Some things that happened at the RNC

I spent last week running around medicking at the RNC protests. Here is a partial list of things that happened:

Edited to add: I forgot to add what some people would probably consider the most interesting bit. I got a ride from the Akron airport to Cleveland with Vermin Supreme.

– I helped set up the medic wellness space, in a historic church that was a former Underground Railroad station.

Cardboard sign with the text "Historic Site of the Underground Railroad. Please Be Sweet with the Space."

A sign from the medics’ wellness center

– Some city EMS personnel (who knew about the street medics beforehand – our organizers had been in contact with them) asked for (and got) their photos taken with me.

– Someone drove by the street medic meetup after the first night of protests, where a bunch of us were hanging out in the church parking lot after the meeting, and screamed “Fuck all you motherfuckers, fucking DIE!” out his car window. I was a bit disconcerted by this because 1) how did this random dude find out where we were meeting? he clearly had opinions on us that wouldn’t follow from just seeing some figures in a parking lot in the dark, ergo he was probably aware, when he passed by, of what we were, and 2) that’s a lot of hostility to have to people for providing first aid.

Two police officers in olive drab clothing and body armor stand with machine guns in a park as people pass by

Don’t know where these cops were from, but they had some heavy gear.

– I got sunburned.

– I watched people play a version of duck duck goose in the grass while being watched by a police helicopter.

– The first time I experienced the cops doing their “shove people with their walls of bikes” thing (same situation as the video here but I was in a less populated section of the crowd where the cops were pushing harder, with more follow-through, because they had more room), I was trying to slip past a Fox cameraman without disrupting his interview with a protester. A cop rammed a bike into the person a few inches in front of me, causing them to ram into me, and me to ram into the Fox cameraman, which disrupted his interview. Had the cameraman not been there I would have been knocked flat on my face, as the bike shove was very hard and the person being knocked into me was like being hit by, maybe not an adult linebacker, but a high school one at least. As it was, I was crushed between people until the bike-shove stopped, and then managed to disentangle myself. This has been described by some media (not the same ones hit by the bikes) as “soft tactics,” which I mean to post about later. Nothing was happening that warranted this, or even warranted compelling protesters to move. It was just some Westboro Baptist Church people and some anti-Westboro people yelling at each other in a public park, no physical violence. Notably, the cops didn’t hit the Westboro people with bikes. Or ask them to move.

– I did jail support – waiting around outside the jail, with my medic kit, for people to get released – for the people arrested at the RCP flag-burning protest. I ended up burning through a lot of supplies, despite whatever you may have heard about there being no injuries (the “no serious injuries” phrasing – my emphasis – bothers me less, since I’m aware that “serious” often means “potentially life-threatening” in medical parlance).

– I also did some first aid for someone who was hurt when a cop hit them with a bike, and for people dealing with issues like heat exhaustion and foot problems.

– I experienced street harassment that involved calling me “baby” (typical enough) and also the harasser shouting something about how our tax dollars are spent (not typical, and I wasn’t sure whether this was a reference to me in some way or to the hospital I was walking by). Having never previously experienced street harassment that involves tax spending commentary, I mentally filed this one as “Only at the RNC.” Also Only at the RNC: A guy leaning drunkenly out of a bus window to yell “We’re the Young Republicans of America!” at me while I was trying to find directions on Google Maps.

– Four or five police questioned me and a group of three other medics about why we were using the portapotties so much (two of us had gone once each while standing in the area, I had not gone at all, and one guy had gone into two separate potties because there was no hand sanitizer left in the first one). They pretended that this was about concern for us, which I’m sure is why they needed several cops to surround us to ask. I assume they suspected that we were gathering bodily fluids to throw at them, because by all accounts, the cops were obsessed with the idea of people throwing things, especially bodily fluids, at them.

– A medic team got detained over carrying a bag of bananas. This attracted the attention of several reporters, who took pictures of the bag when the medics opened it for police, and asked them what the bananas were for, which caused them to look strangely at the reporters and wonder what exactly they think the other uses of bananas are.

– The police, at various times, believed that food distribution group Seedz of Peace’s bags of cherries were rocks to throw at them, that the medics were “anarchist troublemakers” probably carrying weapons in our bags, and that bottles of water with Vitamin C powder in them were pee bottles to throw at them. They also had a tactical team to collect the crap output of the police horses so that it couldn’t be thrown at them, though I will say that the tactical team was slow enough that if anybody had actually wanted to do this they would have had plenty of time.

