Healing Justice Lineages: Dreaming at the Crossroads of Liberation, Collective Care, and Safety is a new book from Cara Page and Erica Woodland. I had the opportunity to speak with both authors about the movement histories that have shaped what healing justice is today. They also share how healing justice can disrupt a medical–industrial complex rooted in systemic oppression.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sonia Sarkar: In the opening of Healing Justice Lineages, you outline why now is the moment for this book. Both of you have deep roots in movement work and experience with healing justice as a framework. Why was now the right moment for each of you to spend time writing this book?
Cara Page: I had been a reproductive-justice and LGBTQ-liberation organizer, and then I deepened into disability justice and language justice by the early 2000s. I started to explore the role of healing and generational trauma in relationship to colonization, slavery, and structural oppression. Honestly, really sitting down and asking the question: What is the role of trauma in our communities and social movements?
Having worked with a lot of survivors, having worked on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and for myself as a survivor of family violence…I was noticing that we didn’t have language to talk about trauma and healing outside of a clinical, medically pathologized setting.
That led me to found Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, which is a Southern-based, Black feminist-led abolitionist network of healers, health practitioners, cultural workers, and organizers in the South looking at ways to transform generational trauma and build collective care and safety. Importantly, we draw on the lineages of freedom fighters from the Civil Rights Movement like the Young Lords, the Black Panthers, etc. We aren’t beginning a new conversation.
Erica Woodland: I went to college and was planning on becoming a doctor. And, you know, that’s a very rigorous process for anybody, but especially for a Black person. Through the process of being educated I came into direct confrontation with White supremacy, medical racism, and these demonizing views, particularly of Black folks, disabled people, etc., that exist within healthcare.
I decided to take a course on the history of the Black Panther Party. It shifted my thinking about being a healer. Since my early twenties, I’ve worked in HIV prevention, harm reduction, with active drug users, sex workers, folks who are incarcerated, formerly incarcerated. I was also organizing against the war with people of color in Baltimore and around abolition and the freedom of all political prisoners. I got to see very directly the intersection of the prison-industrial complex and the failures of the medical-industrial complex and how they collude. And that led me to be deeply curious about how to skill up around holding trauma.
The work of the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network was really born out of the question of how we connect practitioners who are deeply critical of the medical industrial complex to organizers in social justice movements. We got introduced to healing justice through the work of Cara and Kindred Collective. Once we made that pivot, that opened up a conversation about how we disrupt the idea of personal care. How do we ensure that we’re not falling for false solutions just because they look a little bit more humane [than existing solutions]?
SS: Let’s talk about the medical industrial complex. What are its roots, and how does it perpetuate criminalization and harm today? How can healing justice disrupt the medical-industrial complex and enable abolitionist systems of care?
CP: I want to give a shout out to the leaders of the reproductive justice movement, in particular Loretta Ross, who was one of my mentors at the beginning, and many others. When reproductive justice started as a movement in the late 90s, it began as a Black, Indigenous, and women of color-led movement. It then evolved into focusing on queer and trans folk and centering a disability-justice lens. In particular, the movement critiqued the role of eugenics and population control within [systems intersecting with reproduction]. RJ wrestles with the myth that people of color’s fertility is responsible for environmental degradation and the death of the planet, when it is instead war. We also have to understand how reproductive control relates to sterilization, policing abuse, and surveillance of bodies for the sake of reproducing for the wealthy elite.
Our people have long histories of ecosystems of care and survival, both underground and aboveground.
Furthermore, we need to look at racial capitalism inside of the medical-industrial complex. Understanding the role of controlling, co-opting, owning genetic materials of Black and Brown bodies or disabled bodies; understanding that colonizers or White supremacists literally believe in their core that we should not exist unless we are reproducing or producing labor. So, when I understood that I was like, why are we not talking about this in an anti-violence context?
I feel the book not only names the state and White supremacy. We are naming the role of “health justice strategies” that have also participated in the pathologizing of communities. We’re also questioning the role of providers and how we’ve been complicit with old beliefs that are used to weaponize science as a tool of policing and surveillance of bodies.
One of the things I feel really strongly about is that everybody needs to understand the medical-industrial complex, but especially practitioners in those systems. Otherwise, I feel like you end up with “social determinants of health” framing versus actually understanding the root of the problem.
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EW: One of the really important offerings of liberatory harm reduction1, a framework that our comrade Shira Hassan has offered us, is that first and foremost, our people already know how to take care of each other. Our people have long histories of ecosystems of care and survival, both underground and aboveground. And we know that the state isn’t going to take care of us, right? That’s actually in our lineage. Some of us have forgotten, including people like me, who choose to go into a more professionalized care industry.
