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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Health Autonomy Beyond the Pandemic: Webinar

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GEO Original
August 17, 2020
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Mutual aid has been used historically when systems failed to provide for basic needs. During the pandemic, there has been a resurgence of health-based mutual aid groups. It is a reflection of the immense power we hold when we work in solidarity. The panelists will share their practices and insight on how to collectively support the immediate health needs of our community through and beyond the pandemic.

This webinar is an introduction to GEO’s mutual aid themed issue “Health Autonomy Beyond the Pandemic”.


Knoxville Community Apothecary

Ujimaa Medics

Community Pharmacy



Ebony Gustave: You guys already started talking about some of the work that you do. So if you could just let us know how you got introduced to community-based health systems and how your group developed and we can go in the same order.

Rachel Milford: Awesome. Yeah. Well, so I grew up in east Tennessee, was born and raised in the South, and left for a little while, and came back about eight years ago. And when I came back, I started working in our community as an herbalist, as a community herbalist. And as long as I've been practicing here as an herbalist, I've always incorporated sliding scale into my work. And so from from the beginning of my work in Knoxville, I've always thought of myself as trying to make health care accessible in the community. And I've had a desire to do something more collectively for a while. But herbal medicine is something that is still pretty new and lots of parts of the country, or rather, it's like old and new. And so not something that a lot of folks are familiar with. And so the Knoxville Community Apothecary started, like I said, basically when lockdown happened in our community in mid-March. We already started experiencing getting cut off from all sorts of supplies, including herbs and things like that. And it became apparent from what we were seeing in other regions of the country that folks were gonna have to be treating themselves, most likely at home for this virus. And so immediately I started organizing and linking up with other clinical herbalists that I knew around the country, just trying to see what folks were already doing in the communities, what seemed to be working, what kind of information I could get it in the hands of our community members so that they could be prepared to make decisions about their health at home, and to be able to treat people as much as possible at home and know when it was time to go to the hospital.

And so very rapidly put together a workshop, a free workshop, for community members to come to just get some basic, like kitchen medicine knowledge around this virus. What do we know right now? What are next steps? And what came out of that workshop that we did was a lot of excitement at how we can start preparing our community better, not just around COVID-19, but how we can actually be creating better access to health care for everybody. Specifically specifically houseless folks in our communities, specifically poor and working class folks, etc..

And so a friend of mine who's been doing mutual aid work here for a while, we do have a couple other mutual aid collectives and harm reduction collectives here in Knoxville. We all kind of linked up with the idea of starting an herbal mutual aid project, and that was how the Knoxville Community Apothecary was born. And we started out just kind of like rounding people up, like who were the kitchen witches we already knew in town, who were the medics, who were the herbalists that were already here and trying to just, like, get people in the same room. What do we have access to? Like, everyone's bought up all the herbs, but we know we've got garlic and we can access ginger at the grocery store. Like, what are the things we can get together? And so we started out just sort of preemptively making herbal remedies for COVID-19, even though it had not really hit our community yet in April. And so a lot of what we were initially doing in the spring was getting medicine to our houseless community. We already have a lot of amazing organizers within our network who have been working in houseless camps for a while and have those relationships. And so we started out just trying to get direct medicine to folks based on need -- wound care, things like that.

And then when the uprising started, we pivoted our work to how we could be supporting BIPOC and frontline act with us not only in our community, but around the country. So we started sending medicine all over. We've just free. Free. Everything is free. What do you need? You need help sleeping. Like, how can we support black leaders right now in different communities? How can we support other frontline activists in this moment? And so we started shipping stuff all over the country. We've also been sending medicine to a lot of Reservations out West, too.

And so we like met that moment. And then July came for us. All of a sudden, COVID hit our community. So we are very much new to this work and figuring out that question around how to make things sustainable, how to be getting and bringing more people into this work so that it can continue long term. A lot of education pieces in our work because like I said, herbal medicine is new to a lot of folks. And so it can feel weird or scary or confusing. And so we're really, really trying to draw on a lot of the traditional and indigenous knowledge within our communities around working with herbs and teaching folks what they what they can do at home and how they can make decisions about their own bodies and their families bodies too.

And I think the only other thing I'll add too, is that we also have been doing a lot of work linking up with small projects like our own around the South. So really trying to, like, build community with other herbalists and health care workers of all sorts. Medics and activists around our region so that we can be sending each other herbs and medicines, that we can be supporting one another and holding one another in the work, too. So I'll stop there.

Journey Jamison: That was so wonderful to hear. By the way, I really appreciate that.

Hi, everyone. Again, my name is Journey and I'm from Ujimaa Medics. And as you all can probably tell, I'm pretty young. I'm 19. And so I became a part of UMedics when I was fifteen.

So I've been doing this work for kind of a long time and more importantly, throughout the most impressionable years of my life as my values and such were still like under construction. So through my work, through the community and taking initiative and things like that, that's kind of how I've been able to have a better idea of what health autonomy for people of color looks like, especially in urban settings, because, like I said, we are based in Chicago.

