We know people in pain. Members in pain, leaders in pain and even organizers in pain. While there is the joy and relief that can come from a strong campaign victory, there are some battle wounds that endure. Standing on the shoulders of healers from past generations, a new cadre is emerging, integrating trauma and healing work into the everyday campaigns for social justice. Org Up’s Sushma sat with Tanuja Jagernauth, who enriches her organizing work in Chicago with young women and domestic violence survivors with trauma and harm reduction, skill sharing, and collective healing.
Q: What departures does healing / health justice work take from past practices?
I want to start with a working definition of healing justice. According to Cara Page, who wrote on Incite!’s blog about the Healing Justice work during the Detroit United States Social Forum (USSF), healing justice is “a framework that identifies how we can holistically respond to and intervene on generational trauma and violence and bring collective practices that can impact and transform the consequences of oppression on our bodies, hearts and minds. Through this framework we built two political and philosophical convergences of healing inside of liberation.”
Also, let me also make healing justice more distinct from health justice. For me, the two are inseparable but for others they are very different. Health justice is very much about access to health care, modalities that accessible, harm reduction, and having a race, class, gender, ability, etc. analysis. But, health justice is not specifically targeted toward healing generational trauma and violence, nor is it specifically about developing community practices and visioning.
The way I understand it, healing justice acknowledges and addresses the layers and layers of trauma and violence that we have been living with and fighting for generations. And, it asks us to bring collective practices for healing and transformation INTO our work. It recognizes that we HAVE bodies, minds, emotions, hearts, and it makes the connection that we cannot do this work of transforming society and our communities without bringing collective healing into our work. People have been asking more and more questions about “sustainability” in the work. I think that working within a healing justice framework is a way to institutionalize sustainability in our work.
So, we are asking ourselves after and before actions, for example, what was the impact on our bodies, minds, and emotions? What came up for us? What tools do we need or do we have to address what came up and the impact? And the actions themselves address trauma and violence as they are addressing systemic oppression. So the work is necessarily creating intersections between what tend to be separate issues.
Q: What openings has the national debate on health care created for this work? What opportunities have closed?
At first, I thought that the national debate on health care would facilitate some awesome discussions on preventative health care and bring preventative and holistic health care into the national picture because it has been shown to be cost-effective to practice good preventative and holistic medicine. However, the debate ended up centering around access to emergency care, which we all do need because one night in the ER for a catastrophic event will bankrupt your family for sure. However, prevention and access to complementary and alternative modalities did not come into the discussion in a meaningful way, and I think a major opportunity was missed.
At the same time, at the 2010 USSF in Detroit, healing justice showed up in 2 amazing practice spaces and in one amazing PMA or People’s Movement Assembly (which you can read about in Cara’s Incite! blog). I was able to see first hand how awareness of healing justice elevated the discussion around making organizing work sustainable and I got to see within the Healing Justice Practice Space that people were transformed and restored and nourished on many levels by having access to various healing modalities WITHIN a week-long conference that can be triggering, very heady, and overwhelming for a lot of people.
Q: What are some exciting innovations taking place now?
I can speak to what I see in Chicago. The Young Women’s Empowerment Project, as part of their Street Youth Rise Up campaign, is focusing on Healing in Action. We are training the youth staff and outreach workers at YWEP in evidence-based herbal first aid and self care. Youth are documenting the harmful and unhelpful interactions they have with social services and hospitals and clinics via their Bad Encounter Line, which publishes a zine quarterly to describe and hold accountable the service providers. The Chicago Healing Justice Network is a network of people interested and invested in shaping what healing justice might look if taken to organizations and movement work within Chicago. Finally, I am working with a collective of four healers to create Sage Community Health Collective, a worker-owned and run healing collective. Our work will create access to health care services for everyone, but it will also include addressing the generational violence and trauma of our communities, within and without non-profit organizations and groups. We have the opportunity to partner with existing orgs to address family and community violence and systemic oppression, bringing health care and healing to the same table where housing rights, racism, food security, worker rights, feminism, disability, gender and sexuality, the environment and everything else is discussed.
In Chicago, as we build Sage, we will include acupuncture, shiatsu, herbology, nutrition, and yoga plus workshops and skillshares as services but our healing justice practice will include working with the community to support struggles we collectively identify, offering skillshares, and asking questions of ourselves and the healing community that challenge all of us to reconsider the ways in which we do health care and healing.
Writing will be a huge part of our work as we further define and tease out what we mean by healing justice. Community visioning will be part of our healing justice practice. In fact, we are putting together focus groups with organizations in our target region to ask what it would look like to them to have a health care system that works for them, and what would it look like to apply healing in their community to address violence and trauma. In some places, folks will work with Reiki or craniosacral therapy; in other places they will use sound and vibrational healing or somatics but what is the most important thing is the application of the underlying framework of healing justice: healing generational and community trauma and violence and, because we are organizers, the needs and desires and interests of those with whom we work are paramount, so what modalities we offer and bring will be informed by our community needs. Healing justice does not exclude allopathy or more mainstream health practices but for sure would try to be non judgemental, harm reductionist, respectful, etc within the use of those modalities. I think healing justice seeks access for everyone to holistic healing as part of the healing of generations of trauma and violence but also honors where people are at today, so it would not exclude antibiotics, etc. Healing justice would, however, ask questions about who has access and what modalities are more harmful to people and what modalities enforce violence and trauma and which ones are even culturally appropriative.
Q: Where and how does health justice work need to inter face with other sectors of the movement?
Healing generational trauma and violence demands an inter-sectional, inter-generational approach. One way that we saw this in action in Detroit was that the Healing Justice Practice Space was shut down for one day so that the healers could participate in an action targeting the large incinerator in Detroit, which was actually shut down recently. Making the deliberate choice to involve healers in the action made the statement that not only do we need to be active in supporting folks to heal their individual asthma and respiratory disorders, but we need to be involved in fighting the sources of their asthma and respiratory disorders: the structures that pollute the air they breathe and the people in power who keep those structures running. Healing justice intersects with every sector of the movement, and I am excited to see how we will collectively tease out the ways in which the intersections and collaborations happen. Sustainably.
Tanuja Jagernauth is a licensed acupuncturist and writer working in Chicago with the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, Devi Health, and Sage Community Health Collective. For fun and self-care, this November she is participating in National Novel Writing Month. You can check out her blog atwww.devihealth.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @tanuja_devi