’m not so interested in.   We all deserve the time, the space, the support, and the resources to have a movement practice that works for our bodies, nourishing food, healers who we feel comfortable with, time for rest and reflection, safety, connection, and love.  Healing our collective body, this world, involves healing our individual bodies, families, neighborhoods, communities, and movements.   But in all this conversation about self-care and collective care, there are huge questions and silences we need to grapple with about how our various relationships to privilege relates to all this.

I’m in acupuncture school and the best way I can think to describe this is with an example from the way I am learning how bodies work.  In the version of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that I am learning, and that is taught in most acupuncture schools in the U.S., the Spleen is responsible for the transformation and transportation of food, nutrients, and fluids throughout the body.  When your Spleen is deficient, you may have an over-accumulation of Dampness in your body, which can manifest in many different ways—say sinus congestion, bloating or fluid retention, swollen, achy joints.  The way that you treat this condition with acupuncture or herbs is two-fold: you have to fortify the Spleen and get rid of the excess dampness.  In the end, both treatment strategies are about bringing the body more into balance, although they are opposing techniques.

So with transforming care in our lives and in our world.  Some of us who live at an intersection of more privilege in this world, be it because we are white, middle/upper class or rich, considered able-bodied by the world, straight, cisgendered and/or male, could stand to listen to B’s challenges about showing up for movements in deeper and more committed ways as part of truly realizing communities of care.  I don’t think that means we shouldn’t take care of ourselves in the process, but maybe for us, who have so been taught that our comfort and ease is the most worthy thing, sometimes it’s good for the world and therefore good for us to skip a meditation session and do childcare at a meeting or go to a meeting instead.

For people with privilege, it is often so much easier for us to disengage from movements in order to “practice self-care” then it is to fully commit with our hearts, minds, and bodies to collective care, to healing justice, to communities of care that include all of us. I think there are parts of B’s piece that should hit home in deeply challenging ways for those of us who prioritize care of ourselves and our precious bodies over (and often at the expense of) the care of other people’s selves and equally precious bodies.

Yes, some of the ways I take care of myself are related to my own struggles with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health.  And some of those ways are related to the particular way as a white person with class privilege I have been taught to prioritize myself.  Everyone should be entitled to care, comfort, safety, and connection.  Some of us have our right to exist denied and threatened every second.  Some of us have never had that experience.  Many of us exist in some complicated relationship to both of those realities.

There is a way that self-care in privileged communities can manifest as resource hoarding.  I think about how much I learned in the predominantly-white DIY anarchist communities I used to be a part of about how to take care of myself outside of the medical industrial complex, about herbal medicine, how my body works, how to care for it in meaningful and self-determining ways.   I think about how many others that I know from those worlds continue to learn and learn about healing work without ever facilitating the spread of that learning beyond  a small, insular, and relatively-privileged social world. We learned other peoples’ traditional medicines and then we only shared with others like us.   It’s not that those of us with privilege shouldn’t value our physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health—it’s just that it is deeply embedded in our psyches that our individual health is 1. not related to the health of our community and 2. Of a higher priority than anything or anyone else.

So right now, I’m thinking about how reparations and resource redistribution apply to self-care and community care.  How asking questions about what care reparations and healing resource redistribution can look like allows us to challenge our privilege as we transform how care works in the world.  I want those of us who experience privilege to actually learn how not to over-value our well-being compared to the rest of the world’s.  This plays out in subtle and intricate ways: because of how much privilege invisibilizes our position in the world, we may not see the many ways we CHOOSE self-care AT THE EXPENSE OF community-care.

I don’t think the answer to that is to “burn the midnight oil,” to work 18 hours a day for the movement.  That replicates guilt, shame, and martyrdom that reinforce white supremacy to begin with.   And it encourages us to continue to grow our movements based on some capitalist model that makes them look like industries, that leaves behind so many in our community (like kids, elders, parents, and people with disabilities to name a few) and leaves out anyone who can’t commit their whole live to organizing. But I do think one of the ways we confront privilege,  is to question our emotional, spiritual, and physical comfort.

