Free testing, treatment, and medical care for all. We must be able to seek and access to preventative and emergency care without fear of debt or incarceration. With health insurance tied to employment, millions of newly unemployed people have lost access to medical care in the midst of a pandemic.
Individuals and communities severed from each other and the world they inhabit cannot heal. Our vitality depends on that of the whole. Industrial health practices inadvertently reinforce a destructive framework that contributes to the illusion that we are separate from each other and from the rest of the Earth. COVID-19 has shattered this illusion – the virus connects us all.
For decades, the health care industry has prioritized profits over prevention and preparedness, and short-term growth over the long-term health of the public. The political establishment sabotages any chances of universal healthcare as it remains invested in the private, for-profit basis of the American healthcare system. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, testing and treatment remains difficult to access, with many of us living in fear that falling sick will lead to crippling medical debt for the rest of our lives.
We refuse debt and we refuse death. We are driven by and towards vitality, towards immunity for all. Our health is inextricably intertwined — not just by a viral contagion, but by the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must care for each other and for the planet. Care prepares us for real conflict and gives us the means to keep fighting. Together we can build collective immunity to fight a virus as well as a system that weakens us.
Why free healthcare?
A nurse treating COVID-19 patients in New York city shared the last words of a dying man about to be placed on a ventilator: “Who’s going to pay for it?” Stories like these are common tragedies in America’s hospitals. People regularly die worrying about the cost of continuing to live. We have been asked to wait for years of political gridlock over healthcare, while woefully inadequate reforms are touted as “change.” The longer we wait, the more people needlessly suffer. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, it is time to act.
We demand free healthcare so that people can face sickness and mortality with dignity. Due to a lack of affordability, most people seek healthcare as a last resort, resulting in health models that manage crises rather than practice prevention. Our current political and economic situation fails even at crisis management, let alone a conception of health that goes beyond the mere absence of sickness.
This demand of free healthcare is not directed to the system responsible for sickening us in the first place. It is a call to action. We first demand it of ourselves and of each other. We stand with the doctors who get creative with insurance reports to protect their most vulnerable patients. We stand with the nurses who want to disobey bureaucratic management so they able to better care for patients. We stand with the herbalists who grow medicine, and share tinctures with their friends. We stand with the scientists who appropriate their lab equipment to conduct free testing. We stand with everyone who finds a way to care for each other because no politician or corporation is coming to save us. Steps towards free healthcare is immediately actionable within our own communities – let us get organized.
How will we achieve free healthcare?
We are beginning to self-organize along three lines: autonomously connecting existing medical professionals with the community to address healthcare issues outside the confines of the capitalist health system, communities directly supporting one another through peer support groups and mutual aid networks, and transforming the system by directing our energies toward autonomous care and systemic change — that is, abolishing the for-profit industry and returning healthcare to its role as a universal human right.
Connect. If you are a nurse, doctor, herbalist, therapist, medical student, pharmacist, or any other health practitioner, you can work to directly respond to people’s health concerns without institutional interference. Already, many healthcare workers are self-organizing during this pandemic to make their services more accessible. The possibilities are highly context-dependent, but in most situations you can’t do it alone. Therefore, creating autonomous collectives with other health and care workers is a fundamental first step.
Support. Support groups to share methodologies and offer dynamic forms of care are crucial not only to see through this pandemic, but to sustain the health and well-being of our communities in the long-term. You don’t have to have healthcare expertise to be able to care for one another. Please see our toolkit for ideas on how to start autonomous care initiatives within your community.
Transform. We all likely know somebody who has been extorted by the healthcare system. Already, patients are getting exorbitant bills for COVID treatment. It is exhausting and difficult to fight insurance companies when you are sick, or to advocate for your rights as a patient in the midst of a crisis. We need community groups who strive to learn from each other’s experiences, use mutual connections, and advocate for each other whether that means resource sharing or organizing against health insurance scams. Caring for each other also means fighting for each other.
What does this mean practically?
Practical organizing always begins by finding each other. Start with speaking to those with whom you’ve connected with about these issues. Initiate these conversations with your friends and relatives and with others you may have a shared basis with – patients you met in the doctor’s waiting room with similar issues, or a coworker who just got a huge medical bill. Organize fellow patients and medical professionals to act collectively. What you can do together will be highly context-dependent, but there are more possibilities when you act together than as individuals. Think through what supplies are available at your workplaces, what connections you might have, and what can be obtained by pooling together your resources. Together you can decide what your immediate needs are and what steps may be taken towards mutual aid. You can also think about how to scale up and provide support and resources to others in your community. The Toolkit below has compiled guidance and resources on how to get started.
When does this project begin?
It has already begun. After years of begging legislators to give us affordable healthcare, we are now taking matters into our own hands. We the people make the world run, whether we’re talking about the economy or the healthcare system. We don’t need politicians, insurance companies, or bureaucratic institutions to take care of each other – in fact they hinder the process of care. Since COVID-19, we have seen massive self-organization – medical workers, patients, even people afflicted with the virus – are coming together and beginning to directly share wisdom, skills, and most importantly a desire to fundamentally change this world for the better. This project begins with you.
An extensive arsenal of health and care related resources can be found in our Health Autonomy Toolkit. The resources listed here are a subset of our greater toolkit, and are focused specifically on building health autonomy within your community.
Create community hubs for the gathering and distribution of COVID related supplies:
1. Learn to make hand sanitizer. Follow the formulas from Herbalista Free Clinic based on recipes recommended the World Health Organization.
2. Sew face masks for yourself and others. Inhabit has published a guide from that includes a pattern for machine-washable masks made out of HEPA filters and high-thread count cloth.
3. Refer to these open source PPE designs for:
- Negative pressure isolation boxes, which can be useful to contain airborne particles like viruses from spreading to those in close proximity to someone with COVID-19 symptoms.
- Face shields to address critical supply chain shortages leaving medical workers unprotected. This particular design has been tested and deployed at hospitals, and now adopted for manufacturing at Ford factories.
- Powered air-purifying respirators, which have a similar filter as the N95 masks and filter air using positive pressure within the hood.
Build autonomous health care initiatives within your community:
Health autonomy refers to the steady gestures of care that over time enable us to turn to our communities for real, tangible support, rather than sole reliance on an industrialized medical system of crisis management. This is necessary, not only for survival during a pandemic, but for the lasting health of our communities and of the planet.
When being sick is an abhorrence to the norm, it allows us to conceive of care and support in the same way. Care, in this configuration, is only required sometimes. When sickness is temporary, care is not normal.Sick Woman Theory, Johanna Hedva
Normalizing infrastructures of care begins by initiating a shared commitment amongst a small group of friends and relatives to regularly check-in and discuss all aspects of health. This group can remain small to foster intimacy, and could focus on shared practices such as somatics exercises or death workshops. Your efforts can also scale to community-wide mutual aid initiatives such as needle exchange programs, rapid-response teams. The following resources may offer ideas, information, and inspiration.
- Power Makes Us Sick is a Berlin-based autonomous health collective. Their Introduction to the Accountability Model document is an excellent foundation for those looking to begin a health autonomy group.
- Herbalista Free Clinic is an excellent resource for clinical manuals, patient handouts, and protocols you might need to run your project.
- Four Thieves Vinegar Collective has instructions for synthesizing commonly used, yet inaccessible drugs, as well as plans for fabricating a cheap EpiPencil autoinjector.
- ‘Solidarity Clinic’ in Thessaloniki in northern Greece is part of a large movement that led to the establishment of 92 autonomous collective functioning clinics offering free services and funded by non-governmental sources. Please watch their video below.