The training sessions frequently draw what Williams calls "crazy wingnuts who want to fight the government in a shack in the woods." Each class includes at least one extremist who is attracted by the mention of "chemical warfare," she says, and it's not terribly uncommon for the group to kick out would-be medics. As a collective, Colorado Street Medics operates under a consensus-approved standard of practice, and tolerance is a big factor.

"There's always someone who comes in with camo pants tucked into their knee-high boots and is like, 'What do I do with the nerve gas?'" Williams laughs. "They're real. So many uninformed people want to join, and it's like, if you're part of We Are Change, you're not anti-racist. We're anti-racist and anti-supremacy, and we tell those people that we don't think this is the right space for them."

The members of Colorado Street Medics take their work seriously, and they defend it against anyone who might damage their reputation — which includes wannabe medics and infiltrators. When Williams notices someone with duct-tape crosses all over his outfit, she'll approach and ask about his past training. There aren't many trainers, and within a few links — Doc or Zoe or Grace or Pavlos or Petros or Iris — real street medics will find they share some connection.

Zoe Williams joined Colorado Street Medics as a preteen — and heads the group today.
Mark Manger
Zoe Williams joined Colorado Street Medics as a preteen — and heads the group today.
Occupy Denver inspired both Bobby Guerrero and Liz Kitchen to train as street medics.
Occupy Denver inspired both Bobby Guerrero and Liz Kitchen to train as street medics.

Although Williams has worked as an EMT tech and intends to study Chinese medicine, most of her fellow medics do not pursue medicine professionally. Connor McFarland, a nineteen-year-old peace and justice studies major, joined after working with medics at Midwest Rising, a protest in his home town of St. Louis; before he became a medic, he was a member of Occupy. The same goes for Liz Kitchen and Bobby Guerrero, both septum-pierced anarchists who became disillusioned with the local movement and "wanted to be more than an obnoxious body," Guerrero says. Mano Cockrum, a professional nanny, was afraid of needles and got sick at the sight of blood when she joined the collective in 2005 to work at the Transform Columbus Day Alliance protest. While the anti-Columbus rallies attracted varying degrees of police attention every year, Cockrum noticed that there were always minor health risks — activists cut themselves accidentally or forgot water or sunscreen — and she realized she could do more for the cause helping them.

Two months after she started medic training seven years ago, Cockrum was at a Tacos Junior at 2 a.m. when a bloody and confused man, badly beaten, ran into the restaurant and collapsed on top of Cockrum, the only diner prepared to catch him. While waiting for paramedics to arrive, she used what she could from her training manual. "I remember thinking that if this had happened a few months earlier, I would not have been prepared," Cockrum says. "Ever since, I always am." And ever since, she's had her medical kit at the ready: "Being a medic isn't just something you do at protests."

The members of Colorado Street Medics are not fashionable; they never have been. Reflecting Rosen's influence, they wear trucker hats and long sleeves and sunscreen. At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, when approximately fifty medics from across the country converged on Denver, the Coloradans could be easily identified by their practical but unimpressive duds.

"At the DNC, I was really jealous of all these medics in tank tops and jean skirts and booty shorts with their hair down and their makeup on," Williams says. "Maybe I can sew some medic pockets into a skirt and make this work."

During the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, though, her clothes made Williams's time in jail more comfortable. As police officers attempted to clear the streets of protesters, they used tall orange nets, one of which trapped an eighteen-year-old Williams, who was charged with parading without a permit and disobeying a lawful order. Those charges were later dropped, but they continue to earn her money: Every few months, Williams opens an envelope and finds a check from one of a handful of class-action lawsuits she joined after the RNC action.

When Colorado medics traveled to Dulac, Louisiana, after hurricanes Gustave and Ike, they found boxes of Mary Kate & Ashley hats donated to the town instead of medical supplies. They wore the hats and called themselves the Rubber Boots Medic Collective as they worked on pallets that frequently sank into the swamp mud.

But the medics don't take every request for help. When asked to travel outside of the state, they usually stay home unless the mission is long enough to make a significant dent. After the earthquake in Haiti, for example, they opted to send donations instead of attempt a visit.

"There's ethical tourism, and I believe that's just a way to make yourself feel better about your exotic vacation," Williams says, touching her index finger to her lips to make a point. This is a gesture she borrowed from Rosen. "I feel pretentious going to Egypt and saying, 'Here's how you rebel. This is how revolution works.' But it's really easy to say 'Oh, look at that stupid white person' when you're being stupid, too."

