ActivismillustrationPhilosophy

Author Håkan Geijer: Riot Medicine, Medics in Protests & Mutual Aid

We were thrilled to interview Håkan Geijer,  the author of the free e-book  RIOT MEDICINE. Our conversation centers on basic medical advice* for protests, the role of medics within movements, and Mutual Aid as a philosophy.

The interview is below, solidarity to the families murdered by police, Capitalists and racists. Black Lives Matter, ACAB.


Asia Art Tours: What prompted you to write the book Riot Medicine and how do you hope the text is used?

Håkan Geijer: I’ve been a medic for a while, and I’ve seen a lot of dangerous medic practices. Some range from minor oddities to things that are dangerous to patient’s health. I wanted to write a short guide that narrowly addressed the things people were doing wrong.

As I was writing it, I kept finding more and more things that needed corrections, and then there needed to be just a bit of theory as a foundation. It got longer, and then I realized I had to just write the whole thing otherwise there would be gaps for simple injuries. And so the pamphlet became a book.

AAT: For movements in Hong Kong and Syria, ‘medics’ have been weaponized by State-aligned Propaganda to accuse movements of being ‘CIA Funded’ or trained. I’m not interested in discussing the veracity of these claims, as I find them made in bad faith, poorly reported and easily debunked.

For those who read your book and are inspired, what advice would you have about the slander they may endure for supporting protesters? What can they do to protect themselves?

HG: Propaganda and slander have always been used to make the enemy look brutal and evil. No matter how peaceful or neutral you try to be, there will be “bad faith” actors trying to demonize you ideology and actions.

You may want to consider those things and see if there’s ways to work against it, but often the answer is to ignore it and carry on. I think most people understand the neutrality of medics, and I feel they do receive more outside sympathy than other roles within a movement.

Tactics are complicated and highly variable by region. Generally protection against slander is making one’s own propaganda. Publicizing aid rendered, making helpful guides, and so on. Actions speak for themselves, and spreading examples of good deeds does more to counter slander than attempting to appeal to opposition in an attempt to get them to stop.

AAT: And this may seem obvious to other global movements, but the US is behind the curve in many ways… could you explain if Medics or Protest/ “Riot” medics are essential to protest movements?

HG: I don’t think the US is behind the curve. It’s just a different context over there, especially with the highly militarized police. If you mean the Yellow Vests or Hong Kong protests of the last year, they are not happening for the exact same reasons.Maybe the share root causes like imperialism or neoliberalism, but they are not a unified movement, even if there is a great degree of global solidarity. So the fact that the US is having a nationwide uprising some year and a half after the start of the Yellow Vests and Hong Kong protests isn’t them being late to the party; they’re just having a different party at a different time.

As for medics being essential, it’s hard to say what essential even is. Could a movement succeed without them? Very probably. I don’t think any roles can be described as either necessary or sufficient for successfully enacting change or insurrection. Medics are just one the many pillars that support a movement, along with legal support, creators of agitprop, donors, frontliners, and the masses behind them (among others).

That said, autonomous medicine is mutual aid, and mutual aid *is* the movement. If we didn’t take care of each other, it wouldn’t be the same movement, but something less beautiful. While protesting, people will be harmed, and medics can quickly render aid to help with fear and pain. But also medics being present is a sign that aid will come and it allows people to take more risks knowing that negative outcomes can be minimized by having aid present.

AAT: Something I didn’t think about until reading your book, but makes perfect sense is the role of medic in keeping statistics of the violence they encounter and the method (tear gas, baton, rubber bullet, bullet) that inflicted the damage. Could you discuss why its important for medics to keep these statistics? And if you have any advice for the best methods of using these statistics have an impact in deterring police/state violence

HG: I can’t even say for certain that it is important, as a lot of tactics can measured empirically and we definite lack the meta-analysis to know if collecting injury stats directly leads to better outcomes. My suggestion of it is just a very strong hunch.

That said, media and reporters often just cite the police and State official on things, and there is a bias by the State to under-report injuries. Also protesters aren’t necessarily going to hospitals or notifying the State about the brutality they faced.

What statistics do is give a way to counter the State’s claims and give a dissenting voice. If the State claims their officers acted with restraining, having a month’s worth of data to counter that can help win over popular opinion or push for legislative action against the police.

AAT: A big part of your book is preparation and training. I’m wondering if you could walk us through your own process for preparing for events (to just give a hypothetical event and how you would prepare) and walk us through the ‘essentials’ that make up your medical bag?

HG: Most of the preparation for being a medic is training. It makes a lot of treatments reflexive, and these quick responses happen before you can panic and freeze. Experience is also great training, so going to smaller events gets you comfortable acting in a medical capacity even it it’s just giving out bandaids or wraps for sprained ankles.

My prep for bigger actions is fairly routine. My bag is always packed, and my clothes and riot gear is always folded in its own drawer. I like to be methodical so there’s no thinking or worrying about forgetting things. Everything is always there and ready to go.

