Minding Your Scope, Building Healthy Movements: An Interview with the Rosehip Medic Collective Published November 1st, 2011 by Organizing Upgrade: http://www.organizingupgrade.com/2011/11/rosehip-medic-collective/
In this piece, Kevin Van Meter and Benjamin Holtzman interview the Rosehip Medic Collective, a group of volunteer street medics and healthcare activists based in Portland, Oregon. Over the past several years, the collective has developed from being primarily oriented around serving as street medics at demonstrations to providing a variety of in-depth trainings around health, treatment, and care for potential medics and community members as well as promoting greater support for health service providers. Drawing from many healing and medical traditions, Rosehip has sought to invigorate and expand community healthcare from an anti-oppression framework in Portland and throughout the country. As part of these efforts, the collective has also authored three zines: Alternatives to EMS (Emergency Medical Services)[i], Home Remedies for Common Maladies, and Traveling Companions. This interview was conducted in June 2011 in Portland, Oregon with Kat and Ryan of the Rosehip Medic Collective. More information about Rosehip can be found at: www.rosehipmedics.org. This is the second in a series of interviews exploring health, care and racial movement. The first installment, an interview with the Rock Cove Collective, is available at: http://www.organizingupgrade.com/2011/02/building-healthy-communities
Update from Occupied Portland: Members of the Rosehip Medic Collective have been working to support participants in Occupy Portland since the event’s planning phase. From day one, Rosehips have collaborated with dozens of other volunteers — of varied modalities, politics, and training — to provide Occupy Portland with 24-hour medical support and downtown Portland with one of the most accessible free health and wellness resources. As the event moves into the long term, the Rosehips will continue using caregiving skills and radical praxis to help craft a resilient and liberatory community in which participants remain supported and engaged.
Can you briefly discuss when, how, and the reasoning behind forming Rosehip Medic Collective? Can you mention any precursors or previous organizing that influenced the formation of this endeavor?
Kat: I was involved when the Portland Street Medics first started in 2005, which was the precursor to the Rosehip Medic Collective (RHMC). This group was made up of myself and a handful of other people who had some experience street medicking, and had ties to the Black Cross Collective in Portland.[ii] We came together because there was a void in street medic organizing in Portland and in the prevailing optimism of that particular moment, we said “well, we have some experience, we have connections to these people who have this amazing history of training and history of doing this kind of work. Maybe we can do this kind of work as well.”
Ryan: Rosehip Medic Collective formally started following the 2008 Republican National and Democratic National Conventions. Most of the people who went on to form RHMC were at these events. This was a really dramatic time for us as street medics, as we received a lot of practice street medicking and we witnessed a lot of things we hadn’t seen before. Five of us went to jail in St. Paul at the Republican National Convention, and I think that this was the biggest catalyst toward becoming a formal collective. Four people were left on the outside to figure out what to do: figure out how to get us out, to find us, and wait for us and get us out and take care of us. When we came back to Portland we knew that we were more than just the network that we had been before going to the conventions. We feed off of that energy and that desire to take care of each other.
Let’s take a step back. You were drawn to this type of work for particular reasons. What drew the members in the group to street medic work? Was it prior personal experiences, was it a training, or was it other things?
Kat: I would say that the reasons have been dramatically different for each person that has been involved. There are some people who are really focused on public health or herbalism and then there are some people who are really focused on nursing. Personally, I started street medicking when I was nineteen or so. I had been going to protests for years as a drummer. I don’t think I really understood what I really wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to be some sort of support for what was happening. I had this person who was really close to me who was a street medic for quite a while and was also part of the collective. I got really inspired to get involved in medicking, to try and get medical training, and provide that kind of support and structure because I think it’s a lot more effective than drumming.
Ryan: At my first protest I was just a little bleeding heart liberal until a cop hit me with his baton and then I went “oh wait, this is serious.” I wasn’t hurt badly or anything. People next to me were hurt but didn’t see a medic. I didn’t run into a medic or get treated. That kind of radicalized me. I heard someone say “Indymedia” while I was out there and so I went home and looked up Indymedia. I was able to follow a lot of the aftermath of that protest and those arrests. Along the way I heard about the idea of street medics, researched Black Cross, and thought “that is where I was going to go with this.”
Can you give an outline of who else is in the group currently and about how many members there are?