So personally, I became a part of Ujimaa Medics just kind of on a whim. In the household I was raised we always had a very well-rounded perspective on what health looks like, and not only just liberating black people and oppressed people of all types of different things. You know what I'm saying? And so we always, in my household were trying to go to different things and learn different things. So when we went to the Ujimaa Medics orientation, then I was like, this is something I really want to do. So then I build from that. Became a member, started training then and started speaking on behalf of UMedics and doing outreach things. And through that experience, I've also become a part of another organization called Sacred Keepers, which is an environmental justice nonprofit, also located in Chicago.

So saying that to say my perspective on what health looks like and what community health looks like as a whole has been really well informed on it being holistic and not just what's going on biologically, but also what's going on internally, what's going on in your environment. And one of the reasons why we do what we do at UMedics and why we thought it was so important is because we were noticing that these tragedies were happening. These, you know, our peers, Black people were getting shot and the people in the community were throwing their hands up and not knowing what to do and and expecting the paramedics to be there on time, expecting the police to do something, to use their first aid kit or whatever, or expecting there to be someone else around. And then when their loved one, you know, is struck by violence, having nothing to do, you know. And a lot of times not having anything to do and not knowing what to do because it's an experience like a gunshot wound, especially as so traumatic. What do we do? We pull our phone out and record. You know, we get on Facebook Live, or we, you know, use that to affirm a narrative that Black people aren't worth anything. Black people are all violent. And we use examples to contribute to a negative stigma in our community, when we wanted to say, hey, like, this is the situation, but we can still respond to it and reaffirm and reestablish community and accountability in the moment, you know what I'm saying? And I think staying in our lane has been a difficult thing because especially in gun violence, you know, we want to be on the prevention. We don't want -- in a perfect world, we wouldn't need to teach any workshop because people wouldn't be getting shot and people would be able to depend on an ambulance being there and in, you know, five to 10 minutes. But unfortunately, we know that ambulance times disproportionately don't meet that national requirement in communities of color. That's what we know.

So our question was, OK, what can we teach people how to do? What quick, easy to comprehend things. Can people learn how to do to maximize in that 20, 30 minutes of waiting around, you know what I'm saying? And through that, it's been a really, really wild rollercoaster even to just training so many different things. I've been able to travel and train in Washington, D.C. We've done trainings in New Orleans and New York and all sorts of different places. So that's definitely a privilege and to learn about the dynamics of other places across the country. So, yeah, I mean, I think I'm really excited to be here. And like I said, holistic health is something we value a lot at Ujimaa medics and most recently, with all the protests happening all over the country, we have, you know, constructed our own street medic curriculum. So we just finished that out and graduated our first class of street medics, which I was happy to be a part of. So we're building and trying to respond to everything that is going on, but still staying in our niche of training and educating from that from that lens of collective work and responsibility.

Ebony: Journey, thank you so much. And thank you, Rachel, as well. That was so empowering. Journey, I know have a special story to tell about how your training has been utilized. So if you could just share that briefly, that would be amazing, before Community Pharmacy.

Journey: So, yeah, I don't know what is going on. There's like a tree falling down, so that's why I keep turning my camera off because I keep going outside to see what is going on.

So yeah, this is a lot. I would definitely share this story about try to keep it as succinct as possible, because I can do it in a really, really detailed, elaborate way and if you want to hear that version, I will encourage you to Google it actually, because there's a recording via The Moth that I think is really, really good. That's been practiced and is more, you know, like I said, detailed, more polished than what I'd probably say right now.

But yeah, I mean, I had just became a member of UMedics maybe five or six months ago at this point. And it was July, a few months before I turn, a few days after I turned 15, I think, or 16. I don't know, my timeline is off. I think I had to be, I think I had to have been turning fifteen. I was fifteen. So I actually became, I actually misspoke. So I became a member of Ujimaa Medics, when I was 14, not 15. Excuse me. And I had only done one training. I've been a member for a kind of a few months. But, you know, you build on and you do trainings and you practice.

I'd only done one training when one day I'm coming home on like regular Saturday afternoon, middle of the day. And I am in my apartment. I'm home alone and I hear gunshots like crazy and I've heard gunshots before, but these were like ridiculously close. So I'm wanting to know, I know I have some information about how to respond to people who have been wounded, but I want to obviously be safe, put myself first. I'm not going to run into gunfire because that's like rule number one of any street medicine you'll learn is scene safety, you know. So I'm like, let me stay inside. And I look and I can kind of see people running across from the gas station, which is where the shooting took place. I'm just kind of trying to scope it out. I definitely wasn't going to leave my apartment and go outside of the gas station, but just kind of like a miraculous kind of thing. I just so happened to leave my back door unlocked. And a gunshot wound victim opened my back door and ran inside my house asking me for help, like looking for shelter from the shooter, from the active shooter, and also trying to get help because he had been shot in the neck. And so I was very frazzled. I was very scared, but I was very grateful that I had the training that I had via Ujimaa Medics. And of course, everything wasn't perfect, you know, I forgot to use gloves, you know, just kind of like a thing in the heat of the moment.

