Archive for March, 2012

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Still a Collective

March 14, 2012

From the time that we first wrote our Covenant, we at PUHC recognized that access to primary care was a fundamental social justice issue.  So like many in the community, we’re excited that our allies at Phoenix Allies for Community Health (PACH)  are planning to open a free clinic.

As word of the clinic-to-be spreads, we’ve noticed that many in the community are calling it “The PUHC Clinic”.  The confusion isn’t surprising; Since PUHC and PACH are both health-justice groups, there’s more than a bit of cross-membership.  But despite some overlap on the member lists, PUHC and PACH are fundamentally different organizations.

PUHC is, and will always remain, a consensus-based network; a group of autonomous individuals bound only by a shared commitment to the PUHC covenant.  We do not have, nor are we interested in seeking, any kind of formal organizational status.

Why?  It’s not that non-profits are an inherently bad idea.  But those of us who spent time in post-Katrina Louisiana saw first-hand how dangerous it is to rely too heavily on the non-profit industrial complex.  While large non-profits were on the phone asking permission from their liability insurance companies to make a move, Street medic collectives from across the country were already on the scene getting the job done.  What the Street Medics lacked in resources and formal training, they more than made up for in courage, creativity, and flexibility.

PUHC started out as a Street Medic Collective, and although we may have branched out into house calls and Public Health advocacy, we’re still (and will always be) a street medic collective at heart.  PACH, on the other hand, is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  In contrast with PUHC’s horizontal structure, PACH is required to have formal leadership (a president, vice president, etc.) and the PACH clinic will need a medical director.

Of course PUHC and PACH are allies; it would be silly to pretend otherwise.  But PACH can never replace PUHC.  I expect PACH to accomplish some amazing things, but in the end they’ll have a bank account, and grant obligations, and possibly even a mortgage to worry about, and those sorts of things always undermine a non-profit’s ability to be as nimble and courageous as an unincorporated collective.

Is 501(c)3 status a compromise of values?  Only if we forget how to organize outside of the limits of that model.   PUHC is still together, and hasn’t given an inch of ideological ground.  While PACH is applying for grants, PUHC will be running drills and preparing for the next action.

See you in the streets,

-J.A.O.

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