Kat: First, let me clarify how our organizational structure works. We have an internal listserv, which is how we communicate with each other and anyone who has been added to the group officially we will be included in that structure. Additionally, there are a number of people who aren’t active members and who don’t even necessary live in Portland. We still communicate with them a great deal in terms of planning and thinking about things. We also have a structure if somebody is going to lapse or go travel for six months, they move into what we call inactive status. They don’t count as quorum and they have to come back and attend two meetings to get back into the flow of things. When we talk about who is on the roster there is a handful of us who are active members who are doing stuff right now, but then there is a nebula of people who have been involved and will be involved again.
We have already talked about you both, but what are the other folks’ backgrounds? What kind of training do they have? Did they come to it as street medics or as folks with other interests?
Ryan: Well, I ended up becoming an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) because I am a street medic. As far as the other folks, one is also an EMT and he also became an EMT because he is a street medic. One is a Wilderness First Responder and he became a Wilderness First Responder because he is a street medic. One is in herbalist school and they came to the collective to do mainly community healthcare style stuff and a little less on the street medic front.
We have trained all of these people. Every member we had has started by coming to our training, including the very first training we ever gave, before we were RHMC. Four people who later became members of the collective were in that original training that we gave. It was a bad training, but we got all these collective members out of it.
Kat: There is another person who has a background in crisis support, mental health advocacy, and just had street medic training. So it’s a pretty broad spectrum.
Why has RHMC decided to be a closed collective? Do you feel that this has been an asset to the group and/or that this decision has led to restrictions on what the group is able to accomplish?
Kat: When we started out we didn’t know what we wanted to do exactly, except street medic trainings! We posted that our meetings were happening on Indymedia, and we were just like “everyone who has ever has street medic training, we are thinking about doing the street medic thing, thinking about doing trainings. You should show up and talk about it.” And that went on for a while and it was really hard because there was no structure yet and it’s really difficult to build institutional memory if different people are showing up every time. We experimented for a while with a model where we had an open meeting beforehand for the first hour and a half and then had a kind of intensive closed meeting. This was once we adopted the supposed collective structure during the Portland Street Medics days. That also didn’t work as well as we would have liked. After a while the people who showed up consistently, who were responsible and that we trusted became part of our collective. This is kind of a harsh way to say it, but we started to realize that quality over quantity is really important. We started to understand the value of taking care of each other. If we are going to stay around, if we are going to have the time to build institutional memory and to fine tune what we are doing here, we need to stay together. We need to be able to trust each other really implicitly to do that, especially with the kind of work that we wanted to do. We decided that we really wanted to be selective about who we added and how we added them so that we could maintain certain homeostasis in the group. I think it’s really hard to build those kinds of relationships in larger collectives. So we ended up with a really good core group of people around the time that the RHMC became what it is.
Ryan: I think we found that we have actually been able to accomplish a lot more by staying small and knowing each other. Back in the days of the network and Indymedia ads, what happened was there was a lot of ideas and a lot of yeses. We might have nine or ten people sitting around and four of them would put forth an idea, like “let’s have a clinic and let’s have a this and let’s have a that,” and then everyone would go “that sounds great.” Then at the next meeting there would be five of the same people and four new people and five new ideas and a lot of “yeah, that sounds great!” Once we narrowed it down to these are the people who are going to be working together, it was much easier to say “this is the idea we are going to work on now.” The very first idea was a training: we are going to give a twenty hour training. And then when ideas came up, like “wouldn’t it be cool to also blank,” we said “we will get to that next.” There was faith in letting an idea sit for a while, because we knew that two months from now it would be the same eight or ten or however many of us sitting around the table going, “remember that things we brought up last time? Let’s go with that idea now!”
Kat: I think on some level being a closed collective is a limitation in the sense that I think we spend a lot of time doing what we call the hand-ometer. What we usually do is when we are thinking about these new ideas, we use the hand-ometer, which is like, “ok, we are thinking this is going to happen in the next three months. What is your level of energy?” High hands are “I’m super stoked on this and I have lots of time and I really want to be involved” and low is “I have no time and I’m burned out.” When you have a lot of people who actually are accountable, who do what they say they are going to do – which is miraculous – then you can accomplish a lot. We spend a lot of time saying “we have this idea but half of us are going to go travel, a lot of us are in school and so we are just going to have to put that on the back burner for a while and focus on the things we know we can accomplish.” We spent some time lamenting that we didn’t have ten more people, but ultimately we are not sure exactly what our sweet spot is in regards to the exact number of people.
