Bostonia: The Alumni Magazine of Boston University

Fall 2010 Table of Contents

The first street medics analyzed samples of tear gas and found a way to safely remove the sub­ stance from human skin: mineral oil followed immediately by alcohol. The first street medics analyzed samples of tear gas and found a way to safely remove the sub­ stance from human skin: mineral oil followed immediately by alcohol. Photo by Bettmann/Corbis

Jeff Stein’s bad luck began when he arrived at the 2008 Republican National Conven­tion in St. Paul, Minn., to help set up a free medical clinic and join a heaving street demon-
stration—all in front of the local police station.

The location all but guaranteed that Stein and his colleagues, who had come from across the country to dispense first aid to anyone injured in the planned mass protests, would end up in jail.

And they did.

“We were aiming to disrupt and take an intersection,” says Stein (CAS’11), who in addition to performing his medical services sometimes joins a protest. “We knew there was a good chance we would get arrested. We were going to try to avoid it, but none of us were terribly surprised.”

Stein was held for three days, largely because he refused to give his name to police. “It’s a deliberate tactic,” he says. “It’s called jailhouse solidarity, and it means they couldn’t book us. And if they can’t book you, they can’t kick you out of jail. The point of that is to clog up their system. Then they said, ‘Give us your name or face contempt—30 days.’” Stein complied and was charged with misdemeanors, including disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. He was released on the evening of the third day.

Stein faces the possibility of arrest every time he heads out to a public demonstration to administer first aid. In his three years at BU, he has taken his makeshift medical kit to some half-dozen large demonstrations, from Seattle, Wash., to Pittsburgh, Pa. Stein is a street medic, a member of the latest generation of a loose network of activists who first tended to marchers injured in civil rights–era actions in the 1960s and now appear at political protests and natural disasters all over the world. Stein, for example, flew to Haiti in the aftermath of last winter’s deadly earthquake. Other street medics offered their services in New Orleans after the city was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Street Medics are equipped to care for a variety of injur­ies, including cuts, bruises, broken bones, and pepper spray. Street Medics are equipped to care for a variety of injur­ies, including cuts, bruises, broken bones, and pepper spray.

Street medics are prepared to treat a wide range of prob­lems, from blisters to gunshot wounds. Some are doctors, some are nurses, and some have no medical training save for a 20-hour basic first-aid course. Many street medics, like Stein, are also emergency medical technicians.

No one keeps an official tally, but Stein and others say the ranks of street medics peaked during the Vietnam War.

“There was a need for an alternative to hospitals,” recalls Tom Hayden, a founder of the 1960s student activist movement Students for a Democratic Society, who trained as a medic. “The police would go to hospitals looking for fugitives to arrest.”

Hayden, a former California state senator and current director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in California, says the first street medics were medical pro­fessionals or medical students who wanted to treat victims of police brutality. Emergency care was needed, he says, to treat abrasions, bruises, broken bones, and pepper spray irritation.

“I remember cleaning a head wound and applying a butterfly bandage to the head of a minister who was clubbed by the police seeking to arrest him,” Hayden says. “There were thousands of such cases. The need has continued ever since.”

Jeff Stein brings a medical kit packed with gauze, Band­Aids, latex gloves, and a selection of herbs to public demonstrations. Jeff Stein brings a medical kit packed with gauze, Band­Aids, latex gloves, and a selection of herbs to public demonstrations.

The Black Sheep of the Bunch

Street medics reappeared in relatively large numbers when protesters mobi­lized at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999, according to Stein. They have established collec­tives that train and work together in the United States and abroad—they were among the activists in the ill-fated flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last May—as well as at community health clinics, such as the Common Ground Health Clinic in New Orleans.

Stein, who started as a street medic in high school, has worked at demonstrations large (meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, D.C.) and small (a tree-sit in southern Indiana). Pale and wiry, with a shock of brown hair darting every which way, Stein has an activist’s intensity. And he speaks like a scholar, which he is. He is among 20 Martin Luther King, Jr., scholars at BU, an academically gifted group committed to social justice and community service who receive scholarships in honor of one of the University’s most illustrious alums, Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59). In high school, they earned GPAs of 3.8 and graduated in the top 5 percent of their classes. They have mentored at-risk youth, raised money for girls’ schools in Afghanistan, and created and led cultural, race relations, and advocacy groups.

“The black sheep of the bunch,” Stein says with a self-deprecating smile.

Katherine Kennedy, advisor to the King scholars, recalls that she suspected Stein was a little bit different when, as a freshman, he asked if he would lose his four-year full-tuition scholarship if he were arrested.

“It took me a little off guard,” says Kennedy, director of the Howard Thurman Center, BU’s multicultural center. “I thought a moment and said, ‘Well, Jeff, Martin Luther King was arrested, so I guess my direct answer is no. But I will also say that it would deeply depend on what you were arrested for.’”