I think it’s important to say right now that we can’t ever know why anyone makes the choices that they make, nor is it ours to know.  The spectrum of care that we choose and need to survive in this world is not something you can tell by looking at us.  Disability justice and harm reduction teach us that resilience strategies in this world take many forms and are always acts of resistance.  I’m not necessarily asking for us to start by questioning and judging each other’s self-care decisions.  I’m asking others who experience some form of privilege to wrestle with the complicated questions about how the ways we take care of ourselves, each other, our communities, and our movements do or don’t move us closer to dignity, justice, and collective liberation.  I’m asking other white people to question when they generalize their experiences, assuming that everyone “chooses” to practice self-care at the expense of movement work.  I’m asking men to question thinking of knitting as counter-revolutionary. I’m asking other white women to question our complicated place at the intersection of misogyny and white supremacy, to look at the ways we have been taught to martyr ourselves as caregivers and also to prioritize our own comfort.  I’m asking other people with privilege to consider the ways that each of us practices self-care as a way of hoarding resources, time, money, quiet, space, and then to consider the ways we could take care of ourselves and our communities by re-modeling our conception of care to include resource redistribution and reparations.   How do we transform care not out of charity but out of deep solidarity, collaboration, and connection, an understanding that we are all in this together?

People with privilege, we have a lot of work to to make healing resource redistribution and care reparations. Maybe some of us do a little more childcare not just for meetings but also for acupuncture appointments, offer a little more transportation, pay higher on the sliding scale for our local healer or community clinic.  B writes about a co-worker and he returning from a meditation retreat with hugely different access to quiet, reflective space and therefore ability to continue a practice of meditation and stretching.  What if, more than an example of how broken our world is, that was an opportunity to share resources?  What if B and his coworker had figured out a way for one to  help with the others’ busy life one night a week, one to have access to quiet space to engage in reflection and rest?   Sure, that’s a small response in the face of all that we are up against, but doesn’t this struggle need us to be working to transform it in so many big and small ways? Hand in Hand is an amazing example of people organizing around privilege and challenging that privilege in order to transform how care works.  

Dori Midnight offered a beautiful vision the collective body that we are all a part of.  What I want us to engage with is how do we get there:  what will it take to move from a model of self-care that is often so individualized, that is often about those of us with lots of privilege taking even more time, space, and resources to increase our comfort?  What will it take to get to what Dori describes? What is the role of people with privilege in helping to get us there?

We share beautiful visions of transforming care, building our communities into places where we are all cared for.  And here we are today.  We can dream big and vision and we are also trying to survive and fight and live and dream another day.  Here we are, and we have a long way to go.  We must recognize ourselves for who we are and where we are, now, today, in order to dream how to get from here to our visions of collective care.

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Filed under community care, healing justice, self care, Uncategorized, unlearning privilege

Moving through acupuncture school (while Fat)

At my school, one of my requirements this first semester is Qi Gong class.  Qi Gong is a movement practice that comes from the large and dynamic body of theory and practice that we call Chinese medicine.  It has to do with energy, electricity, meditation, and a lot of other things that I am just beginning to understand through studying them in acupuncture school.  I love it so much and it also makes me nervous all the time.  It’s not that I have qualms about taking Qi Gong—in theory, it’s really exciting.  I just have qualms about group movement* class, what it means to be a fat person in group movement class, over and beyond what it already means to be a fat person in acupuncture school in a world that systematically equates health with weight loss.   One of my learning-to-love-my-body practices is figuring out how to incorporate movement in my life that involves as few other people as possible (or making sure I time my lap swimming with water aerobics classes—universally one of the movement classes I have witnessed that contains the largest diversity of differently-sized bodies).

Group movement practice is something stolen from us fatties by a society that has decided there is one kind of acceptable body, and it’s not ours.  I’ve been to a million yoga classes in my life, and still every time, the teacher without fail assists me too much or not enough. Or I get weird looks—sympathy, pity, anger.  If you are not fat, you might be surprised how much maliciousness people feel towards fat people in group movement settings, like we are their personal internal enemy, which I suppose, when the diet industry frames weight loss as a battle, is true.