What are RHMC’s major purposes and strategies for attaining its goals? What specific activities has the collective been engaged in to work towards these goals?
Kat: I’d say that one purpose is trying to inspire, help create, encourage, and participate in a strong street medic culture. But then there is the idea of democratizing access to health care skills. Not every person we are going to train is going to go to protests and provide healthcare to people. For a lot of people, that’s not their scene, that’s not where they are going to be. But by trying to make sure that street medic training includes a strong enough basis in basic first aid, some herbal components, self-care, identifying emergency situations, and being able to respond quickly, means we are trying to train people who are good, basic medical people. The idea is to spread those skills as far as possible.
Ryan: I would add that the reason that we’re a collective and not a network is also to support each other. This comes even before the goal of spreading healthcare information. We recognize as a group that we cannot spread healthcare information to other people if we are not taking care of each other and ourselves. No group always achieves all of its goals, but I think a really important part of the definition of “collective” is to say that one of our goals is to take care of each other and to make sure that we are all mostly okay or as okay as we can be, so we can go forward and do this work.
Can you describe who does what in your collective, how decisions are made, and how activities are coordinated?
Kat: We operate by consensus. Although I think we don’t necessarily always succeed in this goal, a major goal for us is to make sure that we identify every role that people take inside the collective – who manages to make the stuff that needs to happen get done and name that – and then make sure that everyone else in the collective is capable of filling that role. I think we are a ways off from always achieving that. There are some of us that have really a lot of tech skills and others of us are allergic to computers. So, there are major challenges to getting a perfect golden ratio of cross training, but it is a major ethic for us.
Does this translate to the trainings? Do certain people only train certain sections or do you try and trade off?
Ryan: It’s kind of hard to find a balance. It’s really important to us that the entire training gets taught as well as it can possibly be taught, but at the same time it’s important that most of us are able to teach most of the sections. If we are missing someone from a training who usually teaches one section we need to have people who can teach it just as well. Then there are other roles at training besides just who teaches what, and that’s roles like setting up the scenarios, wrangling the patients, setting up the scene, training the patients and then there is the putting make up on the patients, which is a skill. You’re not just throwing red stuff on someone. So we have those kinds of roles and then we have a timekeeper role for lack of a better term, and these are all just things that some of us are more skilled in than others. We tend to naturally fill the roles that we are skilled at. As each training approaches we go “oh gosh, we should skill share this more and spread these skills more.” And we don’t always achieve that goal because we are so focused on just getting it done and just doing it as well as we can do it.
Kat: I would say that in terms of teaching the elements of the training, there is a lot of self-selection involved. Any time someone wants to train to do something they are unfamiliar with, we pretty much all enthusiastically support that person and do everything that we can. People who have taught that section before will hang out with that person and go over all the little bits they train. But I can speak for myself: I didn’t have higher training than first aid and CPR for a lot of the time that I have been involved in this collective, because I been in school and I have been broke forever and could never afford the time or the money to go and get higher training. Then I finally went and got my Wilderness First Responder and now I can train A, B and C and feel confident in my abilities.
I would add that we have another role in the training, which is taking trainer’s notes. We try to monitor the training and keep a record at all times throughout the training – similar to a vibes watcher you would see in meetings. Someone who is watching and reporting like, “hey we just played this game and everyone was so into it and so happy and before that they looked so bored.” Then over time having those notes means we can go back and review them. It’s one of the ways we improve trainings over time.
How does the organization intersect with related work in mental health, housing, food systems, and direct action campaigns in Portland?
Ryan: We have supported Right to Survive and they specifically reached out to us several times.[iii] They sponsored a Mayday event the past two years and have asked us to provide clinic space for the duration of the event and we did. Sin Fronteras[iv] – the group that organizing the Mayday march — has made contact with us every year to say “this is when our planning meeting is, will you send someone to our planning meeting? And will you send medics to the march and we have them meet up with security before hand and interface with them?” And we have worked with VOZ.[v]
Kat: As individual medics, not necessary representing the RHMC, we have also gone and done clinic work, set up clinics, and ran clinics at various outdoor gatherings as well as at various radical community spaces that pop up all over the country.