– I was in one of the crushes that happened during the RCP flag-burning protest after police escalated the situation from a flag-burning protest into a melee, though not the crush where people were being arrested. I was able to see part of that crush, though, through the fence, and it looked pretty vicious. I was worried about people getting hurt or being unable to breathe from being slammed and crushed at length against the fence.

Several hundred police officers in various uniforms, some with bikes and some without, mill around a public park

Public Square after the cops cleared everyone out because people were yelling at the Westboro Baptist Church.

– I watched reporters in the crush that I was in physically fighting with each other for space, grabbing each other by the head and shoulders and trying to throw each other out of the way (no room to do so, really).

– My medic buddy at the time got shoved around by a Bikers for Trump guy and harassed and violently threatened by some Trump-supporting dudebro. More on this later.

– I spent a lot of time in Public Square, a park where protesters of various sorts would hang out, where I saw socialists, liberals, anarchists, revolutionary communists, antifascist and black bloc-ing kids, Wobblies, Trump supporters, delegates and their guests, far-right bikers (some of whom were open-carrying, open-carrying white supremacists and militia types, literal neo-Nazis, Westboro Baptist Church members, mainstream reporters, non-mainstream reporters, performance artists, and hundreds of cops from more than a dozen states. Sometimes all at the same time. Sometimes the cops would push everyone out for no apparent reason, as in the photo below where you can see hundreds of cops in Public Square.

– I watched Infowars interview some Wobblies after their singalong, though they didn’t say that they were from Infowars until the end. Infowars seemed a little slow on the uptake, to be honest. After having listened to the end of the singalong and then spent six or seven minutes talking to the Wobblies about their beliefs, they asked, “So, it seems like you aren’t actually capitalist at all? More like some kind of communist?”

A white female-presenting person, wearing a green "social justice cleric" shirt and a vest with first aid markings, smiles for a photo in a park, while a South Asian man in black, also with first aid markings, jumps into the photo making a funny face

Photobombed by a fellow street medic

– I had a couple of Trump supporters in Public Square actually understand that “Cleric” on my “Social Justice Cleric” shirt referred to the cleric class (which is typically a healer class, as befits my activities as a street medic) in many gaming systems, and ask me about it in non-hostile fashion. They didn’t get aggro even after I explained the “social justice warrior” joke – I got the sense that they considered me a curiosity.

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A primer on street medics

Unless you’re a brand-new reader, you’ve probably seen my posts about street medicking before. With the 2016 RNC and DNC looming, and large Black Lives Matter protests around the country, I thought it might be worth a post on what a street medic is. Not only does most of the public not know, but neither do a lot of newbie protesters and organizers (and any time you have big high-profile protests you’re likely to have some newbies). So, an introduction (very much from a North American and particularly a US perspective, though I know that Australia has an active street medic community and various other countries have people who play similar roles). Also, you should consider donating to the RNC street medic fundraiser, which needs more money pretty badly.

What is a street medic and what do you do?

Street medics provide first aid and basic emotional support at protests and other activist convergences, as well as running health and safety trainings for activists. This covers different settings – street medics operate within marches, rallies, and so on, run pop-up first aid clinics or wellness centers at protest camps and large protest sites. Often, we are part of teams that sit outside of jails waiting for arrestees to get out, so that we can provide help to any who are hurt, dehydrated, traumatized, and so on. The contemporary North American street medic movement came out of doctors and nurses from the Medical Committee for Human Rights providing first aid for Civil Rights Movement protesters, and eventually training others to provide first aid in activist settings. Street medics have been present at (partial listing) the Civil Rights Movement, the Occupation of Wounded Knee, the anti-Vietnam-War movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the environmentalist, anti-fossil-fuel, and climate justice movements, the anti-Afghanistan-War, anti-Iraq-War, and other anti-war movements, the anti-globalization movement, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Quebec’s 2012 student protests, and the protests of various Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Some street medics have traveled internationally and done protest first aid work together with locals, for example in Palestine, or during the anti-austerity protests a few years ago in France. There were street medics at the recent neo-Nazis vs anti-fascists protest/counterprotest in Sacramento that ended with several people being stabbed.

Street medics have also been active in disaster relief and community response efforts. Street medics worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, providing door-to-door aid and founding Common Ground Clinic, which still operates there. Street medics provided door-to-door aid and pop-up first aid clinics in New York City after Hurricane Sandy. Other community and post-disaster settings where I know that North American street medics have worked include:

– Community vigils after the Boston Marathon bombing
– Lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks
– Rural areas amongst migrant farmworkers
– Haiti post-earthquake
– Southeast Asia post-tsunami
– Greece, with Syrian refugees

Why are you needed? Isn’t this what emergency medical services are for?