There is a deep-seated cultural myth that tells us fat is the opposite of health.  This just isn’t true.  Not only are more and more evidence-based biomedically legit research studies coming out that question this widespread assumption, but most of us could spend five minutes and find ample anecdotal evidence to counter this rampant and destructive belief.  Saying that fat is the opposite of health implies that all not-fat people are healthy, implies that “healthy” practices (a whole other bag of worms, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s call it some combination of taking care of ourselves in ways that work best for us, having love and support, time with people we care about and time by ourselves, food that gives us energy and nourishment, sleep, water, movement) change our weight or the size of our bodies, that health is about appearances more than internal experiences of wellness.  I am a relatively healthy person and I am fat.  I’m not a paradox or even an anomaly.  It’s just that you can’t tell by looking at me how well or ill I feel, despite institutionalized attempts to the contrary.

We didn’t always think this way.  We know that there are times, whole systems of medicine and wellness that understood health as something attainable by people with a wide diversity of bodies, that didn’t create some fake epidemic in order to hide the fact that it is the stress and trauma of oppression  or corporate pollution that makes people more prone to the “lifestyle diseases” of Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease.

In my Qi Gong book, interwoven with a history of this particular movement practice, is a brief history of vitalism-based movement in the West, how it was informed and augmented by Qi Gong practice.  It talks about the history of gymnastics, how over time western scientific materialism (read: nothing exists but what you can put your hands on, no spirit, no emotional body, etc.) replaced a system of movement based around cultivating energy, life force, vital energy, what have you, with one that was based on the appearance of that hard-to-name quality via the trappings of stamina, flexibility, strength.  It’s a profound difference: movement that is based on feeling better as opposed to looking better, like we know work towards.  Though Gymnastics as a sport is now far from its vitalist roots, this means we all have something to go back to, a place in our collective embodied memory when we moved together to feel better, not to look better.

I want to move with other people, and I want to do it in settings in which movement is about building together, collaboration instead of competition, in which different bodies are respected for what they can and can’t do, more than that maybe that different bodies’ capacities aren’t even the point. What it feels like individually to do the movement as more important than anything else.

In the post-industrial capitalism of the Global North that I live in, group movement practices have been stolen from almost everyone by the institutionalized systems of oppression in place, which include fatphobia, and also ableism, patriarchy, white supremacy.  Moving together to move towards health and wellness has become a luxury commodity as opposed to a basic necessity.  It’s a far cry from what it should be, could be: movement for wellness as a way we build solidarity with each other, as a way we come together in embodied community that doesn’t ask us to leave any of our selves behind, as part of the creating of other kinds of dynamic movements.  Qi Gong was banned from public practice in China during the Cultural Revolution, which tells me that there are many points in history when group movement practice, when growing our collective wellness together, has been considered subversive.  Maybe it’s because it’s related to the building of strength, the building of armies, guerilla forces ready for uprising.  Maybe it’s also because when we are well together, we have it in us to build the world we need, no matter the forces against us.

It’s not just group movement that has become more about cultivating a look than about cultivating an internal experience of health.  The history of colonialism on traditional medicines is one that is constantly shifting the focus to practitioner’s diagnosis and away from client’s experience.  Just think about this taken to an extreme: one thing it might look like is almost complete reliance on technologically sophisticated diagnostic tests and then practitioners spending five minutes with clients, mainly reporting on the results of said technologically sophisticated diagnostic tests.  Sound familiar?

All of this makes me realize that part of the goal of me writing this blog is accountability:  over the next four years, I will be schooled in how to diagnose people.  It’s a useful skill, and also a slippery slope.  Healthcare schooling teaches us to disregard people’s experiences for our own external perceptions of them; sure acupuncture school probably does this less than med school, but it’s still covertly and not-so-covertly part of the curriculum.  It’s my third week of school and I can already see how it can sweep over a person—I’ve already heard numerous teachers and students rant about how Fat people are automatically unhealthy.  This systematic silencing of peoples’ experiences of our bodies is a slippery slope and yet those of us who dedicate our lives to learning how bodies work do have something to offer, if we can combine that with listening and shifting the power dynamic ever towards empowerment of those we treat.  Fat is just one of the ways that we are taught we know about a person’s health just by looking at them, by using our far-from-objective observation skills without any sort of dialogue with the real expert in the room, the person seeking healthcare .

And one more thing: fat healthworker friends, where are you?  The first day of qi gong class, my teacher rhetorically asked, “who would want a 200-pound overweight chain-smoking doctor?”  In my head I automatically answered, that’s exactly who I want to be my doctor, and I realized that I have a lot of friends who do healthwork and none of them are fat.  I can imagine a million reasons for this, but I also know you are out there.  Fat healthworker friends, come to me.  We have some things we need to talk about.  In a body shaming, fatphobic culture, we are doing something powerful, transformative, even revolutionary—we would do it better if we were doing it together.  Doing health and doing movement together is part of collective liberation: it’s how we get to the world we need.

