When I first started taking to the streets with the far left, I wanted to be the most radical one out there. I wanted to be dead center of the Bloc with my first raised. I wanted to link arms with comrades, fight the police, and punch nazis. The optics of the masked rioter had a romantic appeal, and of course it does. Photos of the left are always a masked bandit holding a signal flare or lighting a molotov. One would guess that’s all there is to a revolutionary movement.
It didn’t take me long realize that I am far more useful during a demonstration in a support role as a medic than I am on the front lines. I was a lifeguard for four years, and before that Boy Scouts had drilled the basics of first aid in to me. Growing up and at university, I was the one who was able to clean up injured friends and keep calm when everyone else was panicking.
At my heart, I am not the brick-thrower, but the medic.
Because of my history, I came into being a riot medic rather prepared. For others who are interested in doing this, there are many online resources and books about first aid and wilderness medicine that can teach you how to care for the injured, there are anarchist street medic booklets and zines that discuss demonstration tactics and basic operational security, and there are checklists out there for the perfect riot medic kit.
I find an endless list of resources that account for every situation and edge case hard to cope with. Too much information can be paralyzing, and sometimes I find case studies to be more useful. This post explains what I carry to demonstrations and the reasons for these decisions. Maybe it will help you.
Note: I’m not a doctor or paramedic, so keep that in mind as you read.
Note: I’m not endorsing any of the brands listed below. This is what I just happened to carry.
Red Medics and Black Medics
When I say I am a riot medic, I mean it in both the sense that I am both a medic at riots and rioter with a medkit. The terms for these two roles are a Red Medic and Black Medic respectively.
A Red Medic is one who shows up looking like a classic paramedic. Red Medics wear high-visibility attire and don’t cover their faces. They give the appearance of a neutral third party who is only there to provide aid. They are pleasant and professional to cops and non-demonstrators up to and including the nazis or fascists. Red Medics walk to the side of the main body of the demonstrations, do not participate in chants, and do not hold signs.
A Black Medic is a demonstrator with a medkit. They might join the demonstration or even cover their face. They could carry signs or wear insignias of local left wing groups. They also might wear red crosses or other marks that make it apparent to other demonstrators that they can provide aid. Black Medics are not bound by the sort of code of conduct expected of public health professionals.
If you look like you could be a paramedic, you are a Red Medic, and you need to act like one. It will cause long term harm if street medics engage in protests while looking like paramedics because the cops response might be to indiscriminately target medics in the future. In some places this already happens, and we don’t want to exacerbate this either.
Because I sometimes act as a Red Medic and sometimes as a Black Medic, what goes in my bag on any given day might vary. How I choose to attend demonstrations depends on my mood, what I expect the protest to be like, and what I expect the opposition to look like (both police or otherwise). If I expect the day to be quite non-violent, I might bloc up so I can yell with the rest. If I expect heavy police violence, I can be more useful to injured people if the cops think I am a paramedic. There is no hard rule for this, and you will figure out what works for you.
You should only carry equipment you are trained and knowledgeable enough to use. I am not highly trained, and that is ok. I expect to mostly clean pepper spray and other chemical agents off protesters and to stop them from bleeding. If something horrific happens, I can somewhat stabilize a patient, and I know CPR and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). This is enough until a real paramedic arrives. My medkit is obviously lacking the depth one would expect in a paramedic’s bag.
My riot bag is a medium sized paramedic bag. Its smaller than a full sized paramedic bag or some of the bags other riot medics carry. I could certainly do with a bit more space, but it suffices given the limited set of equipment I carry. The bag has one large main compartment and came with smaller, clear-faced bags for organizing supplies and equipment.
Whatever kind of bag you get and whatever supplies you pack, you should always follow this rule: never carry more gear than you can easily run with. If you can’t keep up with the protest, you aren’t going to be able to help. Further, don’t carry more than you can run with after a full day of protesting. Being mobile is more useful than being equipped for every possible situation you might encounter.