Ryan: For example, I was the medic bottom-liner for the last two years of Camp Trans, and then Oliver [a RHMC member currently in inactive status] was the bottom-liner for the first year for the official clinic, which was the year before that. It is not a RHMC sponsored project, but it is definitely an example of how we’ve taken the work of RHMC out there.
What resources (such as money, donations, time, medical equipment, people, space, etc.) are necessary for RHMC to pursue its work? What are the most important resources the collective lacks that would further its work?
Ryan: With any crew, we need money but we are not talking about a yearly budget of tens of thousands of dollars, like corporate healthcare does to perform the most basic of services. So money is something that we always need and are always looking at. How can we do a fundraiser? What can we do? But we recognize that getting our main funding from the members of the community does limit us.
Looking specifically at the twenty-hour street medic training that just took place: how much did it cost, where did you get the copies, etc. Run us thought that. Ryan: The space was donated [by Food for Thought, a student run vegan café at Portland State University], but what that took was two amazing people who donated their time to be there. Kat: Space is continuously an issue. Every single training we have that same questions, “where are we going to have the training”? We have had spaces that are really reliable for two trainings but then it will fall through at the last minute. And we’ve had spaces that we thought were free, then we got a bill for $500 afterward that we then had to negotiate away. Ryan: We cannot pay for a space and keep the training affordable for people. But we even have needs for space beyond those for holding trainings in. We need spaces to give our three-hour healthcare workshops in as well as venues to give presentations about our new Alternatives to Emergency Medical Services zine. Currently, we are looking at a situation where we are in need of spaces to have meetings. We used to have them at people’s houses but due to changing members, transportation, and individual needs of our collective members, we don’t have that many houses that we can have meetings at right now. So space is just always a huge thing we need. Another huge need we always have is printing. For the last several trainings we had an amazing printing hook up, which we no longer have. When we give a twenty-hour training our manual is seventy pages long. We need a copy for every participant, then we need three spares for people who spill coffee on theirs or forget theirs, and then we need a copy for every trainer. We also have printing needs for the zines we have produced. We need to have those printed up so we can distro them at our trainings and at any event we go too. Other things that went into this training include the starter kits we give people when they leave us on Sunday. And the starter kits have about five-ish dollars of medical gear in each one. So that is something that we come up with and that’s also where donations of medical gear, particularly non-latex gloves and the non-reusable stuff like gauze and Band-Aids, is always useful. It’s hard to ask for donations of medical gear because what we need is so specific and varies greatly depending on what we are currently doing. We do have what we call “clinic in a box” and we have some medical supplies in a big tub that we take with us when we set up a clinic somewhere.
Kat: But I think it is important to highlight, as Ryan mentioned, that we operative on a very very thin line in terms of money. There is $80 for the stuff going into the kits that we give away. There is the printing that we sometimes have to pay for. I would not say that we are giving the better part of a Wilderness First Responder training, but we are giving a pretty significant medical training compared on what you learn in first-aid for a sliding scale of $25. We had people at the last training that weren’t able to pay anything. We want those people to have access to these resources.
Ryan: We do use collective money to buy food for the trainings. People should have access to food; that is one of our values. So we ask people to bring food to share but we also buy a significant portion of food that is set up for everyone to eat all weekend.
How has RHMC attempted to make health information and resources accessible across barriers of power, legal status, race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc? How has the collective addressed the lack of access of health information and resources accessible to working-class and poor peoples?
Kat: The second part we can answer first, just by saying that we try and keep it cheap. RHMC works on a sliding scale and we are pretty much willing to work something out with anyone who is enthusiastic and wants to come take this training.
Ryan: Kat is specifically talking about the trainings, but the healthcare we provide is obviously at no charge whether we are in a clinic at the VOZ World Cup or marching down the street.
Kat: We spent a lot of time talking about all the kinds of big, crazy ideas. It’s funny one of the first things we talked about when we had our very first medic retreat was doing something very similar to the project that Rock Dove Collective does.[vi] We wanted to do our own rating system and evaluate all of these health care providers based on our experience as trans people, queer people, and as people of color; trying to create a better way of looking at how healthcare is accessed. The more we think about it, there is an incredible amount of work that needs to happen to really adequately address oppression and in the way that it manifests in our lives in any sphere that you look at, especially healthcare. So we found our niche and the kind of work we can do really well, but it’s not even close to enough. We provide low cost training and we try to train from a basis of anti-oppression and anti-authoritarian belief, but to really even start to address the oppression people face in regards to healthcare. Sigh. It’s big.
