Recently a spate of personal and political hardship (impending divorce, and a healthy dosage of state repression) pushed me from what Freud calls “ordinary everyday unhappiness” to the domain of the crippling neuroses. Despite having a dependable network of reliable friends and comrades, I judged myself to be a burden to those whom I love, and decided to face the heartbreak and uncertainty on my own. Part of this was informed by a juvenile attachment to the stoic philosophy of Aurelius, Epictetus, the hellenophile Nietzsche, and co., according to which external phenomena must wash over one’s visage like waves breaking on a steadfast cliffside. Of course this metaphor, often evoked among in stoic literature, has no place for erosion. And facing down constant nervous exhaustion gives lie to the parable that what doesn’t kill one only makes one stronger; to the contrary, what didn’t kill me left me thoroughly fucked up.
I found myself sobbing uncontrollably, walking the streets with no destination, sometimes for hours at a time, even in torrential rain. Once indoors and alone I would be seized by pains in my stomach and chest inducing shortness of breath and mortal panic. I would summon to mind at once dozens of failures and shortcomings, competing with one another for primacy before becoming at last a deafening cacophonic chorus. I would picture my partner with her new lover and be overcome with grief and rage. The center of my chest became a wellspring of the most intense surges of self-destructive energy I have ever encountered with or without the aid of illicit drugs, and at times I would punch myself hard directly in the head or dig my fingernails into my hands to dull the unbearable onslaught of these hostile emotions.
Not incidentally, I have battled substance abuse for my entire adult life. I have dulled my influx of nervous energy — overflowing whatever scant outlets are available in our society for politically conscious and otherwise creative and romantic people — with booze, downers, uppers, hallucinogens, and the like, since I was old enough to get my hands on these things. Sadly enough it was during times of prolonged substance dependency that I felt myself to truly have a place in the world, as an addict. I woke up with a mission and I fucking succeeded. And being under the influence was the only time I could quiet down my mind sufficient to look at my life with detachment, admit its positive qualities, and like myself. Otherwise I was awash in self-doubt, self-hatred, and associated expressions of nastiness and hostility that continue to derail my adult relationships to this day.
Last year we wrote the an article, featured below, ahead of the mayoral and several important local elections. Despite the election of Bill DeBlasio, supposed hospital supporter extraordinaire, and Leticia James as public advocate, the conditions of healthcare for poor and working class people in the city have definitely not improved. Shortly after de Blasio’s election, LICH hospital finally closed under the spirited protest of workers and community members. Conditions for Home Health Aids continue to decline, and the public housing projects near closing hospitals go heavily policed and with intermittent services such as electricity and water. Despite the inability for elected officials to change these conditions, FloJo isn’t discouraged. Over the last year we’ve met incredible people engaged in struggles against their exploitative conditions and for a new kind of care. This month we’re launching our “Care Worker’s Support Network” to help build campaigns of struggle in workplaces around the city–so hit us up if you have demands in your workplace or community and need support. This election day, we’re “voting” for everyday people–CNAs, HHAs, nurses, patients, teachers, secretaries, nannies, and everyone struggling to create a new world!
Besides LICH, here are some exciting struggles of the last “election” year:
- After a fervent struggle by workers and community members, North Central Bronx Hospital was compelled to re-open their Labor and Delivery Unit
- In Oregon, precarious teachers at the University are going on strike and are continuing to fight even with the threats of backlash
- The people of Ferguson continue to resist violence against their community by police
- Know of struggles we didn’t include? Send us an email or leave a comment!
Click here or scroll down to continue to last year’s “Election day Special!”
Here is part two of our analysis of SB1391 from a medical worker deeply acquainted with people with addiction and in recovery. This piece further articulates the relationship between medicalization and the history of anti-drug legislation, and lays out a series of mandates/demands for healthcare and society.
Another Care is Possible: Thinking Beyond Criminalizing Substance Using Mothers
Kristen was 19 when she took her first Percocet at a party, and for that moment, all of her depression and anxieties disappeared. But it also set off a decade of addiction to pills and eventually intravenous heroin. She dropped out of college and plunged from one crisis to another. It wasn’t until Kristen realized she was pregnant that she finally reached out for help and enrolled into treatment at a New York City public hospital where doctors provided her with treatment and helped her deliver a healthy baby boy.
Kristen’s story is not a miracle – recent findings have demonstrated the effectiveness of treatment for mothers with illicit substance and alcohol dependence. However the recent passage of Tennessee’s SB 1391 has dealt a blow to women’s rights and the autonomy of healthcare workers to provide quality care. The law mandates healthcare workers to report substance abusing mothers to the police, who face misdemeanor charges if babies are deemed to be harmed by the mother’s substance abuse. Despite evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of substance treatment, cuts in education, public housing, and healthcare services have crippled efforts to support women in recovery and diverted public funds to incarceration.