If I’m acting as a Red Medic, I carry my phone with me to have access to maps and live feeds about the action. Twitter in Germany is pretty good about hashtagging events with
#b0906 for Berlin on June 9th). The left, right, police, and local reporters all use these tags, so it makes for useful live updates. My goal is to be at the location where I expected to find the most violence to help those who have been injured. Having my phone also means I will always be able to call an ambulance which may be necessary. Since I am not engaging in illegal activity, I consider the fact that my location can be tracked to be worth having up-to-date information about the demonstration.
When acting as a Black Medic, I turn my phone off and keep it in a Faraday bag and only will use it during an emergency knowing that I will be identified/ located / deanonymized in doing so. I use a strong Diceware passphrase and purge it of incriminating content to minimize the chance of damage if I am arrested. Some people use a special, clean “demo phone” instead, but I don’t have funds for that. Given that I am still a medic and not an instigator, I have rationalized that this is sufficiently safe.
At a minimum I carry a 1 liter bottle of water to keep myself hydrated. I refill it at every chance I get to keep it full. I sometimes give water to other comrades or use it to refill spray bottles and eyewash bottles.
Food / Snacks
Long days of demonstrating can burn a lot of calories and last many hours. Missing meals and not eating can tank your blood sugar which makes you lethargic and less alert. You need to care for yourself before you can care for others. Bring enough food to last you through the day. You may end up giving it out to comrades who need it more than you.
I often carry sunscreen to protect myself and also to give out to other comrades. People often forget to apply or need to reapply during a long day in the sun. My bag currently has a leftover 30SPF bottle, but I would recommend getting hypoallergenic 50SPF.
Personal Protective Equipment
Wearing the right Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) is important as a medic. If you are injured or incapacitated, not only can you not help injured comrades, but you will have also dragged others out of the fight to care for you. You will have to make guesses about what PPE is appropriate for any given day. Here’s what I bring.
For Every Occasion
Shirts / Shorts / Pants
I wear clothing that covers my skin to hide identifying marks. If it’s a hot day and I’m concerned about chemical agents, I will pick a thin, nylon (not cotton or wool) long sleeve athletic shirt.
If I’m acting as a Red Medic, I wear a high-vis orange-red vest to keep cops from mistaking me as a protester. This allows me to enter the fray and more boldly assist injured comrades.
No matter what, I make sure I have shoes that will stay on my feet and that I can run in. If the Bloc runs, the medics run alongside them.
I wear a hat to keep the sun out of my eyes and off my face, to keep my hair out of my eyes, and to have clearer vision than wearing glasses. It also provides a small amount of cover from cameras against doxing by the right, but I do not rely on this to obscure my identity.
I have shatter proof goggles that fully wrap around my eyes. These are mostly to keep pepper spray out of my eyes, but they could also stop small amounts of shrapnel from flashbang grenades. I also worry about the accuracy of the fireworks leftists shoot off.
I have earplugs for myself and to hand out to comrades with sensitive ears. I mostly wear them to protect myself from the fireworks the left sets off and shoots at cops. I have yet to encounter an LRAD in the wild, but they also help against that or flashbangs.
Additionally, many peaceful marches have music played from vans, and this can be quite loud. If someone has sensitive ears, I can give them out. I also can cut them in half to give to children who are more likely to be sensitive to loud protests.
For Special Occasions
If I expect bottles and rocks to be thrown by protesters, or if I expect the police to use “non-lethal” weapons, I will bring a helmet. If I can’t protect myself, I can’t rush to an injured comrade caught between two opposing factions.
I have a half-mask to protect against teargas (as deployed by cops) or burning objects (as deployed by protesters). If I can’t breath, I can’t help. I keep my mask wrapped in thick plastic to minimize contact with medical waste, bodily fluids, or chemical agents before I put it on.
I realistically should upgrade to a full face mask because if teargas is deployed, I want my eyes protected too, and my goggles do not form an airtight seal. As above, if I can’t see, I can’t help.
The amount of medic gear I can fit in my bag depends on what protective gear I have with me or what the weather is like. If I expect incredible heat, I might pack extra water over some of the niceties.
The essentials always come with me as I feel they are the bare minimum necessary for me to do my job.