Emergency medical services are usually not right there on the spot for the level of immediate response that we can do. They’re not allowed to enter a scene to help if the police say that it’s not stable or safe and tell them that they can’t. Occasionally they’re hostile to protesters (one of my street medic friends once tried to pass a patient off to EMS in the relevant city, only to be told that EMS was only there to help the police). There are some things that we have experience with that aren’t really part of usual EMS work and training, like dealing with pepper spray, tear gas, or handcuff injuries. And there are some activists who aren’t comfortable interacting with them, either at protests (“I’m afraid of being arrested if I go to the hospital”) or in general (“I have Medicaid in a different state and I’m worried that it won’t pay if I go to the hospital for my sprained ankle, even if it’s supposed to,” “I’m trans and I’ve been discriminated against by EMS in the past”).

All that said, it’s not like we’re not opposed to EMS or hospitals. We’re filling in a gap. At big planned summit protests, like national conventions or trade summits, we often build a working relationship with EMS beforehand, and may end up transferring sick or injured people to EMS or driving them to the hospital.

How will I know who you are?

At least in the US, we commonly wear duct tape red crosses (not to be confused with the Red Cross symbol, which is specifically a square red cross on a white background) and carry first aid kits, as seen in this photo from Flood Wall Street (I hear that Canadian street medics often wear green crosses instead). Big collectives may have a patch with the logo of their collective, such as this logo from Chicago Action Medical. At large actions, we may also have an action-specific patch or insignia, that will also be something obvious and first-aid-y.

Are you protesters?

If we’re running marked as medics, we aren’t protesting. Two different roles. We’re on the ground protecting the health and safety and rights of the protesters, as the National Lawyers Guild’s legal observers do from a legal angle. That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t identify with the movements whose actions we’re medicking. I very much saw/see myself as part of Occupy, for instance, or the LGBTQ+ movements, or Black Lives Matter, or feminism (all of which are movements whose actions I’ve medicked).

Sometimes people who are trained as or often act as street medics want to be protesters at a particular action and still be able to provide first aid. In that case, they run unmarked, with no street medic insignia – in other words, a protester who happens to have some training and be carrying a first aid kit.

What kind of training do street medics have?

The basic street medic training is 20 hours (in times of need, people with existing medical qualifications can get a 4-hour “bridge training,” but the intention is that they will still get the full 20-hour training when they have a chance). It covers advanced first aid (i.e. something more extensive than the Red Cross’ basic first aid training but less extensive than an Emergency First Responder or Wilderness First Responder training), including being able to spot possible life/ability threats. It also covers consent culture, situational awareness/working as a pair in a potentially volatile environment, basic emotional and community support practices, basic prevention (e.g. of heat-related or cold-related illness), and some things you’re not likely to find in other first aid or medical trainings, like how to help people who have been pepper sprayed or tear gassed and how to assess handcuff injuries.

All street medics have that baseline level of training. Many have more. Some street medics are present or past doctors, nurses, EMTs/paramedics, ancillary care professionals, WFRs or WFAs, CNAs, former military medics or Combat Lifesavers. Some have special training or qualification on the mental or social health side – psychologists, rape crisis counselors and domestic violence advocates, social workers, licensed counselors, trained peer counselors. Some have Masters of Public Health degrees and/or work in related fields like epidemiology. Some are volunteers or professionals in some health-related field or setting other than street medicking. Some have volunteered or worked as other kinds of responders – in firefighting, search & rescue, etc.

Street medics are not necessarily offering every form of health-related care that they have ever learned how to do, though, because that could be dangerous and not practical. To go with an obvious illustrative example, a street medic who is an active, board-certified professional neurosurgeon is still not going to be doing brain surgery in the street.

How do I find you if I need you?

Some actions have their own process, but in general, in case of injury or illness, shouting “Medic!” and getting the people around you to do so as well is the right idea. Please do not shout “Medic!” because you want a cough drop. Just seek us out in the crowd for that.

What are your political beliefs? Do I have to agree with them to get help?

There is no ideological litmus test for getting help. There are many examples of street medics providing care for counterprotesters or people who were in the group being protested. We do look out for our own safety, which means that if it looks like your buddies are going to beat us up if we approach, we’re not going to approach.