One of the things I feel really strongly about is that everybody needs to understand the medical-industrial complex, but especially practitioners in those systems. Otherwise, I feel like you end up with “social determinants of health” framing versus actually understanding the root of the problem. The root of the problem is that this settler-colonial project is a project of violence, disappearance, erasure, and thievery. That’s what we’re talking about. And psychiatry and medicine, like every system of science that the colonizer has built, has been built inside of those traditions of violence. If we reform, it’s with the long-term goal of abolition of the medical-industrial complex.
We need people in healthcare institutions to be co-conspirators in a different way. For example, the radical medical providers who were part of the takeover of Lincoln Hospital in the start of the People’s Detox program. It makes me think about the radical doctors and nurses who were with the Panthers. How do we take these skills that are life affirming and use them in service of our political liberation?
SS: You both share three basic principles of healing justice. Principle #1: Collective trauma is transformed collectively. Principle #2: There is no single model of care. Principle #3: Healing strategies are rooted in place and ancestral technologies. In what ways are you seeing healing justice being misrepresented, co-opted, or misunderstood?
EW: I think sometimes where people get confused is that a personal commitment to intervene in systems of oppression is really different than being a practitioner that’s accountable and in relationship to to movement. Are you playing your right role and position in movement? A great example we highlight in the book is the Shut Down Irwin campaign2. You have medical providers, doctors, nurses saying, hey, the forced sterilization of people in this detention center, which in and of itself is a sign of violence—we’re not going to cosign that, and here’s why. Here’s a set of values and here’s a way to orient us towards another framework. But if you don’t have healing justice as a framework, then you actually are quite limited because you’re not in conversation with movement and with people who are leading campaigns on the ground. Those are the people who are actually trying to figure out how to transform the way trauma is moving through our political liberation work.
One of the things that I appreciate about Cara and the work of Kindred Collective that’s in the book is just being really clear. Who are you accountable to? Are you talking to people who are organizing on the ground in your community? Where are your relationships? Where is the trust forged through political struggle? Practitioners have always been a part of organizing. So I think it’s important to remind people of our roles.
When you’re a practitioner, you get trained up to be a savior to rescue people. And so, it feels good to be like, I’m in this system and I’m the only one fighting the system. But there’s a whole base of people who can help you with your organizing, right?
CP: Health care providers need to remember they are healers. And they need to not be complacent with constructs of “health” and “care” that have very much decentralized our community’s needs and our own bodily autonomy. We’re asking for reflection and deep practice and discipline and rigor from anyone who is holding care, especially in collective, communal spaces. How we can be responsible and accountable to community at all times? How do we keep learning? How [do] we keep asking permission for the work we are doing on the ground? How do we make mistakes with humility and integrity around our practice?
Whether we are surgeons, social workers, energy workers, working with the earth, bodyworkers, healers, we have tremendous power as healers and health practitioners to hold care and to not re-perpetuate harm and abuse all over again. So, how are we leaning into the learnings? How are we honoring the histories? How are we understanding our relationship to the present, the past, and the future? That is what we really want this book to incite and uplift.
SS: Even within movement spaces, amongst organizers committed to a healing-justice approach, what are some of the ongoing challenges in fully incorporating these the principles?
EW: One of the barriers is we don’t have a lot of what we need. We’re still building so much out. So, I have a lot of compassion and grace for the ways that our movements are really struggling, in the ways that our communities are struggling. In particular, after three years of intersecting accelerating crises, thinking about COVID, ongoing police violence, climate catastrophe—it’s been a lot. And the state has essentially set us up to implode into a moment of deep polarization because we haven’t been able to recover. One of the concerns that I have is some of folks’ excitement about healing justice seems to be moving us towards a single model of care. In movement spaces, I’m seeing a push to practice where people are expected to all have the same relationship to their body or embodiment more broadly. It’s kind of like integrating practice without being anchored in where those practices come from or being anchored in the bigger spiritual protocol and teachings.
Kindred Collective was super clear about the ways trauma has been moving through our movement. It’s impacting how we treat each other. It’s impacting our physical and mental spiritual well-being. It’s impacting our assessment of context and conditions. And it’s impacting our strategy. So, you know, the time was yesterday to move towards healing justice. But in order to do that, we have to build out infrastructure to support care collectively for our people who are trying to build power together. How do we have a nuanced understanding of what our individual and collective nervous systems are experiencing in these times? What it does to our political organizations, what it does to our people?
CP: I like to call it a cosmology of care where we are. We are imagining ourselves to build the scaffolding and new systems of care so we can call on each other in times of need, natural disasters, policing…war. So that’s our call to action. When our people are in crisis, they know there are other abolitionist healers and health providers on deck ready to go. How are we learning in our work, in our praxis, and transforming and adapting to the moment?