*I have used the word movement instead of exercise throughout this rant.  Partly that’s because the word exercise makes me think of all the ways white supremacist capitalist patriarchy frames the ways we move our bodies: that it is more about the appearance of health than the experience of health.  There is no monolithic experience of health.  Partly because as movements for collective liberation, what are we working for except broadly, a world in which everyone gets to live well and healthy, whatever that means for them?  Isn’t part of that learning how to move together?  We march and we dance and we eat together, sometimes we sleep together and we care for each other.  There is another basic pillar of wellness, and I want us to do it together, in anti-oppressive spaces that are working towards access and safety for all bodies.  I want vitalist movement practices together, as part of the world we want to create.

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Filed under #fatacceptance, #healthateverysize, acupuncture, body positivity, community care, fatphobia in healthcare, healing justice, self care, story telling, Uncategorized

The Medical Psychiatric Industrial Complex and Not-Reform Reform

So I’ve had big plans for this post.  I wanted to write a definition of the Medical Psychiatric Industrial Complex (MPIC).  I keep sitting down to write and not getting anywhere, so I’m trying to figure out what that’s all about.

I think of definitions as living, breathing, growing, changing things, so it’s not like I was expecting to write the ULTIMATE definition of the MPIC.  I do think that naming what we are up against gives us power in resisting it (thank you, Ursula Le Guin, for writing a whole world that is based on that idea), and in the writing’s coming out of healing justice organizing, I have yet to see a beginning definition of this monster.  People write about the Medical Industrial Complex, the prioritizing of profit over people but I think that there is so much more to it than that.  Every time I sit down to write this, my internet research turns up about 80 gazillion more examples that show what the MPIC is all about.  And every time I interact with healthcare as a client/patient/careseeker or as a practitioner/health worker, I experience about 80 gazillion more examples.  It’s huge and insidious–how to narrow all that down to something readable?

But I want to add SOMETHING to the conversation, analysis, and clarity we need to create a movement that resists the Medical Psychiatric Industrial Complex, so here’s a work-in-progress.  Tell me what you think, what’s missing, what’s missing the point, what needs to be added, what your experiences have been, how you talk about/understand all this:

Recently, some documents were released via the Freedom of Information Act showing the FBI’s covert role in advocating for Secure Communities (S-Comm) as part of a larger initiative to collect biometric data on, well, everyone.  The documents released show a bunch of disturbing info, including that the FBI views S-Comm as the first step in their “Next Generation Identification Surveillance Project.”   Jessica Karp of the National Day Laborer’s Organizing Network explained: “NGI is the next generation Big Brother. It’s a backdoor route to a national ID, to be carried not in a wallet, but within the body itself.”

It sounds wicked sci-fi: a world where facial and iris recognition technologies are used for everything from accessing your bank account to your CORI to your kid’s daycare bill.  It’s also the logical progression of the Medical Psychiatric Industrial Complex—our bodies have been and are used against us in so many ways.  The use of our own bodies as sites of surveillance increases the links between the MPIC and the Prison Industrial Complex.  It’s not the only place where these overlap:

The Young Women’s Empowerment Project in Chicago, a social justice organizing project run by and for girls (including trans girls) and young women (including trans women) who are or have been involved in the sex trade and street economy, conducted their own participatory action research project and published a report called “Girls Do What They Have To Do To Survive.”    They found that girls consistently name medical and psychiatric professionals as not just NOT providing them with the help they need but also actively hurting them.  They wrote:

 “The individual violence that girls experience is enhanced by the institutional violence that they experience from systems and         services. The violence included emotional and verbal abuse as well as exclusion from, or mistreatment by, services. Traditional places of safety and protection are not available to them.

  1. Girls are denied help from systems such as DCFS, police and the legal system, hospitals, shelters, and drug treatment programs because of their involvement in the sex trade, because they are trans girls or because they are queer, because they are young, because they are homeless, and because they use drugs. “Girls in the sex trade face exclusion and neglect when accessing shelter and other services.”

[….]