But I was able to apply pressure and doing an occlusive dressing in its chest, you know, prevent the bleeding and things like that. And it was a really bad wound. It was through his neck and up through his jaw. So it was like kind of, it was just a messy situation. And my mom came, you know, she came home about ten, fifteen minutes later and she was able to kind of do crowd control and keep everything calm so that way I could attend to him and give all my attention to him. And, you know, the police came and they were problematic in many ways. The ambulance and paramedics came and they were problematic in many ways, in my opinion. But at the end, you know, he was able to survive. I'm not going to, I mean you could definitely find out his name. But for today's purposes, you know, he was able to make a full recovery. And in a few weeks, we actually trained his entire family in our gunshot wound training because they were a family who was no stranger to gun violence, specifically. They had lost people to gun violence. I think they has lost like three other family members, like two months prior in May. So we were able to train their whole family. I think there was like toddlers there who were like three. And the great grandmother was there. She was like 80-something. But we trained their whole entire family on the same training that I got that was able to save his life with, I guess you could say.

So, yeah, that kind of just came full circle. And it was a really great experience to see accountability and see community care happen in real time and in less of a theory. And it actually be a real thing. So and it also made for a great college essay. So, you know, I did get something from it. I got a lot of experience and, so yeah. And if you guys like I said, oh, they dropped the recording. So you guys can go, should go watch that if you're interested, because that is way more detailed than what I just said.

Ebony: Thank you so much, Journey. It's so crazy that at that age you have to think about people in your community dying from gunshots. And the fact that you hear every day, it just ends up being a normal thing.

And Issy and Brendan, if you don't mind introducing what you guys do at Community Pharmacy, how that developed and how you got introduced to community health, because you guys have been around for a really long time.

Issy Bilek: Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, first, I just want to say thank you to both Rachel and Journey for sharing your stories and how you guys came to be and what you've done. It's amazing work. And we like stand so like tightly in solidarity with you guys. And thank you so much for being out there and doing this.

But so a brief history for us. So we've been around for a while, actually, way before me and Brendan's time. So I'll try to do justice to it. But we started in fall of 1972. We were a student run community pharmacy. So it was just a pharmacy when it started and it was entirely owned and run by students. We've never had a boss. We've never had a hierarchical system. We'd never had an owner. It started that way and it's stayed that way. So at first we started in a little back alley in Madison, Wisconsin, giving basically like pharmaceuticals and drugs to students for the best price, the most accessible kind of going against Big Pharma at the time. In the midst of like 1970s Madison, which was really when labor was so critical, organizing was so critical. And it was like a big time of growth for activism and organizing in Madison.

And then in the eighties, we moved to the downtown location that we're in right now. And when we did that, we expanded our whole business. So we still have a pharmacy, but we do much more with supplements, with the tinctures, with herbal remedies, with homeopathics, with flower essences, with health and beauty. We have a ton of stuff for that as well. And then also just like basic medical supplies. And so we have like hugely expanded what we are offering.

And then basically since then, how we kind of changed was we were also less directed toward the student population. So at the time, the student population was really like this radical organizing group. And since then that organization has dispersed among other communities in Madison. And so we did as well to like better serve those communities. And so we are not student run anymore. We're just run by locals as a cooperative. And basically Community Pharmacy has been through a lot of crises in Madison and just in the world in general. And so when COVID happened and when the protests happened, we had to do some adjustments, but it was nothing that we hadn't done before in our history.

So in the nineteen nineties, we provided a ton of support for AIDS and HIV people in our LGBTQ communities. We were giving herbs out then and trying to help people get through those symptoms and those hard, hard times. We also in the 2000s 2010s, we saw the Scott Walker protests in Madison and the occupation and we joined many protests and helped provide medical supplies in those. And so that's basically our history. Do you want to talk about where we are now?

Brendan Schwaab: Sure. Hi, I'm Brendan again. So to say a little bit about our structure and how we run, so as Issy mentioned, we are a we are a cooperatively run business. So we have a team management structure, and then those teams make decisions within themselves and then bring that out to the wider store. And that's sort of how we set our direction and make a lot of decisions that way.

I think a kind of core drive and motivation of this place is to offer health care alternatives. And as Issy mentioned, a lot of history, I think, especially back in the 70s when this place first started work, alternative healthcare, access to even supplements, I think it was a really, really foreign thing for a lot of people. So some of the first pharmacists, including someone named Peter was of their own personal interest, like brought to this place, and that was really kind of become a lot of who we are.

It was one of my coworkers, Michelle, who's worked here for 30 years talks about-- Like, we have a really focus of care. And we we really tried to to show up for people who come in. And a lot of people come in struggling with more chronic conditions. And just a lot of folks who fall through the cracks of the medical system.

And we really work to provide resources and access to herbs and people -- just providing resources for people to work through their health problems and find care in places where they may not have.

Issy: Yeah. And so then as a part of those things, we've kind of tried to do this blending as well, of our pharmacy and our herb departments, because even though they're separate we try to have them work closely together. So part of that is, you know, a lot of folks might be chronically ill and have to take a prescription medication as a part of their lives, and we always cross-check that with all of the herbs and alternatives that we can offer for some of the side effects that those can have.

