amateur protester? here are some tips….

This weekend, world leaders and protesters alike will be visiting Chicago for the 2012 NATO Summit.There are a variety of groups joining in protest; National Nurses United, Queers Opposing NATO, Occupy Chicago, Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda and Iraq Veterans Against the War are just a few organizations that will be out in force this weekend.

I am excited to support the activist community. You may recall that I trained as a street medic in early spring, courtesy of Chicago Action Medical. This weekend, I will be providing first aid and wellness support at Grace Place, near the protest route. While I know how to splint a compound fracture with a charred American flag and a protest sign, I hope the worst injuries this weekend will be mild sunburns or blisters.

Are you coming out to support the protests? Or just hanging out downtown to watch the events? If you’re an amateur protester like me, here are some tips that I learned from my training and my own toolbox of knowledge (read: episodes of MacGyver) to help keep you safe:

10. Find a buddy.

Go with a buddy. If you plan on going by yourself, make friends with a buddy. Tell your buddy your allergies, chronic illnesses (diabetes, panic attacks, asthma, etc.) and emergency contact information. Show them where you keep your medication (inhalers, insulin, glucose tablets, etc.) should they need to assist you. Don’t lose your buddy. Going to the bathroom? Bring your buddy. Need water? Bring your buddy. Hungry? You get the idea. Watch out for each other; if you notice your diabetic buddy is feeling hungry and irritable, they may be hypoglycemic. Encourage them to eat and drink something.

Establish a meeting place before you join the protest, in the event you and your buddy get separated. It will be loud and disorienting, and you may not be able to reach your buddy by cell phone.

9. Wear sunscreen.


8. Watch for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The weather this weekend in Chicago will be unseasonably warm; Tom Skilling predicts the temperatures will be in the high 80s on Saturday and Sunday. So, bring a water bottle. You can fill it up to stay hydrated or soak a bandanna and wrap it around your neck to cool yourself. So, that means you should bring a bandanna, too. Don’t forget to eat. Pack granola bars. Keep some for yourself, and stop by Grace Place and give a few to me. Kind Bars are my favorite. I kid. Maybe.

Watch for signs of heat exhaustion. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, vomiting, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps and weakness. If you or your buddy is suffering from heat exhaustion, go to a cool place immediately. You may start feeling better, but you are still at a very high risk for heat stroke if you go back into the heat. It’s best to go home (or to a cool place, if your home doesn’t have AC) and fight another day.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can exacerbate the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition which requires immediate attention. Symptoms of heat stroke include: high body temperature, the absence of sweating, hot red or flushed dry skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing and/or seizures. Is your friend acting disoriented, agitated, confused or strange? Are they hallucinating? Are they no longer sweating? Get that person to a cool place. If the person is conscious, give them a caffeine-free electrolyte sports drink (or water, if that is all you have) and get medical attention immediately. I cannot emphasize this enough.

7. Glasses are sexy.

Wear glasses instead of contact lenses. If the police are using pepper spray or tear gas, whether you are in the fog of the spray or downwind from it, you will feel the sting. You will then need to remove your contacts so you, your buddy or a medic can flush your eyes with water. Because your contacts will be coated in the irritant, you will not be able to re-insert them.

If you are concerned about tear gas or pepper spray, wear long pants. The more you are covered, the better you will be. You may also want to buy a cheap poncho or bring a few large garbage bags to protect your clothes.


Lisa Loeb is ready to protest. And I bet that song’s in your head now.

6. Use duct tape for blisters.

Trust MacGyver on this one. I always seem to get a blister on my heel or right underneath my big toe. I apply Band-Aids, but they fall off as I sweat, further irritating the blister. Apply duct tape to hot spots before you start walking to prevent blisters. You can also apply duct tape after you get a blister to reduce friction.

And for chrissakes, wear comfortable closed toe shoes. Flip flops in a huge crowd? You’re just asking for a broken toe.


MacGyver uses duct tape for blisters and Aqua Net for his mullet.

5. Smoke doesn’t necessarily mean fire (or tear gas, for that matter).

Smoke may just mean smoke. Police may use smoke bombs to disperse a crowd. Don’t panic. Walk, don’t run. Stay calm.

4. Can you hear me now?

Get some earplugs. The Chicago Police Department has purchased sound cannons. And hopefully they won’t use them as weapons.

3. Don’t be a douchebag.

Yes, some cops suck. So do some lawyers and doctors and plumbers and nurses and baristas and [insert occupation here]. The cops are part of the 99% that so many are fighting for, and behind that riot gear, some may even support your efforts, even if they cannot do so publicly.

2. Know your limit.

If you are getting claustrophobic, hot, tired, douche-y or panicky, take a break. With your buddy, of course.

1. Street medics are here for you.

While we may not carry protest signs or chant with you, street medics are here in solidarity to support you and your protest efforts. Street medics will be wearing a red duct-taped cross on their chest and/or arms. Medics and other volunteer health professionals will be in the crowd and in first aid and wellness stations along the protest route.

Stay safe, everyone!


About erika

nurse, certified nurse-midwifery student, public health fan, math & science geek, single malt scotch aficionado, klutz, goofball, scribbler, funny face & lover of all things nerdy.
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6 Responses to amateur protester? here are some tips….

  1. no alcohol! what! but who could protest like that on an empty stomach? haha jk are you going downtown during the days to protest?

  2. Laura Kahl says:

    Loved this post, Erika! Wow. I thought the protests here in Madison were intense, but you guys are hardcore!

  3. Brandy says:

    Thanks Erika!!! You’re great! I’m totally new to protesting so your blog was awesome. Let’s hope I don’t get peppersprayed, though, eh?! I’ll be there tomorrow and maybe will try to find you! Can’t wait to hear your stories about all of the people you help!

    • erika says:

      Thanks Brandy! I won’t be there tomorrow because I will be at the Healthy Lung conference at O’Hare for Community. I’m super bummed. But have fun and be safe!

  4. Had I been a MacGyver fan, I’d know about the duct tape trick sooner than today! Thanks for that valuable tidbit of information…as you know, it’s highly unlikely I’d ever participate in a protest, but I do get blisters. :) I love it that your blog appeals to just about everyone, regardless of where they might find themselves this, or any other, weekend. :) I’m so proud of you for all you do, Erika! Keep up the good work…and keep writing! :) Love you, sister!

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