A gathering of radical health workers

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Baj Mukhopadhyay is a physician who is based in Montreal and practices mainly in remote and Indigenous communities in northern Quebec. He also writes about and is active in grassroots politics related to struggles around resource extraction, migrant justice, and health. Bilal Mamdani is an organizer with a long history of involvement in land defence, water protection, and struggles against resource extraction, and he is currently a medical student studying in southern Ontario. And Alas Mata is an Emergency Medical Technician based in southern California and a member of Frontline Medics, a collective of medically trained women of colour committed to providing communities of resistance with aid and support. Scott Neigh interviews them about the recent Liberation Health Convergence.

The convergence brought together health workers with radical politics to share and build skills, and to learn from each other. The event took place in Toronto in mid-May 2019 and lasted for five days. While there was some opportunity for participants to hone their capacities for providing care to individuals, the primary goal of the event was to allow them to deepen their analyses and sharpen their practices for participation in movements for collective liberation.

The organizers prioritized recruiting participants who were Black, Indigenous, and people of colour, and more than half ended up identifying in those ways. They also focused on attracting people from outside of Toronto. As well, they wanted as broad a spectrum as possible of areas of health work represented, and to that end they ensured that no more than half of the participants were physicians. Other professions represented included nurses, paramedics, social workers, harm reduction workers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and more.

Each day of the convergence was split into two sessions. For the most part, the mornings were focused on exploring broad features of social organization that shape experiences of health, illness, and care -- things like colonialism, sexism, capitalism, and racism. And then the afternoon sessions were used to discuss specific issues and struggles of both political and health importance, from police brutality, to reproductive justice, to the health-related struggles of undocumented people, and more. The pedagogy of the event was actively participatory, and focused as much as possible on small-group learning and deep conversation.

The sessions and conversations over the course of the convergence ranged from the eminently practical and skills-based to the deeply philosophical. The politics at the convergence did not neglect more conventional politicized understandings of health that happen under banners like "health equity," "access," and "social determinants of health," but also pushed beyond them. There was an active focus on unearthing the role of health systems and professionals not only in failing to remedy but in actively propagating colonial, white supremacist, patriarchal, and capitalist domination. And the conversations extended to imaginings of what it would look like to radically transform our understandings and practices around health. Rather than tinkering with existing systems, what new practices, new relations, and new forms of social organization might our movements create that reflect truly liberatory understandings of care and of healing?

Though it is still early days, today's participants are confident that the convergence was successful in accomplishing one of its other key goals as well. An emphasis on recruiting participants who were already solidly grounded in struggle, the relatively long duration of the convergence, and a process focused on building substantive connections between participants has created the beginnings of an ongoing network of care-workers with liberationist politics.

Image: Marc Kjerland/Flickr

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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