Community Wisdom and “Power With”: Lessons from Liberation Medicine

For one weekend in mid-August, comrades in health from around the world gathered in Seattle to discuss the work of Doctors for Global Health, liberation medicine, and social justice as it relates to health in the US and abroad. The theme was “Deconstructing the Status Quo: Building Global Health Justice” and topics ranged from the impact of the historical trauma and the boarding school injustice on breastfeeding for native communities in the state of Washington to the importance of alternative economies in community health promotion in Mexico, as well as tools and strategies for building social movements and creating social change.


The conference brought together a diverse crowd of physicians, public health professionals, community activists, and health promoters from across the globe and provided a forum for building on the content of the rest of the conference. As single-payer advocates, we have much to learn from our comrades around the world about what it means to have a truly just healthcare system.

Of the many insights from the session, perhaps the most salient was the importance of a community-led and self-determined health system. A just system should be responsive to the needs of the community, as determined by the community and should not discriminate on the basis of financial means. Communities have the right to care for themselves according to their own values. Liberation medicine, the conscious, conscientious use of health to promote human dignity and social justice, holds as one of its core tenets that it should be done in solidarity with marginalized communities, rather than “for” or “on behalf of” poor and marginalized communities, where external activists accompany instead of lead.

As current and future health professionals, let us continue to ask ourselves how we can exercise power with our patients and their communities and how we can walk alongside communities in the fight for self-determination. While doing so requires a great deal of cultural and personal humility, it is by these means that we will build unshakeable global solidarity and democratic power.

Amanda Blunt is an organizer with University of Washington’s SNaHP chapter.