We also have a needle program where we sell packs of needles for a dollar and we take sharps. We do Narcan trainings with all of our staff, so we're all prepared for those sorts of things. A lot of us go street medic trainings because when protests happen, we are people who are expected to turn out to those and represent. And so those are some other ways in which we've now kind of expanded what we offer to our communities. A lot of the folks in the downtown location struggle with homelessness and houselessness. And money is really tight. And so we try to offer whatever we can for free or very cheap to those people and make sure that they're taking care of first. And then also just a part of our cooperative structure and like our outreach is we get to choose who we take care of and where we show up.

And what we've, you know, decided is that we want those to be the most marginalized communities, the communities that are most in need. And we want to really, like, take our privilege of being a business and specifically a mostly white business and give those resources to people. And so, you know, part of that's been with COVID, there's a lot of folks who don't have access or don't feel safe going to doctors' offices that are getting sick. And we've come up with protocols. I thought of Rachel, what you mentioned. I wanted us to share protocols to see what we were giving people. But we've come up with like herbs that we're recommending to people and seeing how those play out, seeing how we can better provide for those communities.

And then with all of the protests, you know, being in Madison when the protests happened in Minneapolis, we were so close to that. And so, you know, some of our workers went there and brought supplies and made sure people were safe and they were OK. And then as soon as Madison started, we were out there giving med supplies. We used our space as a place where street medics could check in and divvy up their work. We went out with street medics. We gave as many masks as we could to as many people out in the protest as we could. And we just got really creative with how we were going to help.

And then after our protests went down a little bit, we started thinking about ways that we've also financially helped groups. So through all of various like activism movements and protests and points of stress in our communities, we've always tried to give back to our communities. And most recently, that's been with our local bail fund. If you don't know, Madison has a bail fund. It's called Free the 350, and it specifically bails out black and brown folks from our local jail. And so we decided to raise money on Juneteenth for our bail fund. And we're actually able to use that money to bail out a couple of people, which was really amazing. And it's work that we want to continue to do, especially using like our platform as a retail business and our platform as a co-operative to reallocate our money and resources where they're needed most. So, yeah.

Ebony: Wow. So amazing. We're at a loss for words. And I'm so appreciative that you're using your platform as a business that's been around for so long to give back to the community. Like you're not just doing it to profit yourselves or the pharmaceutical community. But you're mixing pharmaceuticals with herbalism and giving people alternative tools. So cool.

Malikia Johnson: We love to see it.

Ebony: So, thank you for sharing. And we want to know, what are some of your difficulties in competing with the traditional healthcare system? And we can start with you again, Rachel.

Malikia: Also too, I wanted to add, perceptions that you are receiving from people in terms of -- are they like "I don't trust this." How do you develop trust within the community with the services that you're offering?

Rachel: Great question. I just started laughing when you were like, where are the troubles you're having with the industrialized healthcare system. Like everything. Yeah. Everything. Well, first off, before I fully answer that, I just wanted a shout out to Sarah Lynn and Michelle and thank you both for bringing disability justice into the conversation as a community herbalist who is also chronically ill and disabled. It is really important to bring that into the conversation.

I think when we're talking about health autonomy, we're not just talking about people having access to free health care. I mean, that's important. Like, of course, that's important. We have to unshackle health care from profit. That's what we're talking about in this space. But we also have to redefine all of it because our healthcare system is also racist. Our healthcare system is also ableist. We're built on this idea that you're fixed or you're broken, and being broken is really bad and we all want to be fixed. And fixed is this is very narrowly defined idea of what it means to be this, I don't know, white, neurotypical, like heterosexual male or whatever, like whatever those definitions are around. And so I think health autonomy is so much more than just having access. It's very much about people getting to define what wellness is for their own body, that we all have that right. It's about building these resilient networks of care where nobody gets left behind. And care being something that we get to define what that looks like too.

I mean, part of what we're up against, and I actually know if this is true, I need to check the legalities on this, but I think up until at least a couple of years ago, if not still today, I think it's technically still illegal to call yourself an herbalist in Tennessee and South Carolina should double check on that. So we're up against that. We're up against the medical industrial complex, disregarding other forms of healing in our community. We're certainly up against that. I think like as a community apothecary, that's not something that we've had to deal with in our community. I think a lot of people are really open to to working, like Izzy and Brendan were saying, you know, working with complementary modalities. We certainly aren't going around telling people that all they need to do is, you know, take this one herb or get some sunlight and they're going to be fine. I mean, that's something that we've been up against as herbalists in our community. I've seen a lot of alternative practitioners saying a lot of ableist and privileged things during this pandemic. I'm sure you all have seen that in your own community, too, where we've had a lot of mostly white alternative practitioners telling people that COVID-19 is not real, or that they don't need to wear masks and they just need to get a lot of vitamin D and eat a good diet and they're going to be fine. And if they get sick, it's a personal failing. And so we've had that narrative I've seen in our community, and that's something that we've bumped up against and definitely had to pushback against with folks.

