What Does Occupy Mean for Public Health?

Drawing the Connection

Is the “Occupy” movement just a flash in the pan, or is it an ongoing public health concern? Clearly, gross economic disparities, lack of access to health care, jobs, and security for the 99 percent are still with us.  And it begs the question: what should we, believers in the greater good, do about it? 

Inspiration struck from an unlikely source. I had the pleasure of seeing the project Ekatva, which recently toured the US. The unique performing arts program assists Indian slum children and their families overcome the challenges of poverty, violence, illiteracy, and food scarcity using Gandhi’s principles.  The project lives its mission to “be the change you want” as it teaches uniting with others for social change.  To me, the light bulb went on: social change is a necessary ingredient in creating a healthy society.

Public Health Niche

Last fall, I was in the room when the American Public Health Association’s Governing Council took a position to support the global Occupy movement.  This falls in line with a connection drawn cogently first by Health Policies for a Healthy World and more recently by UC Berkeley’s Dean of Public Health, Steve Shortell.   Shortell’s call to action for the public health community reaffirms the core values that drew many of us into this field.

I’m guessing that the initial Occupy that captured so much attention has become less about standing ground on a patch of public space but may well have a future in mobilizing people to create a society where all can thrive. 

Essentially, these declarations remind us that economic and social justice are public health issues and often the root causes of many health disparities between the haves and have-nots.  So, what’s our role?

Resources for Mobilizing Public Health

Some of our public health colleagues are putting rhetoric into action, like at Occupy Public Health, where they invite you to take a pledge

Similarly, the group Occupy Health Care encourages individuals in the health care field to share stories about economic barriers to health care, and to support greater recognition of social determinants of health.

The California Endowment’s tool is a 7-course curriculum on communication for change gives some great tips for moving from theory to action.

Ultimately, as one public health blogger notes from the past year’s APHA meeting, there are a variety of roles we can play, from research to organizing and learning, as we are trained to do, from the people and activists expressing their needs and aspirations at the street level.

Getting back to Ekatva, perhaps our various roles in public health can guide us to be change agents for health and social justice in our own communities. Lofty goal, I realize…  But I’m curious, what do others in the public health community think?

This SurroundHealth guest blog was written by Tammy Pilisuk, MPH.  Join us on www.surroundhealth.net for even more great articles!


About dominikablogs

Dominika is a Community Manager of SurroundHealth, an online network where health professionals of different backgrounds come together to learn and share best practices. Dominika has her Master's in Public Health, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist. Prior to SurroundHealth, Dominika worked for Kaiser Permanente, American Cancer Society, both in Patient Services and Community Health, and for HealthEd, developing patient education materials.
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