A political medicine: Street medic response to unrest in Ferguson

Proposal submitted to 2015 Anarchism and the Body conference (June 12-14 at Purdue University).

Street medics organize unarmed response in states of exception and work outside secured areas, particularly in U.S. and European protest movements. We posed two questions about street medic mobilization during unrest in Ferguson, Missouri: (1) Do street medic practices strengthen political lines of flight? (2) How is it done?

We analyzed medic field reports, protocols, meeting minutes, training curricula, and internal evaluations to identify medic practices and perceptions during the uprising in Ferguson. We conducted interviews to clarify areas of uncertainty and situated our findings in their social and political contexts. We found that anarchist emergency medicine, nursing, organizing, and crisis counseling practices intervene during crisis to promote the health of political forms-of-life.

Street medics help organized people prepare for, face, and recover from danger. They interpret traces left on bodies by fear, police violence, and official neglect as physical accounts of collective action. The medic form-of-life accelerates the political education of people who become or mentor medics. Medics impress health administrators, health professionals, and the public, building solidarity. Street medic practices nourish noncoercive relations between bodies that forcefully refuse depoliticization. The existence of street medics has helped people to move forward politically.

Learning objectives

  1. Describe traces left on bodies by militarized unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
  2. Identify depoliticizing and politicizing emergency response practices.

Authors

A. Grace Keller, NC-CNA, has worked with street medics since 2002 in states of exception including Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. She dispatched and debriefed street medics after Hurricane Sandy, dispatched and trained street medics in Saint Louis after the killing of Mike Brown, and archives North American street medic stories.

Rixey Browning, NY-EMT-B, has been involved with street medicine for three years. She did home checks and recovery work beginning in the first week after Hurricane Sandy, provided medical support during the response to the Eric Garner verdict in New York City, and wrote her undergraduate thesis in anthropology on street medics.

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