But, you know, I think in general, just to speak back to what Issy and Brendan were saying, I mean, my vision for what I want for all of our communities is I want a health care system that's worker-owned, that's integrative, right? That has cardiologists working next to acupuncturists and herbalists. Where we can have all of that community-run. So, yeah, I'm trying to think of what else to say. I mean, all of the challenges of working against that machine, our health care machine are real in our community. And I think the other biggest thing that that we're working with, just an East Tennessee and in the South in general, is we still have a lot of people that don't believe that this virus is real. And so in our community, the virus is running rampant. Right now, like nothing has been closed down they're trying to open school up. A lot of people aren't wearing masks or following social distancing protocols. And so, you know, we're feeling challenged, just trying to, like, meet the demands that we're already seeing and knowing that it's probably not going to get better anytime soon. So just trying our best to get as much medicine as as we can made. And just be trying to equip our people with with the skills that they need to take care of themselves and their community. So, I'll stop there.

Journey: I definitely have experience with distrust. Just kind of off the strength alone, that our trainings are not backed up by an institution of like American Red Cross or, you know, some sort of hospital or have some big funding behind our name. So I think a lot of times that can cause some, like, distrust. Because what a lot of people fail to realize is that in the grand scheme of the planet and human activity on the planet, institutions have been around for not that long and we've been taking care of each other for the entire time. And I think sometimes people just don't realize that. And, you know, there's a lot of, you know, systemic -- there's a lot of systems that have showed us that we cannot trust Black people and we can't trust the words that come out of our mouths and that we're not valuable, we're not credible. And that happens on a large scale, but also within the community and within these communities of color just automatically don't listen, don't want to hear what we have to say. And I think, you know, we're never going to be anywhere we don't want to be. We're never gonna force anything down anyone's throat.

But I think we also try to approach everything with compassion and know that we've all been to some extent conditioned to perpetuate these systems in our own way. Like nobody is perfect. And I can even think of examples in myself where I perpetuate, you know, anti-Black systems, you know what I'm saying, towards myself, so I can't really be -- I just have to have patience and compassion when I'm dealing with that, because I know that there is so much to unlearn from a really, really broad perspective. And especially when we're thinking about community health, giving the mic to the people in the community and letting them write the dose and letting them write the treatment plan for themselves. I think it's something new that a lot of people don't have experience doing. And so I think through that. The biggest takeaway is just to be patient and be compassionate, because everybody is trying to dismantle not only systems externally, but systems internally of all types of stuff. So, yeah, that's all I really have to say about that.

Issy: Cool. OK. Brendan, do you want to go? Sorry. We're in our store. Sometimes there's a phone that talks.

Brendan: Yeah. So as far as interfacing and working with the medical community, we've existed so long as as a business here, I think we have kind of put ourselves in a position of acting as a bridge between more traditional medical communities and herbalists and more holistic or integrative practitioners.

I think it's especially -- having a pharmacy helps with that because we have somebody who can kind of be made sensitive by the medical community. And I think that's also helpful for us. And Issy mentioned again the interaction and checking and finding ways to help people be well informed about the prescriptions they're taking and how they migh interact with herbs.

We do have kind of a referral network of physicians who we know and trust and who a lot of us who've had our own health problems have worked with in a lot of capacities. So we have information that we're able to give people about where you can go to work with somebody.

We are also working on a more updated and complete sharable resource to give to folks, especially unhoused folks and marginalized communities. So we're hoping to have that soon.

Another very exciting topic that everybody loves to talk about is pharmacy reimbursements and how that affects us in like a really weird way. And that wasn't something I really saw until I started working here for a long time. But over the years, it's become a lot harder for independent pharmacies to exist just because the kind of cutthroat world of pharmaceutical reimbursements just makes it really, really hard to actually make any margin of profit on these things. I could talk for awhile, but there's all these weird, complex ways that these companies kind of squeeze all of the profit out of this. And if you're not working in a big conglomerate, it's really hard to run a business in that way. So that's one frustrating thing about interfacing with that world.

Issy: Yeah, and another aspect of that, too, is because we're a supplement shop as well, and now supplements have become such -- and especially vitamins -- have become such a thing, we come into a problem of people buying, you know, random vitamins at Target or Wal-Mart and taking them and then coming to us and being like, "this didn't work." "I didn't like this." "This made my stomach super upset." And we have to kind of be those folks to also help guide, like, what supplements are actually like safe and healthy and good for you to take that are closer to nature, that are closer to what those herbs were meant to be doing. And so that's another hard part that we as just a small business have to deal with, especially right now.

But then ways that we've been building trust is one thing that we've always stressed, is that we always have Spanish speakers in our business and we translate as much as we possibly can into Spanish. We have a huge Spanish speaking population in Madison that goes unnoticed and often does not have access to traditional medicine. And so we try to act as people who can both, like, speak with them and also just give them herbs that would maybe help them in ways that they will never have access to through the medical system.

We also do a lot with mediating symptoms. So, you know, as Rachel was saying, there and our people who are chronically ill or we just have illnesses where, like saying take an herb and like get some sunshine is not going to solve it. They need certain medications to survive and to keep living. And that's absolutely fair and fine. But the problem with prescriptions is they will always have side effects that no one cares about in the medical industry. And another huge thing with us has been trying to, you know, take folks who are chronically ill and say, like, no, we can't give you a vitamin that's going to solve this illness, but we can try to offer supplements that will help you and mediate those symptoms that you're having from these medications and from your own illnesses to make you feel like you can actually exist and continue to like be a person here.