All the street medics that I’ve met are broadly on the left – it’s a phenomenon with its roots in left protest after all – but there’s plenty of diversity. I’m somewhere in the social democrat/democratic socialist realm. Quite a large number of the street medics that I’ve met are some flavor of left-anarchist or mutualist (and next time you hear someone demonize anarchists, you might reflect on that). Some are socialists of various flavors. Some are plain old liberals. Some reject any sort of label for their ideology, or have complicated descriptors for it. There’s also a wide range of viewpoints about priority issues, tactics and strategies, and so on. I wish the left as a whole worked as well together as street medics with different viewpoints do.

Do street medics ever get attacked or arrested?

Yes. And there’s stuff that I could have put in that post, and didn’t, including street medics being shot with rubber bullets and jailed for days in Baltimore, street medics having an arm broken or being clubbed in the head and arrested at the NATO summit protests. Not to mention my own arrest experience.

Wait, really? What about the Geneva Conventions?

The Geneva Conventions are treaties that set down rules for humanitarian treatment of prisoners, the wounded and sick, and noncombatants, in war. They don’t apply to domestic handling of protests. You might think it’s wrong that street medics get attacked and arrested, but the Geneva Conventions don’t say anything about that wrongness.

That also means that stealing our red duct tape (or buying your own) and sticking a street medic cross on yourself when you aren’t a street medic, so that you can protest however you want to with impunity under the Geneva Conventions, is not going to work, and will get the medics pretty irritated with you besides. You might wonder why I bothered to say that. Let’s just say that it’s not a product of my fevered imagination.

Do you know where this march is going?

Okay, seriously, undercover/plainclothes cops, I don’t know why you all always seem to think that medics will know the answer to this question, but we usually don’t. Please stop asking me. Also, most of you are bad at pretending to be protesters. There are notable exceptions, but they are generally not the ones who meander up to street-medics fake-casually to ask where the march is going. If you’re not a cop and you’re asking me this question anyway, I still probably don’t know. Ask an organizer.

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An obligatory Nevada WTF post

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a Bernie Sanders supporter! I also have some thoughts, regarding different subsets of people, about the mess in Nevada and some of the resulting Internet conversation.

To the people who doxxed, harassed, and threatened a Nevada Democratic Party official: Stop being assholes, okay? And no, the fact that the relevant info was publicly available doesn’t make it better. Doxxing and harassment have a long and ugly history in the anti-abortion movement, that predates the word “doxxing” even existing. Leave that kind of targeting of people to them, leave it to the Gamergaters, leave it to right-wing talk radio hosts (I was doxxed, albeit incompetently, by a right-wing talk radio host after my arrest last year). I mean, fight them, don’t just leave it to them and then call it a day, but don’t join them. Okay? I don’t understand why this is hard. Why would you threaten somebody’s grandkids?

If you are saying “But some of those weren’t threats! They were only saying that she should be hurt, not that the person was going to do it!” then you should consider that they are obviously meant to frighten the person they’re directed at. They are threats in a common-sense understanding. “You should be hurt” is a threat. And use some empathy, for chrissake. Last year after my arrest, in addition to the right-wing talk radio release of what the host believed to be my then-home-address, I got some threats of this nature, in the form of tweets and comments on news articles. Notably, a guy who runs a certain well-known and longstanding sportsbro media outlet, as well as a radio show of his own, posted to his legion of followers that we should be slowly and gruesomely publicly beaten to death. By the logic that some people are using when talking about Nevada, I shouldn’t have considered this to be threatening. I am irritated about the downplaying. If you’re defending threats this way, you might support the same candidate as I do at the moment, but you’re not some kind of compatriot, you’re not trustworthy, and I believe that you’ll turn on me as soon as something pisses you off.

To Bernie Sanders: Sorry, your statement was bad. I get that you have some concerns and complaints about the process, that you feel like you’re beating your head against a party infrastructure that is dubious about you. I get that you think the Nevada party leadership is singling out your supporters, when your own staff in Nevada were apparently targeted for violence by unknown persons during the Nevada campaign. None of that belongs in your statement. It’s not adequate to throw in a bit of “And of course I’m against violence.” You need to condemn the harassment against and threatening of the state chairwoman and anyone else who was targeted, and intimidating behavior like chair-throwing on the convention floor or use of misogynistic slurs. Full stop. Nothing else belongs in that statement. Process concerns can go into a different statement. Violence against your staff is abhorrent, and was not an issue of the recent convention, and can be addressed in statements that are not responses to the convention. Bringing them into your statement muddies the waters, and these are waters that shouldn’t be muddy.

