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This Moment

By Lina Buffington, PhD, NSRH Executive Director

We find ourselves in a unique moment, simultaneously pregnant with hope and possibility and deep sadness and uncertainty. I have regularly found myself walking the line between grief and hope, anger and exhaustion. Like many, I breathed a sigh of relief on January 20, 2021 at 12:00pm. Not because I think that this changing of the guard represents some magical moment of healing and redemption for this nation, but because I no longer have to live with the very real danger of having a vocal white supremacist in office. I no longer have to lie awake at night knowing that “he” has the power to unleash nuclear holocaust upon the world. I now have hope that there will be a coordinated national effort to address the devastating impact of COVID-19 in this country. So, I sleep a little more soundly, I breathe a little bit more easily. All while knowing that we are far from out of the woods. I will never forget just how close we came to completely dismantling any semblance of Democracy in this country. I will not forget that 74,222,593 million cast their votes for white supremacy, or the ease with which an “angry” white mob overtook the Capitol as the result of collusion at the highest levels of government. We must not allow ourselves to forget that, as usual, it was the work of those most marginalized (particularly Black women) who kept the wolves at bay. We must acknowledge that communities most impacted by systemic racism and poverty cannot continue to carry the burden of democracy on their backs—Every back has limits. It is imperative that every one of us who claims to love justice, who claims to be a champion of freedom, take responsibility for the maintenance of this tenuous “Union”. We must not simply give lip service, turning “Black Lives Matter” into a slogan for t-shirts and window dressing. We must invest our resources in those communities that continue to do the work of protecting a dream of democracy that remains unrealized for so many of us. We must demand that calls for “unity” and “reconciliation” be mediated by a real and deep sense of justice and equity. We must continue to push our organizations to do better and be better when it comes to hiring and promoting BIPOC folks. Funders and investors must do better and be better when it comes to investing in organizations and businesses led by BIPOC folks doing the critical work. As Amanda Gorman so eloquently reminded us in her inauguration poem, this nation still has a “Hill to Climb”, but some of us have a much more steep and rocky terrain. Some climb on horseback, some in all-terrain vehicles, some with no shoes and empty bellies. If “we” are to make it over this hill it will require that those traveling with greater ease think more about how we might better facilitate another’s climb. How might we go back for those who have the hardest climb and carry them, rather than expecting them to carry us? These are the kinds of questions that we continue to wrestle with both as individuals and as an organization. We understand the critical role that nurses play in realizing the dream of comprehensive healthcare for ALL and so NSRH remains committed to doing the work of doing better and being better in our service to you.

Justice is a Verb

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
- Malcom X

Yet again, we have seen the state fail to protect the lives and dignity of Black womxn and POC.

We stand with Dawn.
We will not stop saying your name, Breonna Taylor.

Last week, nurse Dawn Wooten’s testimony revealed what far too many are unwilling to acknowledge: Pervasive imbalances of power within healthcare leave many nurses and healthcare workers unprotected in their work serving and supporting vulnerable populations. From lack of PPE during the COVID crisis, to limitations on abortion provision for advanced practice clinicians, hierarchies within the healthcare field directly affect nurses’ ability to safely care for their patients--and themselves. Nurses should not have to be martyrs. Dawn Wooten should not have been forced to be a martyr.

Power: Nursing and social justice are inherently linked. Therefore, it is the role of nurses and other healthcare providers to challenge power structures and systems that inhibit the health and wellness of their communities. This includes transforming relationships of power inter-professionally and between providers and patients.

We must acknowledge the systemic oppression and criminalization of many of our patients. Immigration detention facilities are notorious for their blatant violations of human rights, and their abuse and mistreatment of detainees, including being neglectful of reproductive health care. ICE has no business dictating the reproductive lives of people and infringing upon the ability of immigrants in ways that impact their ability to reproduce, or not, or impact their ability to parent their children.

This brutality seeps far beyond the walls of state-run facilities, and into our homes and communities. The criminalization and murder of Breonna Taylor was a direct attack on her human right to live, to thrive, to become the nurse that she aspired to be. She deserved more. NSRH condemns the over-policing and undue criminalization of people of color - regardless of community or immigration status.

Safety: Criminalization and policing of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people in ways that interfere with and obstruct bodily autonomy, humanity, and life is inhumane and a threat to our communities. We support healthcare provision free from the obstruction of law enforcement.

Informed consent is the basic right of every patient and the responsibility of every provider. While we’d like to think that our society has evolved beyond our violent history of forced, coercive, and nonconsensual sterilization of Native, Black, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Japanese women, and people with disabilities; the atrocities inflicted at the Irwin County Detention Center has revealed that this is not the case. We condemn the inhumane actions of the Irwin County Detention Center, which violated the bodily autonomy of migrant women by removing their reproductive organs without informed consent.

Nurses are often recognized as being the most trusted healthcare providers in the nation. We see this “trust,” not as an emblem of honor to be taken for granted, but as a call to action.

Trust: Patients should be trusted to know what is best for their body and their family and are deserving of access to the services and care that support those choices.

Intersectionality: Oppression is systemic and intersected, and our approach to healthcare is rooted in affirming the various identities and experiences of patients and providers. We collectively challenge racism, ageism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, sexism, and all oppressive structures and systems.

In order to address these inequities we must begin to dismantle the silos between healthcare professionals. To support this work, NSRH is building relationships with physician organizations, like Medical Students for Choice and Reproductive Health Access Network, creating opportunities to foster interprofessional collaboration that centers patients as the agents of their own care.

Integrity: Our work is rooted in the trust of individuals, their communities, and the nurses and other healthcare providers who care for them. We honor and recognize the credibility and expertise of providers at all levels.

While we work to dismantle these harmful systems, we are also weaving a new future centered on collective healing, liberation, and pleasure. We believe that pleasure in its truest form is radical, especially in a society obsessed with the infliction of pain.

Pleasure: Pleasure is a form of care and a radical act in the fight for sexual and reproductive freedom and justice. We believe in centering consensual sex as a form of pleasure.

As we seek solid footing during these unsteady times we, at NSRH, are looking to our organizational values and thinking about how we can live those values in the work to achieve our vision for a world in which all people have access to just and dignified comprehensive healthcare. With the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her legacy continues to show us that leading with honor requires that we advocate for our values and work towards a just society for everyone.

NSRH is honored to stand with Dawn Wooten, Breonna Taylor, and with all nurses (past, present, and future) who willingly and unwillingly become martyrs, placing their bodies and their lives on the frontlines in the name of justice.

In Community,