Another thing that we've just had trouble with recently is given all of the protests, it's been really hard being in Madison. And I'm sure all of you have experienced this where you are because policing has increased. And as a pharmacy, we have to be basically like up for the police. Like the police can come in and sus us out whenever they want because we are a pharmacy. And so that's something that we've struggled with as well, is we have communities that are marginalized and that do not want to interact with the police, do not want to interface with the police and come to our location as a place that's safe. And we have to kind of be those in-between people where we try to keep our community safe and keep the police out. But we still have to have this kind of public facing, like "we're just a business" mentality. And so that's a hard in-between space that we try to take. But I think given our history, we're just known as a point of safety for our community, and we built that through so many people doing so much good work that we will always continue to fight for our community over any sort of policing or big business. And that's where we've been building trust the most.

Yeah, I'll pass it back to you guys.

Ebony: Thank you all so much for sharing that. It's crazy that we have to convince people in our community to trust people in the communities that are really trying to help them. And really, we need to figure out a way to, I don't know, I guess take authority away from just the doctors and start building trust in our communities through giving people alternative resources, and showing that this doesn't have to be a utopian thing. That it's not just for hippies that are looking for other ways to live, but that really it's the way we need to live in order to live optimally.

So, Rachel, you touched on this, but if anyone else wants to chime in on what you see, the future of community health care. Rachel, did you want to add anything to that? You don't have to.

Rachel: I want Journey to just speak more. And Issy and Brendan. Like, let's listen.

Journey: I'm gonna keep this short. I think a future of health care for me looks a lot like kind of what I said earlier. Just putting the responsibility and the power in the person who is being treated, you know. Like psychologically that just does so much more for your body. And I think there's, like, a lot of connection that a lot of people forget to factor inm that a lot of people just forget to consider. Which is really a really important thing. You know what I'm saying? I want people to feel safe. And safety is not something that can be contained in one thing. It's something that has to be modeled. It's a lifestyle that really has to be a 360 flip. I think capitalism drives a lot of inequality in the health care system. That really just from my perspective, until we tackle that, it's just really impossible to even consider a different system because the pharmaceutical lobbyists, for example, they're the people who are profiting off of poor treatment plans, really, when you think about it.

You know, and I understand, you know, I'm not opposed or against taking medicine, you know, like I'm not opposed to taking pharmaceutical. I'm not opposed to that because I definitely understand that in certain cases that is necessary. But I think that when that's the only treatment plan presented and you're not learning about herbalism and you're not learning about other -- meditation, for example you know, like something so simple -- when that's not even infiltrated into the system that you're using to take care of people it's very clear who it's in the interest of. Because it's not in the interest of the patients, it's in the interests of the people who are writing the check and cashing the check, more importantly. So that's really like -- sometimes that question is so hard for me to even tackle. And that's why I'm so glad that I work on a grassroots level, because I can really just kind of make a difference in this one community, in this one city that I'm trying to reach, and things like that, because from a systemic point of view, I can't really -- a lot of these systems -- racism: I can't even really fully wrap my head around eradicating with capitalism still at the foundation of this country. So that's really all I have to say about that.

Makini Johnson: Really quickly, can I answer this question as well? I know I'm part of the Geo Collective. My name is Makini. When I think about personal health care, for me, it means knowing my body and understanding what my body needs. And I think a lot of the times we put a lot of trust in the medical healthcare professionals. I think Issy -- I don't want to miss your name, but I think that you were you were talking about putting your trust into doctors, and Ebony had touched on it, too. And I think even Jouney said, you know, neither of us win when trying to completely separate ourselves from the knowledge that we all have. But I think personal health care for me will be listening to me myself, knowing what I need and then being able to continue to investigate what works. Personally, my body and my mind and soul. I just wanted to answer that question. Thank you guys for asking. And thank you for the space.

Ebony: Thank you so much, my Makini. So before if anyone else would like to share. We just want to hear from Issy and Brendan. And then if anyone has any pressing desire to share anything.

Issy: Yes, sure. I can just start and Brennan's going to hop in again. But I think a part of our philosophy being a cooperative and then part of what we're continuing to fight for and looking to the future is really that as a cooperative part of our base is that we are trying to fight capitalism in any way we possibly can. And something that we really understand from the base is that capitalism and systematic racism are right here with each other. And that is one of our major ways that we are trying to fight, you know, both racism and capitalism. It's trying to use our resources and use our not hierarchal, not like retail-based, not profit-based mantra, but our cooperative mantra to better benefit the people. And really, like, fight for our communities and try to give them the resources that we can. And so that's a basis of where we're looking. Do you want to -- Brennan wanted to talk about COVID stuff, too.

Brendan: Yeah. So I'll start with just sharing a little tiny bit of my personal history. In my own health journey, I struggle with some chronic illnesses, including what was most likely Lyme disease. And basically I kind of reached the end of the road as to what kind of traditional medical route could offer me in terms of essentially just antibiotics. And I still felt awful, right?

So I just kind of felt like I ran out of options. And actually, that's actually when I first started coming in to Community Pharmacy, chatting folks here and people who know a lot about herbalism and I just kind of started picking things up and it wasn't like I was cured overnight, but it was this long, like piecemeal assembly of just things that worked and things that could help. So I feel like I am really glad we can continue to offer that.

