Self-trained medical personnel have been a fixture in street protests for some time; the Occupy movement is calling more attention to them and their work than ever before. Here, the Boston Phoenix tells us more about who they are and what they do.
Anarchistic, high-energy, and self- organized, street medics have been part of activist counterculture since the 1960s, with major presences at civil-rights protests, anti–Vietnam War actions, the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, anti-globalization protests in the 1990s and early aughts, and most recently, at Occupy encampments internationally. Street medics also take their skills to disaster areas: there were medics in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in Haiti after the earthquake.
Some medics have formal EMS training, but most are just trained by other medics. In typical “fuck the system, let’s build our own world” punk fashion, they reject the necessity of legal medical licensing. Instead, over the decades, they’ve amassed their own set of traditions and protocols, their own collectives and conferences.
Ask any street medic, and they’ll tell you their free, direct-action health care is protected by Good Samaritan laws — laws designed to deflect liability from bystanders who respond to emergencies. But it’s unclear whether those laws apply to medics, who go into protests specifically prepared to give medical care.
“Street medics, when they’re marked as street medics, are generally expected to be tactically neutral,” says “Errico,” a 23-year-old street medic who lives in an Allston collective (like several medics we spoke to, Errico asked that we not use his real name). “We tend to discourage people who are wearing street-medic insignia from, for example, throwing bricks at cops . . . but we are in no way politically neutral. Medics exist to further the movement.”