Does the focus on providing an “alternative” to existing state structures result in serving those who may already have a certain degree of comfortability with “alternative,” “countercultural,” and “anti-authoritarian” projects?
Kat: I think that the short answer is yes. However I do want to clarify that when we talk about providing alternatives to state structures we are definitely dreaming about building a new society in the shell of the old. We are definitely dreaming about these possible utopian futures, but we are also interested in the fact that people get hurt and people get sick and they need help and they need good care. We are talking about alternatives in generic terms but until the revolution has MRI machines, we need hospitals. We need this infrastructure and this technology that corporate medicine has developed over the last couple centuries. So it’s definitely a negotiation, both in term of where that work can take place, and in what communities that work takes place and also how much we can provide in terms of an alternative. When I say ‘we’ I don’t mean us as a collective, but the alterative medical movement in the United States.
To what extend should radical organizing around issues of health and care focus efforts on providing resources, education, and services outside of the state as opposed to focusing on organizing to re-orientate state resources and power to better address issues related to health and care?
Kat: I would start by saying that a number of us – not myself, I am a design student – are on the road to becoming part of the corporate medical system as nurses, have received EMT training and have worked as EMTs. The radical community gets really excited about this idea of dreaming up these utopic alternatives and the conversation about how do we exactly make the existing infrastructure better is equally critical. We wanted to focus on the idea of what are possible alternatives, what alternatives already exist, how are they working, how well do they work? We wanted to start this conversation because we have not seen it happening enough. Although, I have definitely seen people doing projects around educating those in the medical community about trans healthcare, for instance.
Ryan: Several of our members were involved in a project that ran for six months or so last year that was centered around educating healthcare providers and future healthcare providers, specifically about trans people. Educating them about trans bodies and trans language and hoping to send them out to the world to fuck up less often. While this wasn’t a RHMC project, some of our members worked on that project. That was definitely a good thing and definitely something we need more of, because even for the time and effort that they put into that, they only touched this small portion of Portland’s much larger pool. It does happen but it’s not really a task that RHMC can shoulder. It’s more of a task that like every nursing school in the country needs to shoulder. There should be anti-oppression classes for healthcare providers.
Kat: That work needs to happen on every level that it can happen; we can’t just look at providing alternative infrastructures. We have to be working at the level of healthcare education, working on the level of advocacy, and experimenting with alternatives. If I was going to say, “we are going to start a collective to replace the entire western medical industry” that is a really tough goal. But if we can start a collective to show up and be medical advocates for trans people in Portland or if we can start a collective to do mobile needle exchange and resource distribution like EGYHOP does [Emma Goldman Youth Homeless Outreach Project, based in Olympia, WA] or filling these very specialized roles, these are great spaces for that work to happen.
How has the collective balanced providing “mainstream” information about health along with providing information from “alternative” sources?
Ryan: As for as our trainings go, one of the things we are really big on is the mind-your-scope guiding principle, which means you can only speak to things you’ve been trained in. Of course, we don’t mean trained in as trained by the state and handed a certificate signed by god, but we mean things you are familiar with and capable of doing. For example, I have no training in herbalism or basically in most of the things that would be called ‘alternative’ stuff, so I don’t teach to that stuff, because it’s not in my scope. Most collective members have a really good balance of the mainstream and the alternative things. So when you put any five of us together it creates a balance between those things.
Kat: I’d also add that the many traditions of medicine around the world have their place, and have their particular skills and the particular ways that they work really well. The trainings we give are weighted more toward a western emergency medical perspective, partially because that’s where a lot of us have the strongest amount of training and because those are things that you can train fairly effectively. You can train someone to recognize the red flags of a head wound by you can’t necessarily train someone to feel competent and confident about how to give someone lemon balm. A lot of the alternatives do really require scope and it takes more experience than we can to gain that scope. We try and make sure that everyone walks away from trainings, from any literature we put out or dialogues we have with the community, with the important idea that we are not trying to privilege any tradition of medicine over another. We are just trying to open up space to look at where every tradition has a place. We need x-ray machines and we also need herbs.
Ryan: We have two trainings in addition to our twenty-hour training and have produced a zine about each. One is called Home Remedies for Common Maladies and the other is Traveling Companions, and especially the Home Remedies zine really has a focus on herbal remedies. The Traveling Companions is probably more of a mix.
