“What’s in the Bag?” – A Guide to Packing a Protest First Aid Kit

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The basic dos and don’ts of what to carry to a protest are already pretty clearly laid out here, but if you’re planning on taking on the role of Street Medic, you may want to more carefully tailor your protest-specific “clean bag” to this specific purpose. The following covers the contents of a basic functional, versatile protest-specific first aid kit, with a description of what each is for. Medics may or may not want to prioritize certain materials, based on the conditions they’re most likely to come across while in the field.

Personal Protective Equipment:

Nitrile gloves: Important for protecting you from coming into contact with other people’s bodily fluids, you not only want to carry enough for yourself to wear a fresh pair with each patient, but also enough to provide gloves to anyone you ask for assistance in treating those with serious injuries. Nitrile gloves weigh next to nothing, and take up very little space, so in this case it is preferable to “over pack,” as you can never be carrying too many (within reason), but certainly do not want to be caught without enough.

Bandanna: There are plenty of good reasons to wear a bandanna while you’re out in the streets, and it never hurts to carry a spare. As with the nitrile gloves, bandannas weigh next to nothing, and take up almost no space, so it’s better to carry one or two than to be caught without one when they suddenly become necessary.

Gas Mask or Respirator: If you’re the type of person who is likely to want to stick around when tear gas and/or pepper spray is being deployed in large quantities, it may be worth it to invest in and carry a gas mask or respirator. More information on the particulars of gas masks and respirators (and tear gas) can be found here. While useful to carry, it is worth noting that gas masks are both bulky and fairly heavy. Respirators tend to be slightly less so, but still take up quite a bit of space.

Helmet: Given that a blow to the head with a less-lethal projectile can be deadly, it may be worthwhile to invest in a bicycle helmet for wearing to protests. As with gas masks and respirators, helmets are very bulky, and they can also make putting on and taking off a gas mask more difficult, but a helmet may still very well be a worthwhile inconvenience if you’re in an environment where things are being shot into a crowd.

Basic First Aid Supplies:

Duct tape: Duct tape is sterile and versatile. It can be used to affix gauze to wounds, can be used to create basic braces and slings for stabilizing and immobilizing injured joints, and much more. While duct tape is fairly heavy compared to other supplies, its versatility makes it well worth carrying. It IS important to note that most duct tape DOES CONTAIN LATEX, which some people may be allergic to. It is also important to note that even in cases where there is no latex allergy, it’s a real asshole move to stick duct tape to bare skin, especially where body hair is involved. In the interest of protecting people’s skin from duct tape, it may be worthwhile to carry a few spare (CLEAN) socks to slip over joints you’re trying to immobilize, before wrapping with tape. This has the added bonus of helping prevent the tape wrapping from being too tight, thus cutting off circulation.

Gauze: While gauze is a little fluffy, and does take up a fair amount of space, it is well worth carrying copious amounts. Gauze is yet another of those items where it’s better to have more than needed than it is to run into a situation where you don’t have enough. It may even be beneficial to carry gauze in a variety of sizes and configurations. Some useful sizes to carry include 2″x2″, 3″x3″, 4″x4″, rolled gauze, and if possible, a sealed compression dressing or two for extreme cases.

Instant Cold Packs: Cold packs can be useful for treating everything from heat stroke/exhaustion to sprains, fractures, and dislocations. They’re a little bulky and a little expensive, and aren’t expressly necessary, but can be a nice addition to your kit if you can spare the dollars and the space.

Burn Dressings: While somewhat expensive, it’s worth carrying a few of these little guys in case someone comes into contact with something very hot (like a projectile fired by police, or fire).

Unscented Menstrual Pads: Useful for conventional reasons, but also because they are absorbent enough to help staunch bleeding in cases of fairly serious injury.

Liquid Antacid + Water: A mixture of liquid antacid and water is useful for saturating bandannas in case of exposure to tear gas, as well as washing tear gas out of people’s eyes, and can help soothe the burn associated with exposure to pepper spray as well. A roughly 50/50 solution of milk of magnesia and water does the trick, but other antacids are also fine as long as they are alcohol-free and ideally unflavored. If only flavored antacids are available, cherry burns a lot less than mint.