To some subset of Nevada Sanders delegates: I don’t know how many of you have a background in street protest. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t and you just know what you’ve seen on TV or the Internet. But in either case, this is not street protest. You chose a “respectable” role for this one. You chose to formally represent a major campaign (and possibly your local Democratic party; I’m not sure how that works in Nevada) at a party insider business function. Nobody made you decide to do that instead of, say, marching through the local streets or sitting down in an intersection outside the building. Nobody made you pursue the electoral route to advance your causes at all. And believe me, I’m not dragging you for your choice here. I support your choice! I believe in diversity of tactics – actual diversity of tactics, not the sometime protest euphemism for breaking windows. I believe that the boundaries between institutional politics and protest politics, between within-the-system and outside-the-system, should be fluid, with activists able to assume different roles at different times if they want to, and people understanding and respecting the usefulness of different roles.

Hell, I’m a street medic who just finished going through the court system after an arrest, and I’m also a delegate in my upcoming state Democratic convention. Which, to my eternal relief, does not have to touch the Hillary vs Bernie issue, because we already chose the candidates’ national delegate allocations through our primary process. There would be something really weird going on if I didn’t believe in being able to move among different activist roles and tactics.

However, different is a key word here. Some of the Nevada delegates didn’t act like they understood what they were there for, from a tactical perspective. They didn’t learn the rules, to the extent that they even scored an own-goal when it came to constructing the party platform, and then were upset when they lost. They responded to procedural things not going their way by angrily going toward the stage and yelling. Protest politics vs institutional politics is not totally binary, and you can certainly do institutional politics with an edge (Bernie Sanders has in fact made a career out of that) or mix the two up a little. But, this isn’t breaking a kettle. It’s not pulling aside the barricades to Wall Street. It’s not disrupting a public Trump rally, or some other kind of antifa-ish action. It makes sense to change your tactics based on the context, and what will advance your goals in the context that you’re working in. If you choose the ground of a major presidential campaign and a state party convention to plant yourself in, then I think you should follow through with it. And just like you’d go to a direct action training, or a know-your-rights training, or a protest health & safety training, or seek out advice from experienced protest-goers, before a big protest, if you’re going to be a delegate, you should do what you can to learn how to be a delegate for the relevant convention, which is something I am trying to do now. I would even be willing to believe that some of the reports of delegate behavior have been skewed or unfair – I wasn’t watching the live feed, and lord knows that’s common enough with protest reporting – but the fact that people accidentally removed a section that they cared about from the platform because they didn’t understand what they were doing, and then were angry about it, is hard to get around.

To some subset of Clinton supporters on the Internet: You have good reasons to complain here. The fact that progressive politicians were booed is not really, in my opinion, one of them. I get that it is upsetting to see progressives that you admire and think have done great work, booed. But no politician is owed unbroken deference by members of the public, and dealing with a little booing and heckling is part of a politician’s job. “Where do these ungrateful twerps get off, daring to boo when a progressive hero like Barbara Boxer is speaking?” is a very different statement from “Booing Barbara Boxer as a delegate at a Democratic Party event probably doesn’t help either Sanders’ campaign or the advancement of his policy agenda.”

To the many, many people in 2011-2012 who criticized Occupy on the grounds that what it really needed to do was to be more like a left-wing Tea Party, to try and take over the Democratic Party from within: Congratulations! You spoke, and some people both inside and outside of the movement listened and concluded that you were right! They decided to channel their energy, their desire to move the country leftward, into an election, into gaining power within the Democratic Party. Wait, why do you look so upset? Why are you going on about how the primary is damaging the party or damaging its chances in the general? Isn’t the Sanders campaign an example of what you straight-out told people to do if they wanted to be Effective Responsible Leftists?

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Criminal case done! And also some thoughts about identity and the Democratic primary

First of all, I know I’m nearly two weeks late posting about this, but as many of you have already seen, the final charge against me was dropped! So, hooray, my criminal case is over.

Unrelatedly (well, mostly unrelatedly), I want to make a point about the Democratic primary and identity.

My approach to this primary, and most elections, is largely a mix of ideology and practical concerns. Since there is little danger in most elections that I’m going to find any major candidate to be too far left for my taste, what I generally want is the leftmost candidate that I think could win and could do the job effectively (which in this case, in my assessment, is Bernie Sanders). However, I don’t think it’s wrong to factor in identity when you’re juding candidates. If someone thinks multiple candidates are ideologically and pragmatically acceptable, but identifies with one of them because of her long fight to overcome, say, sexism and misogyny, and that last factor pushes that voter over the fence in terms of who they support, I don’t see anything bad about that. Identity doesn’t really come into play for me in this one because I have serious problems with Clinton’s hawkishness and DLC history. That doesn’t mean that nobody should be motivated by identifying with a candidate.

Let’s say