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29 comments
Noah Morris
Noah Morris

My name is noah. I am an emt-b, NA-1, and a street medic. I am also one of the street medics who acted as a first responder to Katrina and helped to start the Common Ground Health Clinic. What many people seem to be failing to keep in mind in their comments is that our health care system is broken. For profit modalities of health care provision prevent genuinely healthy communities. While we strive for a better world we must remember that it won't look like the bureaucratic nanny state we reside under. So while I respect my peers and colleagues who work in the mainstream health care system I know they are regularly disappointed by the actions hospital administrations forces us to make. Healing work is needed and always will be, but the need for america's healers to "heal thy self" is also a very present need.So I tip my hat to all the healers inside and out of the system, and to the haters may you never need our help because your the people who make me want to become a veterinarian.

Sweezy
Sweezy

Where were all the real EMT's when the police brutalized people at Occupy Denver? People aren't fools, we know what regularly happens in the back of your ambulances when police are trying to get testimony. Also, I don't remember hearing much about EMT's being present immediately after Katrina, at Wounded Knee, or Selma.

We need and love Street Medics precisely because they respond when all of you in the mainstream medical industry are too cowardly and comfortable to respond in times of urgent need, especially when the culprit of the physical harm is the government. The medical industry systemically shuts out large amounts of people and will always side with the status quo instead of progressive change. And that's why we love our Street Medics, because they have pierced a hole in the system that is trying to keep medicine out of our communities' hands by passing on essential skills and care.

All of you that are upset about how you have more credentials need to firmly check your self righteousness, or at least get off your iPhone Westword app long enough to care for your patients. The Street Medics have historically been there for the people, you have not.

It feels good to do the right thing and I hope that Zoe and the rest of the Street Medics feel good.

Sloanie
Sloanie

Yes, I too am an veteran RN( with advance life support credentials) and wasn't sure what to think of her when I first read the article. Having good samaritans around is great and helpful until EMS can get there. But as I got more into the article, I began to think that she takes herself too seriously. I know kids with first aid skills that could do the same job. I think she has basic EMT skills but really can't do much else and shouldn't present herself as this authority figure. What's with the stethoscope tattoo? That shows someone looking for attention as the "DR. in Charge". I know many of nurses, physicians, surgeons, EMTs and paramedics who would never have that tattoo. Instead, they have that so called "alpha-bet soup" of initials after their names.

Pitzle
Pitzle

I am a Denver native, and once was an avid reader of the Westword. Having worked with Ms. Williams at Denver Health, I was able to see first hand what person she portrayed herself to be. The unfortunate part of her personality is that she is not helping people out of pure selflessness, and is far from being the Mother Theresa she is compared to in the article. The fact that she attaches her skills to the medical profession is an absolute insult to anyone who works in Emergency Medicine. I had hoped that the day she was fired from DH was the last day I would hear of her. Indeed I was wrong, and saw her smug face in a picture in the Westword - by an journalist who clearly failed to do any background research on this fraud. I am a nurse by profession and had to work with her side by side, and had to politley listen to her obnoxious mouth. She is not related anything close to a Black Panther, and punk has been dead for over 30+ years. Her story's suck, and she is a blatant liar. Any movie or movieline that involves Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon as a source of inspiration is a sad reality. As I can't get my money back for seeing Dead Man Walking, I can't get my respect or time back from Zoe Williams.

Thaddeus Brown
Thaddeus Brown

I ran into this so-called medic at one of the Saturday Occupy marches. She was shouting at a women, saying that the sign she was carrying was "Jingoistic and Racist!" The sign read something like, "If you think Anarchy is so great, go to Somalia." The other side of the women's sign addressed the injustice of corporate personhood. I thought that the sign was making a good point about finding a healthy, realistic middle-ground upon which we might foster change. I knew right away that Zoe was an obnoxious idiot, trying way too hard to be revolutionary. When I saw that she was featured in this story and I read more about her, I was glad to see that my initial impression was correct, but disappointed to see that she was getting any attention since that seems to be the motivation for her actions.