I'm just really I feel for people who run out of options in terms of what they can be offered. And I worry, I've been reading the stories of COVID turning into a more chronic condition and people who have been struggling for months with long term symptoms. And I actually just wrote an article talking about the overlap between the Lyme disease community and chronic COVID communities and just the way that people believe there's no treatments and people just really get dropped. That's worrying for me. So I'm hoping that in our evolution, as we kind of learn more about this, as we gather the resources, we can continue to give people that kind of leave and so that now so many people fall through the cracks. And then another part of the way I see the future of this place is continuing to make things accessible. Obviously wealth inequality is staggeringly awful, and I think as more technologies are around like life extension and as these really commoditized and monetized things -- I mean to drag goop a little bit, but like these, like really, really commercialized health care things take off, I hope that we can continue the ethos of making things accessible and making things options for folks.

Issy: Thanks to everyone who spoke today. We really appreciate all of you. And thanks for hosting this. Everyone at GEO, you guys are amazing.

Ebony: Thank you for sharing. So we have someone, Martha, then Avita, that wanted to share what she hopes community health will look like in the future. You can go ahead, Martha, and unmute yourself.

Martha: I wouldn't be too long because I have to enter into another process. But I'm glad that you are doing that work in the US. It's very, very urgent and important.

I am working with social movements in Central America and worldwide, and we are concerned that this situation will the pandemic is being used to create situations in many countriesm in your country to change rights: political, social and economic rights. This is happening at least in some of the countries in Latin America, and people are being ostracized, then being put in jail if they go out to their home or from their homes. Also, the governments are taking big, big loans that then they used to supposedly give support to people that are being forced to stay at home. It is not that we don't understand that given the conditions of this illness, you don't have to take those you know, those measures, the thing is what they are being used for. And the program is that as these situations happen, you know, in the community of nations, many countries are going to go through political changes and the representatives are going to be in the World Health Organization or any other places are going to be people that are not really talking about what you're talking. That's one thing. The other thing is that, you know, any virus can become a pandemic if this happens in places where there's malnutrition, hunger, poverty, you know, environmental situations that are, you know, are not taking care of the planet, where ther are these conditions of climate change. And so all these problems are going to continue to happen because we are not taking care of the planet. We are not taking care of the environment. We are not taking care of nature.

A lot of you are taking about herbalist and all that. And that is very important. At the same time, in our cases, we have to make sure that we impact on the policies and politics from the local, to the national, to the sub-regional, regional, and global level. Because otherwise we do all this work, but then, you know, the people that then take control of situations such as this one change a lot of the policies and politics, and then they create a different world order. As a result of these pandemic, what's going to happen is that more and more nations, like say in Asia and in Africa and in the Caribbean and in, you know, in what now is called Latin America, are going to have administration of government because they are administration of governments that take power and really make difficult situations for communities such as viewers or groups such as yours. Right now, people in Bolivia are in the streets demanding the respect for the rights of indigenous peoples are being repressed. And then, you know, they were supposed to have elections, presidential elections, and there is kind of coup that's going on. So I'm just I wanted to talk a little bit with you so that, like you pay attention to this negative picture, because that's going to affect the local stuff that you're doing that is very, very important. Really, what you're talking about is being healthy and not so much about medicine, but health. Because medicine it kind of you have to wait until you get the illness and then, you know, find how to cure it. In reality, one of the major things that we have to learn from the First Nations in the world, especially in our country, is we are working to recuperate and to restore the traditional knowledge and wisdom of the indigenous nations that work very much about prevention. So we have to do a bit less on killing because we already the medicine and the way we live is our health.

And so we know that more pandemics, more problems such as by the viruses are coming because the conditions are not creating to live in health that really is like living in hell. So at this point, I just wanted to go on to congratulate you and, you know, make sure we are happy that you're doing that. Make sure that you do that kind of work on keeping healthy. But In order to keep healthy, people have to be nourished well. In all of Latin America there's going to be many, many millions of people that are going to go into poverty. And also facing severe hunger right now. So the policies of your country affect not only you and in the aspects that you've been talking about, but affect the whole world. And the kind of work that is being shaped is one that depends very much on medicine instead of health. And and so keeping the planet and nature and the environment well, the oceans, is as key as keeping ourselves well.

So that's what I wanted to tell you and congratulate you. And I am very happy that you're doing all the work. We are doing our part and we are trying to make sure that, you know, this coup d'etats by authoritarian regimes are not going to happen so that, you know, the whole world is being able to live in peace within people, families, communities and nation. Right. And with the community of nations. So take care. Thank you very much. Be well.

Ebony: Martha, thank you so, so much for sharing that. It was really beautiful.

And yeah, there's a huge there's always a wide lens on the US. And what we adopt, we really set the stage for the rest of the world, so we need to implement more of a holistic framework into how we practice our lifestyles in general. Like medicine that is described to you is usually just for a symptom and not the root cause. So we really have to get to the root. And Ajowa [Ifateyo] actually mentioned something that's a really good idea is to honor indigenous people and elders and our ancestors and putting out what type of medicine they use in their daily lives. So that would be an excellent resource guide.

