my stint at POC
Posted March 22, 2010on:
With the passage of the HealthCare reform bill, I kinda of want to call POC and get a statement from them on it. They are probably celebrating, but they will also be the ones who can delve into the details of the bill and tell me about the pork barrel craps that get tucked in there. It seemed so long ago when I sat in their tiny office in downtown SF clipping articles and listening to Brian lecturing on universal health care…
I don’t think I have ever written in details about my brief stint volunteering for POC (Physicians Organizing Committee) back in 2007-2008. This is a grass root organization that promotes equality in health care for all, with emphasis on organizing physicians and healthcare providers within the community to fight for patients’ rights to receive service. They really follow tactics of union/labor movement organizers, which means I kinda understood instinctively the way they worked because it’s very socialistic. Very socialistic. For example, they have cadres – full time organizers who live on everything donated (from haircut to housing to food, everything they received came from supporters within the community). Restaurants in SF who sign up to support POC would have a pick up day where POC come in to collect left over food and food that are about to expire. I used to sit in POC’s tiny office eating left over scones with the cadres on Saturday mornings and printing volunteers’ info on recycled note cards (one side would have biochem notes, the other side we used – POC was a recycle reuse guru). Water was donated. Phone line was donated. Internet donated. Car rides donated. Sort of like priesthood or monk-hood, the way it should have been.
So what does POC actually do? From what I’ve learned, physicians do not have the right to unionize to demand for things like rights to provide care for patients who have no insurance or whose insurance refuse to pay for their care. Because physicians are generally too busy and aren’t necessarily trained in part taking leadership roles, POC is a plug in that organizes physicians who are fed up with the system, connect them to the community, and recruit help from wherever they can to make changes happen. They have pro bono lawyers who can help advise physicians in cases of pending lawsuit, for example, when insurance company refuses to pay for life-saving procedures that physicians perform on their patients. If a group of physicians felt that practices at their hospital is not to the best of their patients’ interest, they could contact POC and POC would send people down to conduct a lot of meetings with the doctors to clarify their demands, shape a unifying voice, then help present their case to administrators and try to mediate between the two parties to achieve the better care for the patients. Good stuffs like that.
A lot of my time was spent canvasing though. Calling up volunteers to schedule their time slots; going around engaging people in dialogue to gain an opportunity to pass on POC’s message to the community. I learned to smile and come up to a random stranger and say, “Hello, do you have a minute for universal health care?” I still cringe when I remember those moments. Not because the cause wasn’t worthy, but because I absolutely ABHOR approaching people to do a pitch. That was precisely why I did it though. I just thought I still needed to gain such experience, to overcome my aversion. I learned that I could do it, but I still hate it. At least now I can say I’ve been there, done that.
POC doesn’t have a website. They didn’t at the time, anyway. Because they are such a grassroot organization, and because healthcare denial is such a pervasive issue in the US, Brian explained to me that if they put a website up, they will get people calling from Florida or Vermont asking for help all day long. With POC’s resources, there’s no way they can provide such scope of activism. Then it’ll look like POC is all talk and no action. So it was better to keep everything within the community, to organize just within the Bay Area. POC has been called many things, and described as a cult because of their connection to NalFed. I can’t say if I agree with what their skeptics say, or what they themselves have to say about the core of POC. Is it just a front for NalFed to recruit leftist idealists for some sort of national uprising? I rolled my eyes inwardly sometimes while sitting in their classes because their vision was so like the Vietnamese communists. Cuba fans. All that good stuffs. But, personally, I learned a lot from working with POC. I learned what type of questions to ask myself when I hear hypes. I learned to dissect politics no in left vs. right, but in the essence of issues at hand. Most of all, I learned public manipulation. How to look at the way I’m being approached and engaged, to realize if someone is coming up to me with a pitch. To read statements and testimonies with caution. There’s purpose in everything when it comes to this game of power struggle. POC, after all, fights.