Jeff Goes to POCAfest 13 in Wisconsin

Over the weekend of May 17th to 19th, Oakland Acupuncture Project sent me deep into the Midwest, to Pearlman Retreat in rural Wisconsin, outside of Milwaukee, to attend the 13th POCAfest where acupuncturists from all over the United States (and Puerto Rico!) got together to talk about working in a community setting. Even though there are 23 POCA (People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture) member clinics in California, I was the only Californian there, and felt honored to represent our beautiful and dynamic state.

It was a heartfelt and intense weekend. Within the profession, we have affectionately shortened the term community acuPUNCturist to the apt moniker: “Punk.” We’re all a little bit rebellious and committed to the revolutionary idea that health care should be equally accessible to all, so the nickname feels appropriate. Over the three days, we explored what it means to be a Punk, ways we can do our job better, what we can do to make acupuncture more accessible, and how we can grow the profession in positive and sustainable ways. My favorite part of the weekend was being able to reconnect with Cait Cain who worked at our Laurel Ave. clinic for many years. She and I are old friends from acupuncture school and had a lot to catch up on. She has been busy growing her clinic in Lincoln, Nebraska, Lincoln Acupuncture Project. We shared stories about our struggles and triumphs at work and in our personal lives.

One of the most inspiring parts of the weekend was that it included a training for people in other professions to practice the NADA protocol, which is a group of 5 points on each ear that treats addiction and PTSD. It’s also sometimes called 5 Needle Protocol, 5NP, or acudetox. Its origin has a great history that involves the Black Panthers and Young Lords which is described in the zine you can download here. It’s a simple and effective protocol that should be more widely offered, but unfortunately, its practice is limited to only acupuncturists and only in certain states, including California. Wisconsin is in the process of reforming its laws to allow other kinds of health care practitioners, with proper training and supervision, to perform this treatment on people who need it to heal from their addictions and traumas. This is solid and inspiring healing work that we need more of in this chaotic world.

I also got to visit three other community acupuncture clinics: Lincoln Square Acupuncture in Chicago, IL, Milwaukee Community Acupuncture in Milwaukee, WI and Racine Community Acupuncture in Racine, WI. It feels very familiar to walk into a big room with mellow lighting and music, full of chairs that recline, and spots to pick up pillows and blankets. Over my years in the profession, I’ve always enjoyed seeking out and quietly observing other community acupuncture clinics. I take notes on subtle things that we can do better or differently in our own clinics in addition to a general admiration for how hard community clinic owners work to find, create, and nurture a healing space.

Community acupuncture clinics are just one of the somewhat unusual things I seek out when I travel. I also love seeing lighthouses. There are some similarities. Both are created by determined and intrepid people and take you off the beaten path. Their networks were both created in a relatively short time across a broad swath of the country to address very real problems: lighthouses to address shipwrecks and other maritime disasters, and community acupuncture to address inequality and other American healthcare disasters. The people who cared for these places worked tirelessly and are often anonymous and received little gratitude or monetary compensation for their efforts. To me, both shine like a beacon of hope and possibility.

Coincidentally, the next POCAfest, September 27th to 29th, is in California and is taking place at Marin Headlands where one of my favorite lighthouses is located: Point Bonita Lighthouse. The lighthouse opens for visitors at 12:30 on Sunday which is right around the time the conference ends. If you’re feeling short on inspiration, consider attending POCAfest, visiting the Point Bonita lighthouse, or both!

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