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Colorado Street Medics: Memories of founder "Doc" Ron Rosen

In this week's feature, "Medic!," we followed the Colorado Street Medics, a group of self-trained medical assistants who provide first aid at protests. The collective, which will soon be memorialized in museum form, owes its legacy to one man: Ron Rosen. Called "Doc" even before he trained in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, Rosen was known for his bold, dramatic and occasionally brash focus on street medicine. Below, some of Rosen's peers talk about his legacy.

Rosen died of a brain hemorrhage in 2007, but his reputation and his teachings continue to live on through modern street-medic traditions. And not just within the Colorado Street Medics: Whether they loved him or hated him -- people usually chose one of these extremes -- medics across the country and world took trainings with Rosen. We tracked down some of them, in addition to some of Rosen's Colorado predecessors, and asked for stories about Doc's contributions.

Sophia Newman, 29, former medic for Chicago Action Medical: There were a few different sides to Doc. I went with Doc to the Sundance Prayer Festival in South Dakota in 2005 when I was 23. It was the last time I talked to Doc. I was one of his street medics. He flew around and did trainings all over the place, and he did a training in Chicago. From there, once I met him, we started working together on trainings and built a curriculum and did this sort of generational-lineage thing.

One of the things Doc did for me was spend a lot of time acting as a mentor. He was into these things like Chinese medicine and more of a formal academic mentorship, where you could get some kind of formal credit. I never did that, but he helped me develop a formal street-medic training protocol when I was 21. We'd go back and forth for hours and hours via e-mail. This is rare for Doc, but he actually let me call the shots. He was very domineering and didn't like to hear no, but he realized that I was a better teacher for the experience and celebrated that for me.

But eventually, I got to the point where I was like, "I can't have this person in my life anymore because he's too destructive." He had trauma and had a lot of issues, no question about it. I also have PTSD, or I did, and I'm a survivor of violence, so I understood. I don't think it's particularly rare, if you're talking to a bunch of activists, to turn up someone with trauma. He was kind of a trauma sponge at some point and didn't know any other way to live. It wasn't like he was effectively hiding it. I realized I was on the same road and thought, "Well, let me get off of it." I can sort of contribute my current health to that lesson from him.

Many of Doc Rosen's street medic relics are featured in the street medic museum.
Many of Doc Rosen's street medic relics are featured in the street medic museum.
Mark Manger

Scott Mechanic, 26, Chicago Action Medical: Doc led my first street medic training in Chicago in April 2003. I probably thought he was pretty intense, and then I spent time with him in Miami at the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) protests. I've spent time now with a lot of other trainers, many of whom were trained by Doc, and he brought this emotional intensity to his basic street-medic trainings that nobody else really does. He's been at all these actions like Wounded Knee, where people were actually getting shot, so when he trained he was just like, "I know what you're going to see out there in the streets, and it hurts me so much to give you this knowledge." That's really what he felt. He had been in all these really, really intense experiences as a medic that most of us don't see. During training, he cried multiple times when he was reliving past traumas.

He used to charm people with these magic tricks, too, and they were great. The truth is that street medics as some sort of organized meeting probably would have happened without Doc, but I think that we would have lost that continuity between what we do now and the professional medical community. We'd also have less of the stronger collective structure, and thinks would be more loose.

Page down to read more memories of "Doc" Ron Rosen.  

Glenn Morris, member of the leadership council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado: He was taken in as a relative in the Lakota nation and is a full member of AIM, and part of the reasoning for that was that he was a veteran at Wounded Knee. He risked his life on a daily basis for seventy days to protect the Lakotas and see their rights of dignity and pride acknowledged. In the indigenous nation, talk is cheap, but what's important is how you live your life. Doc was honored for his work there. Then he continued to risk his life in places like Guatemala. During the military regime in the 1990s, it was incredibly dangerous. When he'd come back from Guatemala and make presentations to the AIM chapter, it reinforced his contributions to social justice and to us.

Colorado AIM prides itself on doing what it says it's going to do and keeping its word, and that goes not only for our political strategies but also our security team to protect our kids and our elders and our sacred items. Our security is very disciplined and very serious. The street-medic relationship is very similar to that in that we're very clear what our goals are in the street. We have a lot of creativity and initiative, but we take very seriously the safety of the people who have answered our calls to come out and protest. Doc always understood that.

Carol Garlington, wife: I think he did it (street-medic work) because it made him happy. He told me one time that he was a real hedonist and that the thing that made him happiest was helping people. In terms of walking into situations that were extremely dangerous, he knew he had something to give, and it was like breathing to him. Doc tried to shield me from all of them. I never actually ran with him, but I prepped with him all the time and decompressed with him afterwards all the time. He would tell me what had happened and how he felt about it, and there was so much emotion there.

There were a lot of things that made Doc very upset -- anything that potentially put a person in danger. That started most when people were not considering the feelings of others. When he taught the courses, he was very clear about being extremely calm, kind and in control with the person who was hurt. If you showed anything else, that upset him.

He had a terrific sense of humor and a great ability to just give good energy. He was very good at making people feel safe and loved and strong. He worked out all the time. Every move he made was practiced, even opening and closing doors. He was very serious about it.

Jordan Garcia, Colorado Street Medic: He emphasizes with everyone that anyone can be a street medic. Just because you're a felon or diabetic or a diabetic felon doesn't mean you can't be a street medic. You comfort someone. You don't tell someone they're going to be all right, but you tell them you'll do the best that you can.

There's also this culture of asking, "Hey, what actions have you been to?" There's a lot of posturing. In Denver, we know there's a lot of different kinds of expertise, regardless of how many actions you've been in. Once you're experienced and you know what to do, you will do the right thing. Doc trusted you that way.

Cordley Coit: I was talking with Laura Goldin, and Doc Rosen was mentioned. She explained that Doc was in Guatemala doing free work with the indigenous people. A couple of months later we met up at the old Muddies in the Highlands. We spent a very pleasant evening catching up. Doc was off organizing the street medics program or headed up to Rosebud to treat the people there. A couple of years later, I suffered a catastrophic accident -- head and neck injuries. Doc gave me a simple diet and told me to check into Kay Starr's class. I noticed that Doc had recovered from being wounded at the Occupation at Wound Knee where a government sniper had shot him, so I took his advice. "Learn martial arts from a woman. They cannot afford to lose a fight." Being an action photographer, I had seen Doc and his teams bringing first aid at demonstrations. Doc was a master of a very difficult martial art (set). Done correctly one, it makes you close to invincible. Doc was interested in the spiritual side of human rights. I married one of his patients, and he advised us about the the kids, one of them following him into health care and natural healing and another becoming a medic in Portland. Being healthy is each of our responsibility. We are responsible for the actions of our government as it spreads disease and death. At our last meeting we laughed and joked knowing we might never see each other on this part of the journey. Thanks, Doc.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Colorado Street Medics: Meet Ann Hirschman, one of the earliest teachers of street skills."


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