Street Medics Treat The Protesting Wounded Robert ONeill

Philadelphia, Aug. 3, 2000 — They are the noncoms of the direct action movement, living in an uneasy truce with the authorities that doesn't always hold. They wear white T-shirts with a red cross, but otherwise look just like their comrades-in-protest. They are the volunteers of the R2K Medical Collective, who have been walking the streets of Philadelphia for the past week to aid ailing demonstrators.

"Riot medicine? Street medicine?" jokes Dr. Michael Greger about his new medical specialty as he talks with a reporter while walking beside marchers seeking universal health care. Fresh out of medical school in Boston, Greger is postponing his residency for a year to work with social activists. For the next few days, he'll staff the medical center near 15th and Race streets, a nondescript three-story town house loaned to the group by the Friends of Philadelphia, a Quaker civic organization. A patrol car sits nearby, and a small group of cops stand on the corner of the next block. Across the street is the Hahnemann University Hospital emergency room to treat anybody requiring attention for serious injuries. But mostly the clinic has been preparing for the likeliest ailments facing protesters: dehydration, the effects of tear gas or pepper spray, twisted ankles. "Seattle made it very clear to a lot of people that we need to be able to take care of ourselves," says "Famous," a 32-year-old R2K medical volunteer from New York who got involved after seeing protesters injured during the World Trade Organization protests.

There are a couple of doctors and three to five nurses, says Famous, but she isn't sure because she hasn't had time to look at people's credentials. Mostly there are just a lot of volunteers, 40 or 50 of them. They shuttle back and forth from the clinic to the protest areas, carrying water bottles and other necessities. They take care of people with heat exhaustion, giving them liquids and letting them enjoy the air conditioning while resting on cots provided by the city of Philadelphia.

Suddenly a young woman with orange hair and a ring through her lip is wheeled around the corner. Her leg is kept straight and she has ice on a very red knee. The riot docs get back to work.


Robert O'Neill, "Street Medics Treat the Protesting Wounded." National Journal, Thurs, Aug. 3, 2000.

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