And we did have a question from Oscar. He said are community health workers integrated into supporting herbalism and alternative medicine programs. If yes, how does that look? Within a community. So any of the panelists want to chime in on that?

Issy: Sure, we can talk about it all, but did you want to?

Brendan: Yeah. I mean, just super briefly. We do, over the years we have kind of got some relationships or loose reputation with the doctors and other health care practitioners in the community. So often we get, like if some practitioner is unfamiliar with an herb, doesn't quite know about a supplement, they'll send somebody here or give us a call and just ask about that. So yeah, that's one small way that we connect.

Issy: Yeah, and I think the thing too with us is we try to stress -- we try to find our webs in the community of who can shout us out and who wants to as well. Obviously we know not all doctors, or not all health care workers are really for herbalism. And, you know, that's their thing. That's their prerogative. But that's not where we are. And so we try to find those folks and educate those health workers and folks that we have connection to, and then really strengthen those connections. So if people are in the medical care system and they are a health care worker, we really want them to shout us out and we really want to work with them, because we want to provide that for people. And so we just try to use access to that as much as we possibly can whereever we can. And that's kind of where we interface with that.

Rachel: Yeah, I can just respond briefly. I would say, like in our community, just like where we are at East Tennessee, unfortunately not. There's not a lot of that work happening and collaboration happening in any sort of formal way. Although it's funny, like I said, I've been in my community as an herbalist for over eight years now, and I have like through my herb business, not through the community apothecary, but through my herb business, sold medicines to tons of doctors and nurses. I have quite a few health care workers who are clients of mine who are really excited about using integrative approaches to medicine, but are not really allowed to talk about that with their patients and are not really allowed to integrate it into their work in their formal institutions and that sort of thing. I think I'm definitely seeing that integration happening in some communities and in some bigger cities, but it's not really something that we're seeing here locally.

Ebony: Thank you all for sharing. And, it doesn't look like we have any more questions. So if the participants just want to give a last line or word to close the webinar we'll end a little bit early. Rachel, you're up.

Rachel: You keep making me go first. I have a lot of gratitude for all of the wisdom and brilliance in this Zoom room. All of the folks who did not really have a chance to speak, but maybe through the chat, and I just want to honor all of y'all's brilliance and all of the work that each and every one of you are doing in your own community. It's inspiring to get to be in spaces like this.

I think we all need it because we know how exhausting it can be to just be in our own little realms and our own communities doing this work. So y'all are a medicine for me today. Just getting to be in the space and hearing and seeing what you're doing. So, yeah, we got a lot of work to do. But, as I think we're realizing in this pandemic, and this moment of unraveling where all of these systems, they're being laid bare and how not sustainable they are and how not life-promoting they are, you know, now is the time where the only thing that really does matter is community care. And that's all there is, is how we care for one another. That's the work. That's the work that there is to do moving forward. And I'm excited to do that with all of my people and with all y'all, too. So lots of gratitude.

Journey: Also feeling a lot of gratitude. Really happy to be here. Really glad that I was able to be on this panel with such amazing people. Just for follow up, if you're interested in Ujima Medics, you can check out our website, which is And there, you know, you can find out a lot of different information, could also request a workshop. Our process on workshops has changed a little bit amongst COVID. Like I said, I know these are people from all over the country, and usually we would be open to traveling. But I think with everything, Chicago isn't a hotspot, but other places are. So we probably won't be traveling, but we could perhaps do like a webinar like this and do our training virtually, which we have done a few times so far. But definitely, if you're in the Chicago area, we are starting to do in-person trainings outside, not in any enclosed space, but in a community garden space type of situation. So if you're open to that and you're in the Chicagoland area, you can definitely hit our website up. So I'm just really grateful.

Issy: Yeah, we just want to say we're so grateful and so thankful for everyone, we've been able to be on a panel with. Journey, we will absolutely be hitting you up. We are in the Chicago area. We're coming and we're getting trained. We're very excited about it.

But, yeah, we're just so thankful to be on this panel and to meet all of you guys and just keep strengthening those bonds. I think it's great that we can all talk to each other and be in communication even during this very stressful time. And I just am really happy to be here and to be able to do that with all of you.

Ebony: Thank you all so, so much. My heart is filled with so much gratitude. This was better than I could have imagined, really. Building connections between the panelists and international connections. It's just it's amazing what a handful of people can do to really influence the collective in general. So thank you for all the amazing work that you are doing.

Malikia: And you can look out for our issue that's coming out with a broader scope about how to build collectively with mental health and the health that we've been talking about on this panel. On August 17th on All the people that are registered for the webinar, which is all of you guys, will get an email with this recording and all of the panelists, websites and social media, if you guys want to connect and I think that's all.

Ebony: That's it. Thank you.

Malikia: Thank you guys so much!

Ebony: Enjoy the rest of your evening. Lots of love.

Malikia: Yes. OK bye.



GEO Collective (2020).  Health Autonomy Beyond the Pandemic: Webinar.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).


Jennifer Scheib

Great webinar, very inspiring, thank you for putting it on! I watched the replay, having heard about it via Community Pharmacy on their Facebook page. I'm so proud and grateful to have them in my hometown of Madison, WI, even moreso after watching this discussion.

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