I carry nitrile gloves instead of latex gloves because some people have a latex allergy. Gloves prevent the spread of disease from patients to me via bodily fluids and from me to them via dirty hands. They are also useful for cleaning chemical agents off patients. Not wearing gloves while cleaning someone who’s been pepper sprayed will leaves your hands tingling and burning and may transfer this agent to others, or you may rub your eye later and transfer it to yourself.
I pre-pair the glove before I go out so I can grab a ball and know I’m getting two gloves. This makes handing them out to assistants easier too.
This one is simple. They keep a wound clean and somewhat protect it from further damage.
Antiseptic spray can be applied to minor wounds before dressing them. Some comrades will just want a quick spritz on an abrasion and will refuse dressings.
Most abrasions, lacerations, and punctures do not bleed much and do not require much gauze to treat. Individual packs make it easy to ensure each patient gets sterile gauze for their wound. Victims of pepper spray can also usually have their faces cleaned with the amount of gauze in a single pack.
Gauze rolls can be used to hold gauze pads in place, to immobilize broken fingers, or to stop bleeding in the mouth.
Medical tape can be used to keep gauze in place after dressing a wound. It can be used as a makeshift wound closure strip if a comrade is unwilling to go to the hospital if they are concern about arrest.
Hand sanitizer will reduce your risk of contracting disease after assisting patients. It will also reduce the risk of transmitting disease between patients. You may choose to just use a bottle of Purell or small alcoholic wipes.
At demonstrations, its likely the police or the people you are protesting with will be armed with and deploy pepper spray. This can completely incapacitate someone for the rest of the demonstration which will in turn take out several other protesters to care for them. The chemicals used in pepper spray can cause eye damage. A proper, easily refillable eyewash bottle helps me effectively clean up patients, and though it’s only an eyewash bottle, I generally use it to spray large amounts of water on body parts that have come into contact with chemical irritants.
I start the day with the bottles filled with saline solution because it is more soothing for the eyes and other mucous membranes. To make sterile saline solution, bring water to a boil for 1 minute and mix in 9 grams of non-iodized sale (sodium chloride) per 1 liter of water. As the day goes on, I will refill them with non-sterilized water without salt. This is not perfect, but it’s good enough to be useful.
If you can’t get a specialized eyewash bottle, you can buy saline solution for contact lenses. The caps are often removable, so you can refill them throughout the day. Using a contact solution bottle has the downside that you have to have a patient tilt their head back which may cause contaminated water to run down their face and into their hair or mouth. Another downside is the openings are fairly small so they need to be widened with an awl. Further, squeezing too hard to increase the flow rate can cause the cap to eject.
I carry a CPR mask in the unlikely event I encounter a patient who has stopped breathing. I use one with a one-way value to prevent a patient’s vomit or other fluids from entering my mouth.
I mostly use this for writing emergency contact information on protesters’ arms. Some tourniquets come with a white tab marked “Time” so that I can record the time it was applied so the next medical professional to treat the patient can determine when the tourniquet needs to be removed. Aside from this, it’s just a generally useful thing to have.
The following items are things that are helpful beyond the bare minimum. I can usually fit most of them in my bag.
Liquid Antacid and Water
Liquid Antacid and Water (LAW) is a remedy for pepper spray and other chemical irritants. LAW may not remove the irritants and more effectively than water, but feels cool and soothing which is beneficial in its own right. LAW can be mixed in 1:1 ratio of liquid antacid and water. When picking a liquid antacid, pick a brand that does not contain alcohol. Avoid brands with flavoring and coloring when possible.
Aside from the individual packs of gauze, I carry bulk gauze for cases of severe bleeding or when treating many pepper spray patients. Once open, it looses its sterility or could come into contact with other chemical agents before its next use.
Triangle bandages are good for making makeshift arm slings for broken clavicles (collar bones), or they can be used as a covering to hold gauze in place. They can also be used like an ace bandage for a sprained wrist.
Medical scissors have blunted tips and are safe to use for cutting clothes off patients. If someone is badly injured or needs to be defibrilated, their clothes will need to be quickly removed. Attempting to take them off they way they would undress themselves is too slow and could exacerbate other injuries.