For most events, I talk with some medic and non-medic buddies about who’s going, and we make a rough gameplan. We try to guess police presence, fascist presence, and what our side is going to do. We look at maps and routes, and try to guess where things are going to go down. We discuss contingencies so that when things go off the rails we’ve probably already considered such possibilities. Also we have standard operating procedures based off previous actions, so questions like “who does what and when” are already answered.

As for the timeless “what’s in the bag” question, it varies from action to action. The first priority is what I need to survive the action: snacks, water, may a raincoat, goggles, and a small respirator. I might have other PPE like a helmet or a full respirator, and I might wear some concealed armor if I expect violence.

I also have three bags: 

  • Big Bertha is a 20kg beast meant for major clashes, and it has nearly a full EMT loadout.
  • I have a normal backpack I bring to most things and move a subset of my gear into that.
  • My drawstring bag has just a few essentials (gloves, gauze, emergency blanket, dextrose, and a water bottle), and I never go to any action without at least that.

It’s really hard to say what one *should* have in their bag, because weather, expected opposition, and a medic’s own knowledge change what they should pack. But for example, there’s usually a variety of sizes and type of gauze, dressings, and bandages.

There might be some things for more serious trauma like a tourniquet or chest seals. Other basics include trauma shears, wound spray, eyewash, dextrose, emergency blankets, and cold packs. I have some diagnostic stuff like a pulse oximeter, penlight, and blood pressure meter.

AAT: Likewise, you talk quite a bit about the importance of practice to slowly build up ones abilities. For countries where there are long periods between protests/social movements/ riots. What advice or practical things can medics do to train when there are no protests?

HG: My book’s title was chosen because of it’s more narrow scope on protest medicine, but medics can do a lot in their community. Working with the unhoused is way to keep fresh, and so is having a tent at book fairs. Even when I’ve worked with groups that were very active we still tried to get together to having training days where we’d review theory and praxis, and do most patient assessment and care.

AAT: Something I’m very interested in, is preparing people soberly for the violence that they’ll face when confronting the state. ‘Less than lethal’ weapons are still brutal. For this next question could I ask you to discuss these three weapons. What damage they can do, and what would be your best general rule of thumb in treating them:

– Tear Gas

– Pepper Spray

– Rubber Bullets/Bean Bag Bullet

HG: You can’t help anyone if you panic, so some good prep is to discuss the reality and maybe watch videos to get a feel for what medicine in chaos is like.

As for concrete steps, tear gas and pepper spray are treated roughly the same: remove the patient from the contaminant, don’t let them tough their face, flush was copious amounts of water or saline (and nothing else), and monitor their breathing. They may need an emergency blanket to stay warm after decontaminating them.

Projectile weapons can cause a wide degree of damage. Maybe they just bruise and the patient needs only an icepack. Maybe it’s pellet and they have an open wound, so pressure and then a bandage.Projectiles and destroy a patient’s eyes, fracture bones, cause concussions, or even kill them. In those cases, you need EMS and a hospital.

AAT: Lastly, to end on a simple question, why train in the first place, why not just rely on EMTs or Hospitals? Are these institutions connected to the state in a way that is threatening to those injured within movements? And if you could, is there a general Rule of thumb / acronym for when the hospital/EMT should be turned to by the riot medic?

HG: For serious injuries, lasting damage and mortality can be reduced by prompt care, so having someone on site will leader to faster care. This is typical for conferences, concerts, and other large gatherings. Protests don’t have the money for traditional EMS, so we need to provide our own. Hospitals also are a place police may go to arrest protesters, so it might not be safe for a protester to go there at all. Without medics, they would receive no treatment. Also traditional EMS may not be able to reach patients either due to barricades, alleged danger, or malicious police interference.

There’s a few rules low level EMS use for when they’re supposed to call for backup, and these also apply to medics. The main ones are loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, suspected poisoning or overdoes, massive hemorrhage, and cardiac chest pain. The catchall rule after those is anything the medic’s gut says is “very bad.”

Street medics often lack formal training, and they need to know where their scope of practice ends. Generally they can treat minor injuries and stabilize severe ones until traditional EMS arrives.


*DISCLAIMER FOR INTERVIEW AND BOOK – RIOT MEDICINE:

This Interview, text and all related information  is not a substitute for professional medical training, so you are strongly encouraged to supplement the knowledge from this book with outside resources.

Additionally, the legality of protest, practice of medicine, and their
intersections varies from region to region, so there will be no attempt
to make absolute statements about what is legal or illegal. Statements
about the law are meant to guide you in the right direction, however they are not qualified legal advice. It is up to you to research the political, medical and legal climate where you will be operating and make your own decisions.

Use of the material found in this Interview does not guarantee that you can provide medical care. It may not be legal to practice medicine without certification. It may not be legal to protest or use any of these tactics. Do so at your own risk.

Author Matt Dagher-margosian

More posts by Matt Dagher-margosian