Such events are not incidental and are linked to dominant historical, ideological, and economic forces that shape how healthcare is provided. We must beyond such events and rethink our autonomy as healthcare workers and how we can collaborate with marginalized communities to launch more lasting alternatives. We must open spaces in and outside the clinic that can launch conversations that allow us to listen and collaborate with marginalized communities in order to launch new modes of reproducing care.
Nixon, Reagan, and ‘Just say no’
In the 1960’s, organizations such as the American Indian Movement, Black Panther Party, Young Lords, and Brown Berets rattled the core of the American establishment. In the wake of the Civil Rights Act and weakening Jim Crow era laws, Nixon’s ‘War on Drugs’ re–escalated the government’s disciplinary apparatus in communities of color. Spaces and social bonds that could produce non–capitalist alternatives were nearly annihilated, including radical organizations, unions, and eventually family and neighborhood networks with the waves of foreclosures, gentrification, and rising incarceration (particularly in communities of color). A new mode of economic production would come to dominate poor communities – the sale and consumption of illicit drugs.
[note from authors: the end of the article contains several exciting examples of healthcare organizing. To skip right there click here and scroll down!]
This past week, the Democratic primary seems to have taken over New York. If you’re a union member, your phone has likely been ringing off the hook–not because someone has finally addressed your 20-month-old grievance, or has called for a much needed strike action to prevent thousands of layoffs in your job, but to remind you to “get out the vote!” today. If you’re one of the millions of non-unionized, unemployed, or disabled people in this city, then for the last several months you have been getting endless campaign notifications in the mail along with news of medicare cuts, medicaid “redesign”, and a smaller balance on your SNAP cards. And if you are a hospital worker, a teacher, a cleaner, a kitchen worker, or one of the 100,000’s of people facing the loss of their local hospital (as is the case with the imminent closing of Interfaith, the closure of Labor and Delivery services at North Central Bronx, the closure of several St. Vincent locations, and the yet-to-be-determined loss of units at Mt Sinai/Beth Israel/Roosevelt/St Luke’s merger) then you’re probably wondering, what does all of this have to do with you?
This election period in particular is especially hectic, and it’s no accident. In the last year, Labor and Delivery was cut at North Central Bronx Hospital, leaving thousands of mothers without local care and hundreds of workers to transfer to unfamiliar units; Long Island College Hospital shuttered its doors and laid off its workers and medical residents; Mt Sinai is taking over Beth Israel, St Luke’s, and Roosevelt Hospitals in which cuts have already started, and more are on the way without any communication to workers or patients; and Interfaith Medical Center has made its determination that it will close, sending layoff notices to over 1500 employees and it is holding on now by a last ditch injunction pushed by DeBlasio in a cynical campaign move. And when the hospital closes either on its scheduled date (currently slated for November 14th of this year) or a month or year after, DeBlasio’s position will be sealed, along with his healthcare package. On top of this, many of us–underwaged workers (many in healthcare), the elderly,the disabled, and unemployed people are facing “medicaid redesign” and medicare sequestrations which will cut access to care even more drastically.
As political campaigns to raise the minimum wage grab headlines, there is a decrease in the federal minimum wage on the horizon that nobody is talking about. The coming reduction in the wage for working class people in the United States, employed and unemployed, will come from a two pronged reduction in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, better known as food stamps. These cuts will affect the 50 million people struggling to feed themselves and their families in the current economic depression. And these nationwide cuts, effecting every recipient, just may provide workers with the broad basis for action against the system that keeps them broke, overworked, and dependent on their boss and the state just to survive.
The state calls food stamps “benefits” and “entitlements”, and tells people they are a privilege, not a right. Some politicians talk about food stamps like they are state sponsored charity. But SNAP benefits are a part of the wage for the lowest strata of the working class. They are the piece of the paycheck necessary to buy food, a piece that the capitalists refuse to pay.
SNAP cuts must be recognized as wage cuts, and fought against by the cooperation of all working class people, no matter whether they receive benefits, and especially by the working class people who work in food stamp and other benefit centers. We need to help build this movement by facilitating these connections, and agitating beyond the reformist lines.
Accordingly we can’t simply defend the program or demand more benefits. The SNAP program itself must be understood as a tool used to discipline the working class. No matter how high they are, these benefits hold a small amount of working class peoples’ wages over their heads to make them dependent, subject them to humiliating privacy violations like drug tests and endless bureaucratic hurdles, and provide a cheap compensation for the loss of real jobs, the ever-diminishing standard of living, and the mass incarceration of tens of millions of Americans. This is why we don’t simply need more food stamps, but the end of the system that makes food stamps necessary to survive.