caphilldweller
caphilldweller

A classic Munchausen/mythomaniac spouting out lies that are as extreme as they come. No she has not been to the Middle East as a ‘medic’, pre-med at any school or accepted to any med school. She cannot legally work as an EMT-B because she let her license expire on 2/24/12. She is definitely not a vegan (unless donning leather is not considered animal cruelty anymore). She does have enough medical knowledge to fake an asthma attack and get herself admitted to the ICU a number of times, even though she is not an asthmatic. She sure does like to brag about her protesting-related arrests and illegal activity, but conveniently leaves out her fabricated rape claim she made to cover up a night of drunken destruction at her sister’s home. A claim that ended up costing many tax dollars and man hours with her hospital visit and police report. Let us not forget the patient privacy/HIPAA violations she committed at her previous ER job. Westword is not to blame because clearly they were duped as well, unless, of course, it was her friend that works at Westword that was pushing this story to be published. Shame on that employee for feeding her appetite for attention and giving her a platform to further spread her lies. And most of all shame on Zoe for making a bad name for all of the real street medics and medical workers she is working so hard to overshadow. It saddens me that someone is out there taking the attention off the real heroes of our community.

J. Odhner
J. Odhner

I am an RN, and a street-medic with a Phoenix-based collective. I would like to offer some clarification about the use of the term “Medic” in this context, and about the role and purpose of Street medics. 1.As an ER nurse I recognize that, among EMS professionals, the term “Medic” is commonly understood as a shorthand for NREMT-P, and several commenters seem to be expressing concern that street medics such as Miss. Williams may be misrepresenting themselves as such by identifying as medics. I would like to point out that term the term “Medic” is commonly used in various settings to mean many things other than NREMT-P. In the activist community, the term “Street Medic” is widely understood to refer to activists who come to actions prepared to provide a volunteer first-aid presence. We are quick to clarify if we ever suspect that there may be confusion about what type of training we have, but for the most part, the term “Street Medic” is well understood in these communities.

2.Several commenters seem to be suggesting that since that street medics lack the resources of mainstream EMS, they should not be providing first aid services. This strikes me as a remarkable position to take, for several reasons. First, I think it should be fairly uncontroversial to suggest that lay people should be trained to provide first aid, and that both medical professionals and trained lay people should be prepared to offer first aid to anyone in need. Secondly, it should be noted that in times of protest mainstream EMS generally stages outside the area and will not approach until the scene has been cleared by law enforcement – which sometimes takes an hour or more. It seems rather pointless to criticize street medics for lacking the resources of mainstream EMS when they are working in settings where EMS won’t respond to calls.

I’ve never had the opportunity to work with Zoe personally. But I can say that she has a reputation in the street medic community as being a skilled organizer, an engaging trainer, and a clinically competent first aid provider.

Zamora Carl
Zamora Carl

what Kenneth said I cannot believe that a mother able to earn $7775 in four weeks on the computer. have you seen this web page makecash16.c om

Bill
Bill

a rogue band of good Samaritans?Sure, you convinced me.I also believe the Denver Post is an objective and trustworthy news source.

I also believe the collapse of the World Trade centers had nothing to do with the two planes crashing into them

andthe Communist who shot Officer Tippet in Dallas had nothing to do with the assassination of JFK carried out with his gun at the place where he worked.

ZoeTheMedic
ZoeTheMedic

Two words, Nut Job. The Star of Life has six points... Early Detection, Early Reporting, Early Response, On Scene Care, Care in Transit and Transfer to Definitive Care few of which she has or is able to provide to the lefty nut jobs protesting I'd say none but when you steal supplies from a hospital to treat a bunch of crazed, drugged morons I guess you can stop bleeding with a stolen 4x4. so I'll give her on scene care... Evidently, these people could benefit from a little OC and baton therapy. The Anarchist Black Cross group has formally been classified by law enforcement has a domestic terrorist organization. The Westwood needs to quit empathizing with these jack offs and get the fact's straight: She violated Federal Law and patient privacy while employed at the hospital, and stole numerous supplies from her former employer in order to render aid to a bunch of criminals, Mother Teressa should be rolling over in her grave. It's not altruistic it's selfish. On a side note: The protests have cost the country millions of dollars in police overtime and other associated costs, how does that benefit the American people? Gotta love the Left they don't use their brain!

