The following piece was written by Debra Elliff. Debra is a nurse by training and a medic by choice. Trained by the medics of Phoenix Urban Health Collective, she has big dreams for the ways individuals, through health justice work, can support one another, take back our power and build a world without police.
Street medics are folks, both medically trained and lay people, who provide medical support during protests, direct actions, uprisings and natural disasters; events which are often complicated by the presence of police or military. While street medics often identify as anarchists or “radicals,” being an anarchist or radical is not a requirement. All that’s necessary is a desire to support your community and a love for the people.
Becoming a street medic requires completing a 20 hour training (or a shorter “bridge” training for medical professionals), providing care at a protest or action as the buddy of an experienced medic, maintaining relationships within the medic community and taking full advantage of continuing education opportunities to develop new skills and practice existing skills. Street medics believe that medical knowledge is a form of self-defense. It is by sharing our knowledge and experience within our communities that we strengthen and empower them while reducing our dependence on police.
In the Unites States, street medics as currently identified, emerged during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s when a group of physicians and other medical professionals formed the Medical Committee for Civil Rights (MCCR) and joined the March on Washington. MCCR evolved into the Medical Committee for Human Rights, a group which, beginning in 1964acted as medical observers and providers of first aid during protests and the in the community. Over time a standardized training for medics was developed.
By the late 1960’s street medics were providing support to the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Black Panther community programs and People’s Clinics as well as other revolutionary projects. Partnered with the BPP, medics helped develop rat abatement programs, lead testing programs and drug treatment programs. Medics have supported the struggle to reform the Veteran’s Administration hospital system, define and acknowledge Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and end the diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
This is by no means a complete list of the contributions of street medics. During the 1980’s medics stayed under the radar for the better part of the decade, working in communities throughout the U.S. In 1999 with the World Trade Organization Battle in Seattle protests, medics again rose to the challenge, engaging with the growing threat of an increasingly militarized police force. It was in Seattle where medics encountered the use of chemical weapons and “non-lethal” police weapons such as beanbag rounds, pepperballs and flash-bang grenades. Medics trained thousands of protestors in recognizing and responding to the weapons of suppression wielded by the growing national security apparatus as well as stress management and the importance of aftercare.
Street medics have traveled the world playing important roles in the Arab Spring and during the Second Intifada in Palestine. Medics rushed into Thailand after the 2004 tsunami, providing mental health support, first aid and helping to bury the dead. They did the same in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the 2008 Oaxaca Uprising, the 2009 Greek Uprising and in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Medics were present in Southern Louisiana at the request of tribal leaders after the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.
Medics provided integral support during the Occupy Wall Street uprisings throughout the United States. Scott Olson, Iraq war vet and peaceful protester who suffered a life threatening injury at the hands of police, owes his life to the quick response of Occupy Oakland medics, medics who had been trained only two days prior to rendering aid. Street medics are often the first to provide care as we are not bound by the rules and regulations which often prevent first responders from reaching those most in need of care.
Whether it’s spreading calm at protests, direct actions and other political uprisings, training opioid users and those who care about them to recognize the signs of overdose and administer Naloxone, establishing needle exchange programs or safe injection sites, acting as Community Health Workers where undocumented folks are too frightened of ICE to seek medical care, providing companionship and support to women choosing chemically induced home abortion, health checks for homeless individuals who may be too sick, injured or suspicious of the medical system to seek medical care, holding community health fairs to combat the diseases of poverty or providing condoms and other supportive services to sex workers, wherever people rise up against oppressive governments to resist unjust policies that target the most vulnerable among us, street medics will be there.
Want to know more about becoming a street medic or join a training?
Or check us out on Facebook: Bayou Action Street Health (BASH)
Upcoming Training Dates:
Tyler, TX: August 12 & 13
Austin, TX: September 30 & October 1
Want to schedule a street medic training for your city? Contact Bayou Action Street Health through Facebook or at the email above.