Certainly, there is a need to occupy healthcare. Healthcare is essential, and the prevention and treatment that happens in clinics and hospitals, emergency rooms and community health centers, is integral to improving and saving lives.
Yet, while medical care is essential, it accounts for only an estimated 10-15% of preventable mortality in the U.S. The true causes of our country’s poor health outcomes and health inequities – and thereby the real solutions to improving health – are not rooted in the provision of healthcare.
They are rooted in communities: in sidewalks and parks, in access to healthy food and adequate housing, in clean air and safe neighborhoods.
What does this mean? It means that to alter health outcomes and inequities, we must go beyond occupying healthcare.
We must occupy the junk food and fast food industries, whose marketing power and lobbying power (leading to the maintenance of skewed agricultural subsidies) impact what we eat and what is available for us to eat.
We must occupy the criminal justice system. The U.S., with less than 5% of the world’s population, has almost 25% of its prisoners, the majority of whom are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, and people with low levels of educational attainment. This exacerbates poor health outcomes related to substance abuse and mental health; worsens health inequities by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status; and to boot, has done little if anything to make neighborhoods safer.
We must occupy zoning policies and construction and planning industries to improve inequities in access to healthy food, enhance safety and walkability, reduce unintentional injuries (which are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children in the U.S.), and reduce the excessive energy use and pollution that stems from our homes and buildings, as well as long commutes in personal motor vehicles (of which we have more in this country than licensed drivers).
We must occupy the welfare system, which focuses on services that – despite what are often good intentions – do not empower citizens, tap into their problem solving capacity, or enhance their ability to take collective action to better their communities, as John McKnight argues in an article entitled “Services are Bad for People”.
We must occupy the news and entertainment media. Whether it is news stories that inaccurately and dangerously link bullying directly to suicide in a way that can elevate suicide contagion risk by suggesting suicide is a natural response to bullying; fictional TV characters eating hordes of junk food day in and day out, without any consequences; or music videos that normalize gender-based violence, the media play an enormous role in our perceptions of what is “normal”, shaping our behaviors in a way that has significant impact on health outcomes.