Razors are used to remove body hair prior to using an AED on a patient. Body hair can inhibit the effectiveness of the shocks from the AED.
I carry ibuprofen and paracetamol (acetaminophen) as pain relievers. I don’t recommend them to patients as I’m not a medical professional, but I will mention that I have them an let them decide if they would like them.
Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory that helps prevent blood clots. I carry this not just as a pain reliever, but as something to give to patients who may be having a heart attack. Not all protesters are agitated youth; you will likely see older patients mixed in and especially at more peaceful marches.
In addition to the antiseptic spray, I carry antibacterial creme to apply to dressings.
Trash bags are a useful way to collect medical waste to keep others from coming in contact with it. However, they can be used as a makeshift occlusive dressing to mitigate a pneumothorax (“collapsed lung”) in patients with a “sucking chest wound.”
Instant Cold Compress
Instant cold compresses can be used for pain relief and to reduce swelling in bruises and sprains. They can also be used as treatment for patients suffering from heat related illnesses. Because they are bulky and non-critical, I only carry two.
I carry two or three emergency blankets (space blankets) to provide warmth for patients. This could be patients in shock or those suffering from hypothermia. A common thing to see is use of water cannons to disperse protesters, and on cold days this can lead to hypothermia. Additionally, if you are using water to clean patients or have to remove their clothing to clean them or stop their bleeding, you may need to keep them warm after treatment.
Self adhering bandages are used to hold gauze in place without sticking to skin and hair, making it easier to adjust or remove later.
Tissues can be handed out to help with allergies or colds, but they are also useful because letting a patient use them to blow their nose or dab their eyes can be comforting.
I carry a few mid-sized tampons in my bag just to cover in case someone is having a minor menstrual emergency.
Dextrose tablets can be given to someone having a diabetic emergency. Like with pain medications, I simply state that I have them and let them decide if this is the appropriate thing to take.
Additionally, during a long, hot day of marching, and especially if protesters have been consuming alcohol, a small amount of sugar and water can help someone quickly feel better.
After cleaning, refrigerant spray can be sprayed on skin that has come in to contact withe chemical irritants. This provides some pain relief, especially since scrubbing skin can activate irritants which will cause short term increased burning. Cooling the skin will make this less painful.
Combat dressings are a gauze pad pre-attached to a long bandage so that a wound can be quickly wrapped. The dressing has a plastic hook so it can be held tight to apply pressure to help stop bleeding. I only expect to use these in cases of severe bleeding.
The following items are on my wish list, and I will eventually get around to acquiring them (though I will certainly need a larger bag). Because I feel they cover cases I do not often see, and because there are other, better trained medical personnel a short phone call away, not having them doesn’t feel like I’m endangering anyone by not being overly prepared. In some order of preference, I would like:
- Medical tweezers
- Hemostatic gauze
- Neck brace
- Wound closure strips
- Heart rate / blood pressure monitor
- Blood sugar monitor
- Carry tarp
This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t cover some of my favorite riot gear I pack. Since I’m still a Black Medic, I prioritize medical gear, and because this means I’m carrying a large bag, I leave behind more “fun” items since I’m more likely to be stopped by the cops.
I’m not providing pictures because I don’t want to provide evidence against myself.
Hard Knuckle Gloves
I wear hard knuckle gloves to protect my hands from police batons, flashbangs, and rubber bullets. They are thick enough that I can pick up a hot can of tear gas. If my hands become injured, I can’t provide care to others.
Balaclava / Bandana
Protecting my face from riot control agents means one less thing to worry about when taking care of others. I also would rather not be easily identified by cops or doxed by fascists. I Always Carry A Bandana to that I have a spare face covering in case someone forgot theirs.
Like my goggles, I have a dark pair of shatter proof glasses that wrap tight around my face. They will generally protect against pepper spray and also help me mask my identity.
Even if these seems like a lot of things, if you’re an aspiring medic, you can get by with much less and still be effective. The first time I showed up to a riot attempting to be useful, all I had was bottles of saline solution, and I was still able to help because I was the only person acting as a medic.
The situations I find myself in might not match yours, so our bags won’t contain the same things. It’s up to you to figure out what makes sense in general and day to day.