Kat: What we try and do with the Home Remedies zine and with these kinds of projects is to put out useful information since we are not able to give people training in herbalism as a discipline. We can give people what is simple and works really well and encourage people to experiment. We tried to narrow it down to a pretty small list of things that are common and that we had pretty tested solutions for. But also we wanted to include red flags. We are talking about things going on with your breathing, talking about how to deal with your respiratory distress, as your respiratory issues that are going on could be a respiratory infection. If you see X, Y, or Z things happening, then herbs are not going to cut it. You gotta go to the hospital. We want people to be able to open that zine and be like “okay, I have this thing going on. I’m going to try this herb and I’m going to try it for two weeks.” If it’s not getting better then they know that it’s time to activate higher care.
How does your twenty-hour street medic training figure into your overall organizational work? Ryan: There was a training we gave last June that we specifically called “Community Medicking.” It was specifically trying to separate Rosehip Medics as only giving street medic trainings, because we had noticed that Portland was in kind of an ebb of street activism that requires street medics at that point. Basically what we did was try and take out as many stories that involved street medicking and “then the cops were here and the protestors were there.” We tried to take out those stories and then tell stories like “and then my partner fell down the stairs.” We didn’t mean to replace 100% of the stories, but we wanted to replace most of them. Another thing we did in that training was that we changed our first chaotic scenario that in all of our other trainings that has been death and destruction from the cops. We change that scenario and we used the same patients for it, the same injuries. But it was now after an earthquake when everything was all destroyed and instead of ending that scenario by sending in the cops to arrest people, we ended that scenario by saying there is an aftershock and the building is no longer secure. So figure out what you are going to do; either get yourselves out or evaluate your patient or figure it out. It was a fun experiment for us.
In your “Alternatives to Emergency Medical Services” pamphlet, you have a section that discusses how EMT workers risk great danger in regularly dealing with threatening and violent situations and also face significant risk of trauma. In the conclusion, you note that we must “care for” and “retain” the “healers” in the community. How can this be done? Is this a part of Rosehip’s work? Why or why not? What – if anything – might this mean for improving the actual conditions healers, health care providers, and emergency workers face in their workplaces?
Kat: We think health care providers are pretty rad. And we have been around long enough to watch a lot of people burn out and go away. What we wanted to address in that particular section of the zine is that healthcare work, all of healthcare work, is hard. It’s draining. It takes a lot of emotional investment. And providers are putting themselves at a lot of risk. We’re exposed to secondary trauma and that sort of stuff. We certainly don’t get enough respect in terms of how people are paid and how people are supported. But in the radical community, I feel like there is just not enough discussion about health, safety, self-care, and taking care of your friends. And that leads to the lack of support for the healers in the community. We have seen over time people pulling back as they go to nursing school. Or as they’ve been providing free herbal care for people for six to eight years and finally can’t afford to do that anymore. It’s a call to awareness of the sacrifices that healthcare providers make, especially folks in the radical community who are doing stuff for free and it’s also a call to arms to build those support networks and retain people.
One of the reasons we wrote the EMS provider safety section the way that we did is because we were thinking: “what will an EMT or a working paramedic, who has been working for twenty years, going to think when they read this? Are they going to feel really underappreciated? Cause I think are they going to feel really under appreciated.” We’ve talked a little about advocacy inside the healthcare system and to help healthcare providers get more training on anti-oppression theory and that kind of stuff. But also recognizing while we are critiquing this system and saying this system is reifying all of these fucked up system of repression, noting that healthcare providers are also people who are oppressed. A lot of these people are also suffering. They are suffering from addiction, they are suffering from secondary trauma, they are suffering from abuse. And that needs to be part of our critique.
What frameworks and lessons can you provide to others looking to create similar projects in their community?
Ryan: It’s important for people talk about avoiding burnout, especially when the group is in the early stages. We talked about it a lot early on and a lot of us individually had attitudes of “we are talking about this but let’s go do seventeen projects now!” Which was fine for a while and then three years down the road some of us are going, “holy crap, let’s slow down.” Our collective has been really good at being able to slow down and support each other through taking time off or refocusing our energy.
