Last week, I unpacked some ideas about the exigency that nurses understand and embrace the inherently political nature of their work. One of the mantras of Women’s Liberation was “the personal is political,” an idea first presented by radical feminists Carol Hanisch, Shulamith Firestone, and Anne Koedt. This is a critical contribution of radical Second Wave feminism because it highlighted the importance of the division of labor and the work that has historically been written off as “personal” and thus unworthy of study. It’s just a small leap, given nursing’s conventionally-feminine identity, to “nursing is political,” but one I think is critical that we make. We devalue our own contributions and importance when we insist that nursing should be an apolitical endeavor. The face of healthcare is changing. The needs of our communities, our country, and our globe are changing. Nurses have to engage across as many domains as possible to ensure that we represent our professional needs and to advocate for the well-being of the future health of our world. To that end, we – Vanessa and I – have put together a proposal for working together as nurses.
The seeds for this radical collective of politically-active nurses were planted during the 2018 Nurse Activism Think Tank at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Peggy Chinn RN, PhD, FAAN, a nursing theorist and editor of the Nurse Manifest blog, convened a group of nursing activists from the US, UK, and Canada to share stories of nursing activism and build communities of support. Thinking, talking, telling our stories, it became apparent that many nurses in attendance were innovating and exploring ways to improve systems, institutions, and structures that were damaging the health of their patients and communities. As activists in the Southern states, we recognize the need for a regional collective of radical nurses who also seek community and connection while working towards a more equitable and just South. We actively encourage others to join us in organizing in ways that speak to the needs of your community.
Nurses are – both now and historically – radical in the most fundamental sense. We bear witness to the births, illnesses, recoveries, declines, and deaths of our community, working to bring peace, comfort, and justice where possible. Advocacy during these processes is fundamental to our ethos of care. Our advocacy during these stages is a fundamental part of how we care. We believe this extends beyond the confines of those who present to hospitals and clinics for care to include the community, family, and self.
We are centered around principles of inclusion, equity, and access to healthcare for all Southerners, regardless of ability to pay. We believe healthcare is a human right. We uphold the rights of people to seek safe, legal, and accessible abortion care. We practice and teach harm reduction to save lives. We work to identify and breakdown barriers to care that attempt to exclude or omit the LGBTQ+ community and communities of color. Lastly, we endorse the efforts of community organizations in the South who are working to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and fish, and land that gives us both bread and roses.
Ongoing health disparities, structural inequality, and social injustice underscores need for a radical and politically-active nursing organization in the South. As a result of our commitment to working towards a more just healthcare future, we hope to:
- Plan and host pop-up nurse activist actions, meet-ups, and conferences to cultivate and maintain a discourse of radical action.
- Develop funding sources for nursing research outside mainstream funding mechanisms.
- Identify, develop, and implement healthcare delivery models that serve the needs of diverse populations, including but not limited to:
- Community-based nursing delivery
- Street nursing initiatives
- Empowering self-care ability through education
- Provide resources and education for nurses wishing to gain expertise in:
- Harm reduction strategies
- LGBTQ+ congruent care
- Abortion care
- Social justice as a nursing imperative
- Trauma-informed nursing
Recognizing the unique needs we see region to region, we extend the following manifesto as the founding cry for what we are calling the Radical Southern Nurses Collective. We invite you to join us, no matter where you are.
Please feel free to adopt, edit, share and use this Manifesto in ways that benefit your community or region.
Jess Dillard-Wright is a radical nurse, midwife, nurse educator, and PhD student living in the South.
Vanessa Shields-Haas is a radical nurse and activist for harm reduction, comprehensive sexual education, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive freedom in the deep South.