I was taken out by a Wellesley woman once. Not like out to dinner~ I mean taken out like in a political gladiator-style wrestling match, when I was working to get Naturopathic Doctors licensed in RI. It was not the first time I was challenged or rejected by fellow white women, but it was the most dramatic example. As I reel from the shock of my own demographic voting in a man who so profoundly offends my sense of justice and security, I found myself revisiting the episode in a desperate search for insight. Maybe the only blessing of the experience is that it does offer some.
Without licensure, Naturopathic Doctors can’t do much of what they are trained to do. They can’t perform exams, order labs, diagnose illness or bill insurance. For new grads, building a cash based practice with the burden of debt is crippling. However, NDs who graduated before the 2000s paid much, much less for their educations and have had years to build cash-based practice. Insurance access would increase competition in the state, and reimbursement would potentially go down from their current cash rates and would absolutely become more time consuming and complicated.
When I moved back to my home state, our organization, the Rhode Island Association of Naturopathic Physicians (RIANP) was all but defunct. The president of the small group eventually suggested that we donate our coffers to Massachusetts and fold. I offered to help, and juggling my solo practice with no administrative support, a husband bound for law school and a 3 year old, I waddled 9 months pregnant into a meeting and was approved as President by the existing membership, all of whom fit in a dank, tiny waiting room.
I slowly worked to revive our activity. S, the former President, who had held the reigns so tightly for many years, did not respond to meeting invites, although we held our meetings at my office, one city block from her office. People reengaged. We became more active. I got out doing talks, and at one of them, met the wife of a lobbyist who was willing, eager and well placed to take up our cause. The date to submit a legislative bill had passed and we would make it in under the wire on the power of our lobbyist, but we needed to hurry. The cost of the lobbyist was not much more than the cash we had on hand. I emailed the group and got only encouragement. No dissenters. S abstained, but she hadn’t responded to anything. The board couldn’t assemble a majority because one of the members we needed was house bound with a crippling bout of depression. She emailed her blessing to us all.
I recognized the condition of our state organization and engaged supervision from the National leadership. I had been involved with the legislative efforts of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) for years. They knew me and were happy to support me. I ran the cost of the lobbyist (a steal compared to what other states were paying), their strategy, the bill draft, the testimony talking points- all of it- through them. I coordinated calls among the lobbyist and the legislative aides at the AANP so that the strategy was supervised and coordinated. Everyone was invited and once in a while, a RIANP member joined in. I texted email updates as I dragged my kids to sitters and school, left patients hanging in the waiting room, and dragged my husband out of studying to watch the kids while I marched around the State House halls.
We spent the summer in meetings with legislators, I spent family money (that we did NOT have) on fundraisers for key legislators, and our meetings got more vibrant. We fundraised a $5000 budget gap in 2 months on the strength of relationships I had built over time, and momentum we could now demonstrate. Whenever someone offered to help, I rejoiced. I tried to give each offered set of hands autonomy to let people feel like they could control a piece of the movement. This led to an expensive excursion in fundraising, but I had most of what we needed to begin the legislative session pledged, and the AANP has promised to cover what we needed to stay afloat while we figured out how to manage the new energy. Once a bill is passed, there is much to do, but the pace is less frantic and there is time to focus on coalescing the organization. I trusted that we had that time.
S emerged from her cave. She recruited opinions against me, citing our failure to meet before spending money on the lobbyist. I showed the emails of support from all of our membership, and the board member who had been unable to meet admitted she would not have been able to come at that point, and that she would have supported it. It was the beginning of the legislative session and again time was of the essence. The lobbyist had all the votes we needed to pass the bill. He just needed a commitment to move forward, as he had agreed to a flexible payment timeline.
The organization refused. I agreed to transfer all power to new leadership- it was about the movement, not my place in it. I coordinated a call with mediation from National leadership that I knew S respected, and it culminated when this recognized leader in our field summarized the situation by saying, “So, is it fair to assess that you want Keri to assume personal liability for all funds needed, to fundraise 150% of what is needed to be held by the RIANP, and have no vote over how it is spent? Meaning you could ultimately not choose to retain the lobbyist?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
It was baffling. It was unprecedented. The next move of the organization was to fire the lobbyist, and then to proceed with the bill themselves, assuming the relationships would transfer. S and one of the former board members, who had assumed the presidency, gave a testimony themselves that was so uninformed and catastrophic that it enraged the Medical Society and set the effort back years, if not permanently.
As soon as the call with our mediator was over, I went on series of visits. I needed to explain what happened to the kind mentors and friends who had supported me. One had known S for a long time. We decided that the scale of emotional violence contained in the episode bordered on an existential battle. But, to find some footing in this world, we realized I had struck a fear in her.
She had banished one other member of our group, J, shortly before I moved to RI. J had also fought for licensure. The first time I met S, she pitched an argument against the worth of J as a very person. I had declined judgement, and on speaking with J personally, was warned against political action, which she felt would lead to me also being attacked. S was completely out of the loop until I spent organizational money. I had done what I could to explain that there would never be personal liability for the expenses and activity of the non-profit organization. It didn’t matter. I had triggered some fear in her and as we just saw in this election, fear is a powerful motivator.
The entire physiology shifts when we are afraid. We can equally lift a bus off of a child or kill someone with our bare hands. Our fight or flight instinct sends all of its energy away from our brains and into our muscles. It makes listening impossible. Shouting, judging, confronting~ all of these will exacerbate the divide. There is one antidote to fear and it is all but impossible during conflict.
Listening. Sitting in complete non-judgement, focusing on hearing every word the other person is saying, verbal or unspoken, and experiencing the message from another person’s perspective. Even then, a true panic can’t change in one conversation. I see this in patients all the time. Women who are in abusive situations that they can’t change, because they have figured out how to make that situation work and change feels overwhelming. Health regimens that are detrimental, but feel like they offer an opportunity for comfort or control. It takes time to create a safe space to reflect, to reevaluate, to find the small change that will increase resiliency. I had offered many times to meet privately with S to make progress, and she declined every time.
I had more trouble resolving why the other people, who had so warmly supported me over the years, were so willing to turn their backs on me in favor of this woman. Was I a bad person? It was a painful exercise, but one I think too few people undertake, to sit with that and really sort through the evidence. At the end of the day, I think the other people in the RIANP just didn’t care that much about this one thing. I was the only practicing ND who had not already built a large cash-practice practice. The hassle was not worth it to them, and the altruism of it was a lot to take on. S offered the stability of a group that had been cordial, inactive and non-disruptive for years. Honestly, who was I to them to sacrifice all of that?
Over time, I have come to accept that we are all works in progress. The world can’t condemn every member of my demographic any more than I can defend it. My job is to show up every day, not just for my family, but for my community. All of it. The worst of me would win if I chose inaction. My kids need to see that cruelty can be met with grace. That defeat is a teacher. That even evil believes it has its reasons, and that we are best preserved when we live our lives authentically and not in fear of being seen or standing bravely at odds with those would silence us.
Now I am in Massachusetts, slowly emerging from a long period of reflection, and rejoining the quest for expanding regulation over our field and access to diverse healthcare options. And I’m more recently emerging from the blanket fort I built last Wednesday morning when the election results came in. My experience with fear and community have helped me resolve my tremendous grief over this election. I trust that most people did not actively vote for hatred or violence, even if in my opinion they fell woefully short of condemning them. Every day, we have to choose empathy. We have to find the space to better understand the fears of people who do not agree with us, and the fears that prevent us from hearing the other side. There are indeed cracks in everything right now~ and we will let the light pour in.