Kat: I would add: anticipate problems. We talk about that in medicine a lot. What is the primary problem going on and what are the anticipated problems? Anticipate problems that will happen in your collective and do that by getting the history of other collectives and how they worked, what happened with them, how they succeeded, how they failed. That’s all good research to do. But as a group of people coming together to do work, we had to learn a lot of the stuff we have learned the hard way.
What goals do you have for the collective over the next year? Over the next three years?
Ryan: I’m fairly positive that the next year will bring us to a really solid disaster prep training focused on the Portland area.
Kat: We will be heading into 2012 and there are going to be a number of political conventions that are going to draw people who are going to get beaten up by cops and therefore require street medics. So we are going to be doing a number of street medic trainings around that time.
Ryan: And, really, the next three years, I don’t know that we can say much more other then: I hope we exist in three years [laughter]. As long as we can still be a positive group for the people in it and a positive force in the community. When I jokingly say that I want to exist three years from now, I only want to exist if we are still good. I don’t want to exist if, you know, if we are a couple of people struggling forward, totally burned out, snarky about everything, not providing anything to the community. As a collective we don’t set goals as much as we talk about what our energy priorities are, and then we move forward with the things that we have more energy for and then we stall the things we have less energy for.
Kat: I think a lot of us are in a place where our lives are changing a lot and changing in ways that are not totally predictably. We are on a quest to add new members and don’t know where that is going to go. We want to make sure that everyone who becomes involved in the group has an equal say in what direction the group is going.
Ryan: Three years ago if you asked us where we would be in three years, I am positive that we would not have said we created an amazingly awesome Alternatives to the EMS zine. And I’m fairly certainly we would have not have said disaster prep. We probably would have said street medic this and street medic that, and maybe running a community healthcare clinic. The fact that we are not now where we thought we’d be three years ago is not definitely not a bad thing. I’m so proud of the work we have done.
I sometimes get asked by non-radical people to describe my collective, and I start with “we are committed to medic work but we are committed to it through each other.” But it’s much deeper than the idea that two heads are better than one, because we are not talking about any two heads; or in the case of RHMC, any ten heads. We are talking about these specific ten heads and if we didn’t have any one of us the work we did would be decidedly different. It’s not just having people but it’s having these people and supporting these people in specific ways. How can we say that we take care of community members if we can’t take care of each other? We are the smallest unit of a community. This is what collective is.
Kat: It’s really easy to get consumed by all the work that needs to be done and by the ideals that need to be protected and put out there. It’s really easy to get caught up in the political purism of radical organizing and radical work, but when it comes down to it, if you can’t be friends with the people you are trying to do good work with then you are going to have a really hard time doing good work.
Benjamin Holtzman is currently pursuing a PhD in History. His work has appeared in Upping the Anti, Left History, Space and Culture, Radical Society, and the collections Constituent Imagination and Uses of a Whirlwind. He edited Sick: A Compilation Zine on Physical Illness (Microcosm Publishing, 2009).
Kevin Van Meter is a community organizer and researcher currently based in the Pacific Northwest. Van Meter appears in the collection Constituent Imagination (AK Press, 2007); co-edited with Team Colors the AK Press collection Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements, and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States (AK Press, 2010); and co-authored with Team Colors Wind(s) from below (Team Colors / Eberhardt Press, 2010).
[i] To conduct research required for the Alternatives to EMS zine, Rosehip Medic Collective received a grant from the Institute for Anarchist Studies during their Summer 2010 funding cycle; http://www.anarchist-studies.org/
[ii] The Black Cross Collective is a former affinity group based in Portland, OR. Formed after the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in Novermber 1999, the collective was made up of medical professionals and functioned a street medics, provided trainings and clinics at demonstrations, and developed the protocalls to address pepper spray, after a series of trials, that are now used by street medics across the planet. The archive of their website is available at: http://www.blackcrosscollective.org/
[iii] Right 2 Survive is a collective of houseless peoples and their supporters that seeks to address the conditions for poor and houseless Portlanders.
[iv]Sin Fronteras links anti-capitalist struggles in Latin American to those in the United States. In Portland, OR the organization coordinates the yearly Mayday march.
[v] VOZ is a workers’ center run by immigrant peoples and day laborers in Portland, OR. Their website is: portlandvoz.org.
[vi] See “Building Healthy Communities, Building Healthy Movements: An Interview with the Rock Dove Collective.” Available at: http://www.organizingupgrade.com/2011/02/building-healthy-communities