Network of Volunteer First Aid Crews Among Protesters in Quebec City NPR

Cornwall Island, April 21, 2001 — This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The thousands of protesters gathered in Quebec City reflect a growing and increasingly organized movement. They have legal advisers, designated media spokespeople. In recent years, activists have created a network of volunteer first aid crews. And North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann met with a team of street medics as they prepared to cross the border.

(Soundbite of bongo drums and muffled voices)

BRIAN MANN reporting:

It's mid-afternoon on a perfect spring day, and 500 protesters are getting ready to march over the bridge that links New York and Canada at Cornwall Island. The crowd comes in all shapes and sizes. There are high school kids and seasoned activists with gray hair. There's a lot of tie-dye and pierced skin. Sprinkled among the protesters are men and women in homemade uniforms. They carry heavy kit bags. Pinned prominently on their sleeves and backs are bright red crosses. Adrienne Allen(ph) came north from Syracuse, New York.

Ms. ADRIENNE ALLEN: I joined the street medic team last year at the IMF and World Bank protests in Washington, DC, in April. It's actually a year ago this week that I started being a street medic, and I love it.

MANN: There are more than a dozen street medics here. A few minutes before the march begins, the medical team gathers in front of a rented minivan which they've converted into a makeshift ambulance.

Unidentified Man #1: Have our street medics go onto the bridge, and those people can radio if they need assistance…

MANN: When he's not out protesting, James Creeden(ph) works as a paramedic in Brooklyn. He began volunteering as a street medic two years ago.

Mr. JAMES CREEDON: I really got involved with it during the Diallo protest in New York City. I saw people in my community who were suffering under police brutality, and this crystallized in my mind; it was important for me to take my skills and put them in service for people around me.

(Soundbite of vehicle engine running)

Unidentified Woman: You guys, take care.

Unidentified Man #2: OK. We're going to hit the road.

MANN: The caravan of marchers and vehicles gets under way. As they head onto the long bridge that crosses the St. Lawrence River, the medical team breaks up into two-person squads which spread out through the crowd. Megan, who won't give her last name, comes from Arizona. She's in her early 20s and, like a lot of the volunteers, has no official training. She learned basic first aid working as a life guard. Other tricks of the trade she's picked up at rallies and protests around the country.

MEGAN: I've seen people going into shock, a lot of asthma attacks, being hit by tear gas and pepper spray. I've seen people being sprayed — people literally being clubbed in the head by police.

MANN: When a protester is seriously injured, James Creedon says the street medics use portable radios to call 911. But ambulances often can't reach an injured person in the middle of the rally or a riot.

Mr. CREEDON: What we're most concerned with is chemical weapons can cause permanent damage to the eyes. We carry water bottles in order to do an eye flush, get those chemical weapons out of the eye. We also carry mineral oil and alcohol1 and other things that we use to help remove chemical weapons from people's skin. We try to remove pepper spray and tear gas. In our bag we carry a wide range of first-aid supplies for controlling bleeding, controlling swelling.

Unidentified Man #3: OK, ladies and gentlemen, we're gonna protest this nice and easy. Just be patient. We'll get through this as soon as we can.

(Soundbite of cheering)

MANN: As the marchers reach the Canadian side, there's a moment of tension. They're met by dozens of police in flak jackets. After a brief negotiation, some of the protesters are turned away. Others are escorted peacefully through Customs as they head on to Quebec City. The street medics gathered here say they don't get much respect from the police or ambulance crews that surround these rallies. Mostly they're ignored. Sometimes they're laughed at. But the protesters trust their medics and rely on them and see them as a sign that their movement is organized for a long struggle. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann on Cornwall Island, Ontario.

(Soundbite of drums and cheering)

Source: Weekend Edition Saturday (NPR), APR 21, 2001

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