Street medics, or action medics, are volunteers with varying degrees of medical training who help provide medical care, such as first aid, in situations frequently neglected by traditional institutions - protests, disaster areas, under-served communities, and others. Unlike emergency medical technicians (EMTs), who work for state-sponsored institutions, street medics operate as civilians and are not protected from arrest.
Street medic organizations also run low-income herbal health clinics, wellness clinics for migrant workers, and temporary family practice clinics to support people who are organizing for self-defense or advocating for their rights. A group of street medics founded the first health clinic to open in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Street medics work under the philosophy of "first do no harm" (i.e., the Hippocratic Oath), meaning that medics employ treatments that must never harm the patient more than they help. Because medics have different levels of training, they will be able to provide different types of care. Street medic collectives representing cities or regions plan training programs focusing on treating demonstration-related injuries, and plan health, safety, and medical coverage of upcoming demonstrations.
Sometimes an affinity group will include one or more trained street medics to attend specifically to members of that group.
Many street medics have pursued further medical training, most commonly in nursing, emergency medicine, and herbalism. There are street medics employed in almost every field of medicine and rescue, including surgery, family practice medicine, psychiatry,research, both classical and traditional Chinese medicine, medical herbalism, first aid instruction, fire-fighting, and wilderness medicine.
History[edit | edit source]
Street medics originated in the U.S. in 1964 during the African-American Civil Rights Movement. They were originally organized as the Medical Presence Project (MPP) of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), the voluntary health corps of the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1966 MCHR Orientation Manual, MPP is described.
- Just presence of ... health ... personnel has been found extrordinarily useful in allaying apprehensions about disease and injury in the Civil Rights workers... There also seems to be a preventative aspect to medical presence - actual violence seems to occur less often if it is known that medical professionals are present, particularly when Civil Rights workers are visited in jail at the time of imprisonment or thereafter regularly. In addition, medical personnel should anticipate violence in terms of specific projects and localities and be present at the right place and the right time. Thus, medical personnel should be in intimate contact with the civil rights organizations at all times, and ... be aware of any immediate planned activities.
The MPP evolved into the early street medic groups, who concieved of medicine as self-defense, and believed that anyone could be trained to provide basic care. Street medics provided medical support and education within the American Indian Movement (AIM), Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), Young Lords Party, Black Panther Party, and other revolutionary formations of the 1960s and 1970s. Street medics were also involved in free clinics developed by the groups they supported. The street medic pepper spray removal protocol was later adopted by the U.S. Military.
In the 1980s, "action support," including medical support of long marches in the No Nukes and Indigenous Sovereignty movements, was provided by non-street medics. One of these action support groups, Seeds Of Peace, (formed in 1986), stopped offering medical support as the street medics re-emerged.
Street medics were active on a small scale during the protest activity against Operation Desert Storm (1990–1991). They were rejuvenated on a large scale during the 1999 Meeting of the World Trade Organization, when street medics attended to protesters who were injured by police and use of chemical weapons such as pepper spray and tear gas.
In the aftermath of the WTO Meeting, protest sympathizers and/or attendees organized street medic trainings nationwide in preparation for the next round of anti-globalization marches. The parents of the post-WTO street medic boom (1999-2001), who trained thousands of medics in a few years, were the Colorado StreetMedics (the direct descendent of the first MCHR StreetMedics), Black Cross Collective, and On the Ground.
As of 2006, there are street medic groups in 10 countries.
Street medic community-based clinics[edit | edit source]
- MASHH street medics run the Green Cross Health Clinic, a low-income herbal health clinic in northern California.
- Health clinics on the Pine Ridge, Big Mountain, and Rosebud Indian Reservations are run by AIM StreetMedics.
- Street medics run a wellness clinic for migrant workers in Montana and street corner clinics for day laborers in New Orleans.
- BALM Squad street medics ran a temporary family practice clinic for striking janitors in Boston.
- A group of street medics founded the Common Ground Health Clinic, a free integrative primary health care clinic in New Orleans which opened its doors in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
- The Madison Community Wellness Collective (MadCWC) opperated a medic station during the Capitol occupation in early 2011and afterward continued to offer free care to anyone in the community who needed it.
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Medical Committee for Human Rights (off site) - Short description of MCHR, the 1960s-era parent organization to the street medics. This page includes a facsimile of the 9 page orientation manual issued to volunteers in 1966.
- List of street medic organizations - this page includes short descriptions and links to the websites of all street medic organizations.
- Street medics in the news recently - this page includes links to all the news stories online about street medics.