Curlexblue8
Curlexblue8

I second Rn_4_life. I knew Zoe personally. I worked with her before she got fired for violating patient privacy while working...For those who do not know, EMT-Bs can not diagnose patients, nor can they provide life-saving medications or procedures that fully trained paramedics ("medics") can. It is an honorable profession and a great way to get into medicine but it does have a very limited scope of practice and the difference between EMT and MEDIC is vast. As well-intentioned as these so-called street medics are, they would do well to remember their place an be humble... Emergency medicine is a hard beast to train in; two days of training is hardly sufficient. Are these people even CPR/first aid certified? Those who misrepresent themselves as nationally registered, fully trained paramedics when they actually are no such thing are hanging targets for lawsuits on their very own backs. And shame on them for it. Back to Zoe, she is NOT a paramedic. She is NOT a nurse. It's an insult to all of us who underwent the drastic, life-changing training ourselves(and EARNED our titles, mind you) to recognize her as one of us. Shes a poser. A liar. Tattooing the star of life all over yourself does not a medic make.

RN_4_Life
RN_4_Life

Zoe Williams is a fraud. She got FIRED from being an Emergency Department Tech because she was taking pictures of patients and posting them on facebook which is a HUGE HIPPA VIOLATION. Shes not professional nor is she a "medic" or a "nurse" she is an EMT-B that is IF she didnt let it expire yet.

calhounp
calhounp

i'd like to publish some of these comments (or any others you might like to provide) in our print edition, ideally with your full name/home town. E-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

David
David

WOW, they won't cover an all white event, but they will go out of theirway to learn spanish so they can cover spanish speaking events.How cool is that???????????

Mable123
Mable123

hmmmm...these people, while good intentioned I'm sure, are not "medics," they are first-aid providers. What about giving some credit to the nationally recognized paramedics who work for the City of Denver 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing quality care to everyone meaning the entire 99% as well as the 1%?

Philo99
Philo99

If you don't let the pond scum suffer a little bit; then how are they going to learn their lesson.

Someday the flashbacks of pepper spray burning in their eyes may be the incentive they need to get off their backside and do something productive with their lives.

Forgotmyname
Forgotmyname

I love your article. Westword should really cover movers and shakers like Zoe and more of them surrounding Denver. This will definitely pay off, especially with the prominence of Westword and Village Voice Media. I think its about time Westword really dig deep into the community. MORE MORE MORE!!! Love it!

Jenn Pelly
Jenn Pelly

Way to rip this idea off entirely from The Boston Phoenix

Pamela
Pamela

The street medics are awesome! It was really interesting to find out more of their background information and history, having only known them through recent protests. Thanks Kelsey for highlighting the work of such a unique and important group. And Zoe, keep up all the good work!

Nurse Mel
Nurse Mel

This is another article related to Occupy that could use some fact checking. Some parts are completely untrue.

- steward -
- steward -

Just look what happens when you let 12-year olds go to poetry readings. :-)

Liberals_suck
Liberals_suck

Coward? No it's just nice to see some people get a little street justice. Give me a metal stick and rubber bullets any day and I'll take out the trash downtown for free.

John G. B
John G. B

It's foolish to let your impression of Zoe extend to all street medics. If you think she needs to know her place and be humble, fine, but don't assume that the ones you don't know do.

None of the street medics at the training I attended held themselves out as paramedics or nurses or EMT's--aside from the one or two in the room who actually were.

The training is very specific to circumstances prevalent at a demonstration, occupation, or long march. Interaction with police and handing an injured person off to EMT's is part of the training.

Because law enforcement officers are more and more treating protesters as people who pose violent threats to order on the streets instead of citizens exercising their First Amendment rights to dissent, more and more people are going to be in need of first aid in places where EMT's can't or won't go. I believe so much in the right of free speech and freedom of assembly that I want to support people who are doing it even if I don't agree with or even understand the ideology of a given protester.

Guest
Guest

What's that called again?? Bigotry??

calhounp
calhounp

It's not surprising that papers are running pieces on street medics, since the movement has seen a resurgence since Occupy Wall Street. But our story is about Colorado Street Medics, the oldest group in the country, and that's certainly not the focus of the Boston story, which I read for the first time this morning. (Both their reporter and Kelsey interviewed Ann Fischman, one of the first medics who's still very busy from her New Jersey base; she gave similar quotes to both writers.)

CCS
CCS

I mean, you could be more vague, I guess. Would you clarify like to a thing or two?

 
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