Peer to Peer Healing: Rethinking Clinics with Cassie Thornton
This is part two of our interview with the Feminist Economics Department (artist Cassie Thornton) which focuses on Thornton’s research into social clinics — ad hoc networks for holistic care that emerged after the Greek financial crisis. (Read part one here, which discusses Thornton’s radical yoga interventions, alternative credit scores, and the unconscious effects of debt).
Thornton’s work is on display at the swissnex Gallery exhibition, You had to be there, and she will be presenting a performative lecture on April 20.
Your idea of the subversive yoga instructor network has some parallels to another project, The Hologram. Can you describe that one?
The Hologram is the thing I’m secretly delivering with my projects. It’s an autonomous, non-hierarchical network for peer health support. It’s easiest to describe as a story.
Go for it.
In the years after the Greek financial crisis, a lot of different citizen-led initiatives happened to deal with the crisis on the ground. When Greece was forced to pay its debts by the EU, a fiscal management board came in and reorganized their budget and drastically cut their health care budget. It was a socialized health care system, and the cuts meant they couldn’t hire staff to clean the hospitals, or pay doctors, etc. People couldn’t get the healthcare they were paying for anymore.
One response, coming from anarchists, activists and medical professionals alike, was to create a network of health clinics called “social clinics,” which offered completely free health care to Greeks or to the growing number of refugees living there, or to anyone who showed up. A lot of them happened in squatted buildings. Some of them were more politically radical, some were run by charities or religious organizations, but all in all in 2016 I think there were 80.
We saw doctors, nurses, and healthcare practitioners volunteering to work in these spaces, and they were working together to figure out how to get people what they needed by any means necessary. If you needed surgery, but they didn’t have the proper equipment at the social clinic, a doctor might sneak you into their hospital. The networks had become so broad that it was possible to get people whatever they needed completely for free.
I went to go visit some of these clinics. It made me realize that there are these places that we label as “places in crisis,” but the same hedge funds that profit off of a place like Puerto Rico or are flipping houses in Oakland are the same ones profiting off of Greece. We’re all a part of the same global economic systems. The “crisis” in Greece is the crisis in San Francisco.
But in the US before Trump, we weren’t willing to imagine that we were in an economic crisis — because when you recognize that you’re in a crisis, you do something, and if you’re in denial, you don’t. So I thought about what was functional about those social clinics, and how you could bring that to the United States.
One early clinic in the movement was in Thessaloniki, a smaller city than Athens. A group emerged, “A Group for a Different Medicine,” and the idea was that they didn’t want to just give away free medicine, but to rethink the way that medicine happens. That included, specifically, the gender dynamics and hierarchies that are very present in medical care. This group opened another clinic inside of an occupied factory, a worker’s clinic, as ground zero for experiments around medical hierarchies.
When new patients came to the clinic, they would see a medical doctor, a psychotherapist, and a social worker in one 90-minute intake. They’d ask questions like “Who is your mother? What do you eat? Where do you work? How does your body feel when you’re at work? Where are the financial hardships in your family?”
They would get a very broad picture of this person, and then later on, after the intake, they’d take that person out for coffee and make a one-year plan to take care of the things they need to make sure they stay healthy. “Your job is making you really anxious, what can we do to help you with that? You need surgery, we’ll sneak you in. You are lonely, so we think you should join this social movement.”
It was about making a plan that was truly holistic. And when I heard about it, I was like, “Duh!”
I did an interview with a woman who was one of the people who invented this, named Frosso. She said this way of working took someone in need of care from a flat image or a number, and made them into a hologram. It’s a way of looking at someone’s health in many dimensions. So my idea, which I’ve been working on with a number of people in the Bay Area and abroad, is to reproduce that same kind of trio/triage model but without experts, and as a network.
How would it work?
So imagine that you and me and one other person decide we’re going to make a hologram of another person. You and I and this other caretaker each choose a role — the body, the social, the emotional/intellectual health of the person. Every season, we’d meet and take notes about how they’re doing. Over time we’d have these records, and when a big decision or problem came up in their lives — a potential surgery or even a social decision or a change of jobs — we could help them to do research. Not give advice, but help them remember their patterns, and to support them to ask the right questions.
It’s a lifelong project of getting to know someone, and developing trust that will allow them to feel rooted wherever they go, whatever they do. I am really transient, and so are my friends. We change cities, lose medical records. This is a way of creating a different kind of accountability and long-term relationship. You have a promise that these three people will continue to know you.
The real care and healing, though, is that the person who is receiving all this care is also taking care of another person. Each of the people in the system also have a group of people taking care of them. As a network, it’s a way to understand what other people are going through — understanding the pain of others, and wanting it to go away, is how social movements start.
Once called "the Harry Potter of the Digital Vanguard," Eryk studied new media art and journalism at the University of Maine and Global Media at the London School of Economics.
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