Herbal Remedies:

Mullein Leaf Tincture: Useful aftercare for exposure to tear gas, as it helps heal the respiratory system. Mullein leaf has no known interactions, and should be safe for nearly anyone to use.

Plantain Salve: Useful for treating burns and scrapes, can be applied liberally to the affected area, and then covered with gauze.

Relaxation Tinctures: Herbal medicine is medicine, and should never be taken or administered without a solid understanding of effects and interactions. One of the best options is Borage tincture, which is mild, safe to use, and is meant to make people feel support and courage of heart. Alternatives such as Passionflower, Lemon Balm, Catnip, Lavender (infusion, not essential oil), and California Poppy may also be useful in helping treat panic attacks and anxiety attacks. These should all be used very carefully, as all may affect different people in different ways. Some of the milder options above, such as Passionflower, Lemon Balm, and Catnip, may be the best options for wide use. Rescue Remedy, which is homeopathic and therefore contains nearly zero actual plant matter, may be a safe alternative to any of the above, but is likely to be less effective. The fact is, calmly and confidently telling someone you’re going to give them something which will help them feel more relaxed is frequently the most important part of helping people feel calm and safe in a protest setting.

Other Useful Items:

Lollipops: Lollipops are great for providing a quick sugar rush in the event that someone is hypoglycemic and in need of a blood sugar boost. Additionally, they’re an excellent way to help calm children who may be feeling panicked for any number of reasons (like big crowds, or scary cops.)

Character Band-Aids: While it’s not explicitly necessary to carry any band-aids at all (as injuries which can be treated with a band-aid are not really necessary to treat in the first place), it can be helpful to have a couple on hand in case a child suffers from a small scrape or cut.

Trauma Shears: Useful for cutting, without having any possibility of being construed as a weapon. It is worth keeping in mind that the likelihood of losing your trauma shears is fairly high, and they will therefore probably need to be replaced frequently.

Garbage Bags: Useful both for containing clothing which has been contaminated with chemical weapons, and also for sanitary disposal of large amounts of waste which is contaminated with bodily fluids (like blood). Lightweight and compact, it’s worth carrying at least a few of these if you have them lying around.

A Change of Clothes: If you can fit them into your kit, it’s frequently worthwhile to carry a spare change of clothes in a sealed gallon-sized bag. Whether your own clothing is contaminated with chemical weapons, or you simply find yourself in a situation where altering your appearance is a necessary safety precaution, it can’t hurt to carry a costume change if you’re able.

Sharpies: Not only is it important to write important phone numbers on your own body, so you have access to them in case of arrest, but it may also be important to write information on a patient if they are unconscious and you have to pass them off to Emergency Medical Services. Knowledge of what has already been done to help a patient, and knowledge of any vital information you may have been given before the patient passed out (such as blood type and/or allergies) can help save lives.

Snacks and Water: Medics should not be responsible for carrying food and water for others, but we should always carry enough for ourselves. Self-care is an important part of not creating a second patient, and let’s be real: nobody wants to be treated by a hangry street medic anyway.

Emergen-C: These little square packets are full of electrolytes. When we sweat, we’re not only sweating out water, but also salts. Cracking open an Emergen-C packet, pouring a small amount of water directly into the pouch, and administering to someone who is suffering from severe dehydration can be a big help!

Other Medications:

NOTE: Pills and prescription medications should never be administered by street medics. As lay-people, prescribing medication is outside our scope of practice, and we have no legal protections for giving people medication. It is highly suggested that all of the medications on this list be self-administered by whoever needs them.

Ibuprofen: Useful for sprains, fractures, dislocations, and anything else where swelling is a factor.

Epi-pen: If you can get your hands on one, an epi-pen may save someone’s life, even if they need to self-administer (with or without your help.)

Albuterol Inhaler: Procurement of albuterol inhalers can be difficult, but if you have one and are willing to carry it, it may save a life if someone who is asthmatic is exposed to either tear gas or pepper spray.

