Why Do we Need Street Medics ?

Street medic training is a new idea for a lot of people here in Iowa, and sometimes organizers seem a little hesitant to invite medics to run at their actions. That was really confusing to me, until I realized that for many people the word words “street medic” conjure up worst case scenario images of medics in gas masks flushing tear gas from a protector’s eyes or holding a bloodied cloth to a wound. The reality is that in my time attending direct actions, despite having been tear gassed now, I have still spent a lot more time handing out water and ace bandages, than I have doing anything that dramatic.

Street medics are mostly present at actions to provide wellness support and help make sure that participants stay safe. Some organizations refer to street medics as “safety volunteers” to make that mission clear to the general public. Regardless of what they are called, street medics have been present at direct actions in areas where activists organize more frequently, for decades.

I thought it might be helpful to share some things street medics typically do.

Street medics maintain a visible presence at direct actions, so they are accessible to people who might approach medics because they aren't feeling well. In that case we can run through some questions with someone to help them identify if they need to eat, hydrate, or maybe they are all caught up in the excitement and have forgotten to take their meds. Diabetics seem to forget their insulin, a lot.

Street medics have basic first aid training. This means that they have been trained to recognize the early signs of heatstroke, hypothermia, and dehydration. They can often head off more serious problems with simple health and safety interventions like a bottle of water or a change of environment. They can bandage a minor wound and make sure that other activists are not exposed to bloodborne pathogens by cleaning up an area.

When direct actions are stationary, medics begin to tackle sanitation issues. They might set up handwashing stations and a wellness tent. They can hand out masks to people who are sick, so that the whole group isn’t exposed to a virus. If someone vomits, street medics clean it up to ensure other activists aren’t walking through it.

It’s sounding less glamorous by the second, isn’t it?

Street medics aren’t just providing physical aid though. It’s a far more holistic endeavour. Many of our street medics have been trained in Psychological First Aid or other types of trauma support. They can assist persons who might be having an anxiety attack or are otherwise unsettled.

Street medics are also important because they can teach activists about the importance of taking care of themselves in between actions to avoid burnout and compassion fatigue. Our medics plan to develop outreach projects that support wellness in the community.

The Medic affinity group is a collaborative effort with Iowa City Herbalists Without Borders. Herbalists Without Borders is an international organization which supports local chapters offering community outreach trainings with materials, supplies, and in our case a small grant. In the process of applying for their grant, I assured them that my trainings would be trauma informed and cover cultural competency.

The trainings are delivered in three five-hour sessions and there will be outside reading assignments that must be completed in order to complete the 20-hour training. These trainings are not meant to replace other trainings but augment them. I encourage medics to obtain basic CPR/AED/First Aid certifications and pursue additional training and certifications. ICHWB will be offering some continuing ed classes, also.

Finally, I want to stress that street medics are not meant to replace emergency medical services. In the rare case of an emergency, medics are just there to stabilize a situation until that next tier of help arrives, unless we are in a situation where help is withheld or not available and then we do the best we can within the scope of our individual training.