A medics tale – interview with an Occupy Oakland street medic

Following is an interview with Amanda, a street medic active in Occupy Oakland.

What does it mean to be a medic at Oscar Grant Plaza?

To be a medic at Oscar Grant Plaza is a commitment to social change. Over the past month at the occupation, our perceptions of what Occupy is and what it stands for have changed. As medics we have had to adapt to the reality on the ground. The movement and the camp have a different reality. Without the power of the supporters and marches the camp would have not survived this long. Without the campers securing the camp the general assembly and organizers would not have had the community space for actions and meetings.

After the first raid the demographic of the camp started to change from the activist community to more of the general population of the camp being the disenfranchised community who are the most affected by the situations we as the Occupy Movement are confronting. As medics, we have to adapt to the reality of the camp–poverty and the desperate behavior, heath conditions and the darkness that comes with it.

Another facet of being a medic at the plaza is keeping the camp safe at night. Although the medic tent was rarely quiet during the day, if the camp had an emergency at night that it couldn’t handle, the cops or fire department would have come in to respond, thus weakening our ability to keep the camp alive.

If you want to march in the streets and chant “fuck the police,” we better learn to do our job.

Can you tell us a little about your history and experience with being a medic and with politics?

I volunteered in a rural fire department for a few years, was an EMT, wilderness first responder, I have personally been homeless off and on for 14 years, did forest defense, have worked in day shelters, been an advocate for homeless youth, rainbow gathering experience has been drawn upon, too…

What was your first experience with Occupy Oakland?

As I was coming into Oakland on a Greyhound bus, I saw several helicopters circling downtown, and I thought to myself “That must be where the occupation is.”

As I was walking onto the grounds for the first time (on the third day of the occupation), I was approached by a man who asked me if I needed help pitching my tent. I politely said no thank you, then he asked me if I wanted to stay in his tent, receiving a much more aggressive no thank you. Then he asked me if I wanted to smoke some pot, and he received a hearty fuck off. I moved along, trying to orientate myself. The situation repeated with another aggressor. At this point I became aware Occupy was not going to be the utopia some may have wished for.

Why medic?

I had it in my head that I would work first aid, since that is an applicable part of my background. However, at first I did not feel exactly welcomed by other medics, maybe even unwelcome. I tried not to take it personally. On one of the first nights I was there I cruised by medical and found one of my favorite Oakland street people needing psychological support. I was overjoyed she was still alive, it had been a few years since we’d crossed paths. At that point I identified my niche. Everyone who lives at the Occupation has one and it is crucial for the success of this movement for this to be honored and supported.

Can you tell us about any defining moments during the encampment?

I returned to the medic tent one evening after attending to a disturbing medical situation. I do have to say that when working on the ground, you have to put a lot of personal baggage away and be present for the situations at hand, often processing things later. So I returned to the first aid tent to find two children ages 3 and 5 putting band aids on their ouchies. Amused by their presence, I greeted them and shortly asked if their mom or dad was around. The first child responded “My daddy’s dead. He was shot in the arm and leg ’cause a bad guy was breaking into our building shooting people.” The second child responded “My daddy is in jail for a long time.” The two children then proceeded into a conversation about violence, the police system, how this affects their lives, human nature, and how they themselves cope and support their families. This is the reality for preschool aged children in 2011. This fight is really about them. What America has become needs something bigger than band aids.

What would you change about the camp or what do you think we could work on?

Occupy seems hardly tangible at this point. It is the definitive truth. It is raw, spontaneous, alive. The movement is its own being, an exposé on reality. The people have to, at this point, let history take its course. We as individuals have no control over what Occupy is, we only have control over the ideology of what Occupy is. As for the people of the movement, we must resign all desire for control. Empowerment, individual action and decentralization are the keys to breaking down the systems that control our culture. Control got us in this mess in the first place. We have to become willing to adapt to the changes we are asking for, and assume responsibility for what the government doesn’t do for us. This is our future: empty houses, empty bellies, empty schools.