Activist street medics give health and safety lesson to Republican convention protesters

08/16/12 Janelle Irwin and Seán Kinane
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A group of street medics is gearing up for the Republican convention later this month by teaching people how to stay safe in large crowds and in the blazing summer heat. Juliana, one of the street medics who asked that her last name not be used, was a trainer at one of the several events held last week in Tampa and Clearwater. She said sometimes people like her are the only help available when something goes wrong during a protest.

“If anything happens and the police start to shut down streets or prevent protesters from dispersing, at the same time they also will not let any regular EMS – emergency medical services – through those police lines. So, if anyone is injured or otherwise needs healthcare, even if it’s for chest pain, the cops won’t let paramedics and ambulances go into the scene and get people.”

One activist at a training in Tampa said he doesn’t plan to do anything that would warrant police using force or chemicals on him, but he’s still taking precautions. He identified himself as a supporter of the Occupy Movement but spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared being targeted by police.

“Just after having read about other convention protests and stuff, I’m pretty scared of all the shit that police do to protesters completely un-provoked.”

The activist said he wanted to learn remedies for chemicals that police sometimes use in protest situations for crowd control.

“I definitely want to know how to deal with stuff like pepper spray and tear gas and stuff like that.”

But these street medic trainings didn’t address that. One of the trainers who would not consent to being recorded told WMNF that many so-called home remedies like Milk of Magnesia and cider vinegar are not the best treatment. Instead, the Atlanta-based trainer said flushing the eyes with water is the best remedy for pepper spray and fresh air is the quickest way to relieve symptoms from tear gas. Juliana, another trainer from Atlanta, did offer some interesting tips though.

“One of the things medics know how to do that I can guarantee you most EMS don’t is, we’re going to tell you about how to create a privacy circle so you can pee outside.”

It may not be at the top of anyone’s worry list, but Juliana said some activists get dehydrated because they don’t want to have to use the restroom in a situation where one might not be readily available. So she teaches them to gather some friends to form a circle – backs turned to the person needing some bladder relief.

“We also use privacy circles around patients, like if somebody is laying on the ground. It can be really scary to have a whole crowd of people standing over you, staring at you. So, asking other medics or observers to kind of gather around in a circle and kind of push people back gently to give a little bit of space – that’s another way we use privacy circles.”

Some street medics remain anonymous because they risk being arrested for carrying items that are often prohibited in areas surrounding large conventions. Many medics believe they are actually targeted by law enforcement before the events even begin. Their anarchist-style tactics have labeled them as dangerous among law enforcement. But Juliana said the medics just want to make sure protesters are ok.

“People are exhausted, they’re dehydrated, they’re not sleeping well, they’ve been traveling a lot, they might not be eating well so people are even more susceptible to heat stress.”

Juliana added that because street medics are also advocates, they are sometimes able to administer care to people who might refuse it from a paramedic. Their treatment includes commercial remedies like Tylenol or Ibuprofen, but can also include herbal treatments as well. During the convention, Juliana said there will be some medics who travel unmarked with a specific group, but some will be noticeable.

“The marked medics that are there to serve the entire – all the activists there and whoever else needs it, not just the activists – will have big red crosses, they might have some patches on them that indicate that they’re a paramedic. They might even have something written across one of their shirts saying they’re a medic and they’re usually carrying – often have fishing vests on and bags, backpacks with water and other supplies and so on.”

Street medics are all trained medical professionals. They follow a strict “do no harm” philosophy which means they will not administer any treatments that could make a patient sicker.

There are other street medic trainings planned. Some are underground, others -- like these -- are open to the public:

Beginning next Tuesday August 21th, through Friday the 24th, there will be "Rapid Health and Legal Briefings for Activists (Aug. 21-24)." at 6 p.m.

Food Not Bombs will host Republican convention "Activist Wellness Training" on Saturday August 25th beginning at 2 p.m.

WMNF Coverage of RNC

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