Special thanks to Lauren Smith-Donohoe for her invaluable feedback on herbal first aid, and her personal influence on my own best practices as a street medic.

OPSEC for Activists Part 3: Always Carry A Bandana

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Masked protesters in Montreal troll police with donuts on sticks.

Mention of the potential importance of carrying a mask has been made in both OPSEC for Activists Part 1 and OPSEC for Activists Part 2. There’s been brief mention of some of the reasons why it might be important to carry a mask, and this post will delve a little deeper into the subject.

There are a myriad good reasons to wear a mask to a protest, even if you feel no guilt or shame being there. Those reasons may include:

Dragnet Surveillance: It is not uncommon for police officers to record crowds of protesters at demonstrations. While having your face appear in this footage isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, for the sake of your privacy, it may be worth masking up anyway. Additionally, people whose faces appear in these videos are often either approached to testify against comrades in court cases, targeted for harassment by police, or accused of committing crimes due to proximity and convenience.

Child Custody Concerns: If you are a parent, it is entirely possible that your presence at protests could conceivably endanger your custody rights. If you have a vindictive ex, or other relative trying to gain custody of your children, they may cite your presence at protests as either neglect or child endangerment, depending on whether or not your children are at the demonstration with you. In light of this, it is best to wear a mask, and if you plan on bringing your children with you, you may wish to recommend that they wear masks as well.

Precarious Employment: If you are working for an employer who is either unsupportive of your political leanings, or doesn’t know you’re taking time off work to attend a demonstration (or deal with an arrest/court case), it may be wise to cover your face while you attend political actions. While it’s true that in most states and for most jobs, you can’t be fired for what you do in your time off, many employers are willing to either find ways to work around this, or flout these rules entirely. It’s not worth risking your livelihood by showing up on the evening news, when a simple bandana could save you from trouble in the first place.

Social Consequences: Perhaps you have a parent who worries too much, or a church community with varying values, or peers at work or school who might ostracize you. Perhaps you’re worried about future employment opportunities, or judgement from your in-laws, or weird looks from your neighbors. In any case, even if the social consequences aren’t terribly serious, it’s better to wear a mask than it is to allow potential social consequences to dissuade you from going to a demonstration at all.

Fascist Creeps: It is, perhaps, no surprise that white supremacists on the internet frequently go through photos from protests in order to identify and track down people whose politics don’t line up with their own. It is fairly common practice for them to circulate false rumors, attempt to get Child Protective Services involved in family situations, get people fired from their jobs, or attempt to fabricate incriminating evidence to turn over to law enforcement. Fascist creeps, as a matter of fact, represent all the threats laid out prior to their mention, as well as carrying with them the implicit threat of violence after the action is over. For the sake of protecting yourself from angry neo-nazis, it’s wise to not only mask up, but also to cover up any distinguishing marks such as tattoos, piercings, or scars as best as possible, in order to avoid being identified by the white supremacist fascists known as the “alt-right.”

Stock Photos: A much less serious threat than Actual Fucking Nazis, you do not want to be identifiable as part of a protest stock photo. The likelihood of accidentally being the poster child for a super awkward headline written by hyperconservatives isn’t high, per se, but as it’s easily avoidable by simply wearing a mask, the mask is probably the way to go.

Expanding the Anonymity Set: Even if you’ve gotten all the way through this post and don’t feel the need to wear a mask, I’d like to ask you to please consider whether or not any of the threats laid out affect anyone you care about. While there are certainly a myriad of ways to identify even masked activists, if someone is willing to put in the effort, the more of us who wear masks, the less likely someone is to be spotted and have their kids taken away, or fired from their job. The more masked demonstrators there are in the streets, the less likely any one of us will be tracked down and threatened (or attacked) by right wing extremists. Even if you are not personally at risk, wearing a mask is both an important act of solidarity with our comrades, and also an effective means of helping them disappear into the masked crowd.

So have fun storming the castle, stay safe, and Always Carry A Bandana.