Health care providers were also identified by girls as being unethical. We heard many stories from girls going to the emergency room or to a doctor and being placed in psychiatric units just because they were in the sex trade, transgender or were thought to be self injuring.”

The medical and psychiatric systems are intimately related: we know that we can’t separate our health out by body, mind, spirit.  The Catholic Church knows that, too: they’ve got people’s spirits which means they’ve also got people’s bodies under their control.   We would be served to talk more about those linked systems because they are linked as our physical and emotional/mental healths are linked.  They are as linked as going to the ER can get you enmeshed in one or both systems at the same time, as the same pharmaceutical companies are controlling both, the same med schools are training practitioners to believe in their own authority over our knowledge of our own bodies.  Ultimately, they are two of the regulating institutions that dictate what is “normal,” what is “acceptable,” how we are supposed to be.  Two of the institutions that are supposedly about helping us, but really rarely are.

And then there’s also the genital mutilation of intersex babies at the hands of medical people, the attempt to turn ERs into ICE checkpoints in Arizona, incarcerated women giving birth while shackled, medical violence against people with disabilities , public health’s roots in eugenics, anti-immigrant policies, white supremacy, ableism, and state-enforced definitions of “normalcy,” “sanitation,” and “hygiene,” the healthcare crisis in Gaza resulting from the blockade of needed supplies and the bombing of hospitals by Israel, a recent move to place kids in the foster care system because they are fat, the denial of healthcare to incarcerated folks, making organ donation a condition of parole, the use of reproductive control against communities of color, the denial of needed care to transgender people, poor people, incarcerated people, young people, old people, women, people of color, undocumented people, disabled people, fat people, just to name a few examples…

The Medical Psychiatric Industrial Complex is every move that the state, corporations, and the people in power make that target our bodies, our ability to define health and wellness for ourselves and to attempt to live it.  It is rape culture embedded in hospitals, in clinics, in the brains of healthcare providers.  The MPIC controls and silences us, it eradicates traditional and community-based systems of healing and healers, makes us feel like we know nothing about our own bodies, like we have no choices, like we are machines that can be fixed by protocols.  It is about health as the opposite of self-determination and empowerment, which, if you ask me, is no health at all.    It’s overt and more subtle.  We are disempowered and we are killed.

Our visions of our bodies, of what healing/health/wellness look like have all been shaped by the same people who consider fatness a reason to deny someone healthcare, who consider women of color in the Global South to be expendable research subjects, who see hospitals as a way to increase surveillance of marginalized folks, who feel no qualms about literally getting under our skins and into our bones, governing how we live our lives, how we relate to our very own selves, bodies, hearts, minds, spirits, and people.

And yet, despite  all this, despite the stories I hear and my own experiences and numb parts, I still think about going to school to get some kind of license that would let me practice within this whole mess.  So I’ve got big questions about how to do that in a way that feels ethical and just, that doesn’t collude with the MPIC and the harm it perpetrates.  Like what do we do about the fact that the same MPIC also saves lives?  Also provides pharmaceuticals that help people survive and can even help make life more worth living?   Can we actually support the growth of community care while working on the inside?

I’m struck with the prison abolition concept of not-reform reform.  In the context of prison abolition, it means how do we support reform that makes things better for people who are currently incarcerated but that does not support the growth/expansion of the PIC.  So, for example, the demands of the incarcerated folks hunger-striking in California, like better food and an end to long-term solitary confinement, would make people’s lives better but do not support the growth of the Prison Industrial Complex.  That is the kind of reform we need.  On the other hand, the construction of so-called gender responsive prisons led to prison expansion while supposedly making the system more able to meet the needs of women.  That is not the kind of reform we need.

I wonder what it looks like to transfer that concept to the MPIC. True, the MPIC is different from the Prison Industrial Complex and the Military Industrial Complex—we don’t just want a world in which prisons and the military are separate from corporations, we want a world without prisons and the military, period.  However, we don’t want a world without medicine, period.  Yes, we want to uplift wellness-oriented, community-based healing justice.  I want us all to be empowered individually and collectively to attend more to the health of our bodies, minds, and spirits, to have access to the resources and information and choices we need.   I also want there to be surgeons.   Is that even possible?  I sure hope so.

 

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Filed under biometric data, definitions, medical psychiatric industrial complex, NGI Surveillance Project, Uncategorized