Kennedy soon came to see Stein’s activism as “a well-thought-out, humanitarian” commitment. “He’s a very mature young man,” she says. “He knows the dangers, the risks. He is not reckless. But he’s determined to have these experiences and determined to have an experience that is uniquely his.” As she learned more about Stein, she says, “he didn’t seem like your average 21st-century young person. He reminded me of a young man from the days when I was in college, in the ’60s.”

Struck by the Simplicity of It

Stein grew up in Seattle, the son of a research technician and a Boeing project manager. He was an early reader, who showed signs of his future activism when, after reading a magazine article about animals raised for slaughter, he announced to his parents that he planned to become a vegetarian. He was eight.

As a teenager, Stein joined the Seattle Young People’s Project, whose members, ages 13 to 18, form a young but tenacious voice for social change. “Probably the most well-known thing they did, before I got involved, was forcing the Seattle school district to use Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States as a history text for all seniors,” he says. “We were also doing a lot of campaigning against standardized testing in Washington. I haven’t kept up with it, but it probably is still racist and biased against lower-income kids who don’t have the same cultural background as the kids in private schools.”

When George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, Stein was moved, he says, to look “beyond established political theo­ries and means for change.” Anarchist theory seemed to offer a sane alternative. “I remember just being struck by the simplicity of it,” he recalls, “and saying, why can’t we just take care of each other and practice mutual aid and take care of our communities ourselves?” He adopted what he considers a moderate stance. “I don’t think most anarchists would say they can live their lives free of capitalist society. For me, it’s about using the tools I have, and the tools I have access to, to fight. I’m lucky enough to have this scholarship, and I hope to use it to further my goals, even if it means getting a higher paying job and giving all that money back to projects I care about.”

Kennedy remembers asking Stein about his political leanings. Ultimately, she says, “he shows respect for Boston University, he shows the utmost respect for, and appre­ciation of, being a Martin Luther King scholar, and he shows me the utmost respect as the advisor and mentor to his program. That has endeared him to me immensely.”

Street Veteran Ann Hirschman remembers teaching others how to put pressure on a bleed­ing wound and stabilize the injured. Street Veteran Ann Hirschman remembers teaching others how to put pressure on a bleed­ing wound and stabilize the injured. Photo by Beth Perkins

In the Beginning

Ann Hirschman, a longtime street medic and nurse who treated people teargassed, fire-hosed, and clubbed in the civil rights marches of the 1960s, says the street medics she has known have all had one thing in common: a yearning to be active in the movement for social change.

“Street medics are activists,” says Hirschman. “As opposed to the early people in the Medical Committee for Human Rights, who certainly were on the side of the angels, but were very consciously professional medical people and therefore trying to maintain a more neutral stance. I will treat anybody who’s bleeding, whether they’re on my side or not. But the street medics were much more in your face—antiwar, civil rights—than the Medical Committee for Human Rights. We were considered radical nut jobs. I’m proud of that.”

Hirschman says she and her colleagues were also teachers, who trained other activist groups in basic first aid: put pressure on a bleeding wound, stabilize the injured so they can be moved. They analyzed samples of tear gas and figured out a way to safely remove the substance from human skin—MOFIBA (mineral oil followed immediately by alcohol). “Street medics,” she says, “are about being able to do it pretty much with whatever you’ve got with you.”

“I knew we were important when we started to be seen as dangerous by power structures,” says Hirschman, who has been teargassed, shot, and clubbed. “The first time would have been Chicago in 1968, when Mayor Richard Daley got on TV and said, ‘They must be planning violence; they brought their own medics.’ We had made an impact. Now, I don’t think anybody plans a demonstration without counting on the fact that there’s going to be street medics.”

When You’re Being Shot At

Soon after he arrived in Boston as a freshman in 2007, Stein grabbed his textbooks (“I had a test the next week,” he says) and jumped on a bus bound for Washington, D.C., and an IMF-World Bank protest. There, he loaded up his first-aid pack with gauze, Band-Aids, latex gloves, salves, and a selection of herbs.

The job of a street medic can be as simple as handing out bottles of water on a hot afternoon, or as Stein found that day in Washington, treating minor cuts and bruises. But when demonstrations turn violent, his biggest job may be helping pepper spray victims, flushing the chemical irritant out of eyes with saline or applying a mixture of Maalox and water to the skin to relieve the burning.

Since he arrived at BU, Jeff Stein has taken his first aid skills to protests from Seattle to Pittsburgh. Since he arrived at BU, Jeff Stein has taken his first aid skills to protests from Seattle to Pittsburgh.

The next summer, he headed to southern Indiana for a campaign against the construction of an interstate highway and later to the Republican National Convention. After his arrest, Stein chose to take a few months off from study. “I did not lose my scholarship,” he notes. He spent the semester working at a pizza shop in Allston. “It wasn’t so much missing the classes,” he says. “It was more just, like, getting out of jail and the shock and needing some time to comprehend the whole experience before I plunged back into college.”

The international relations major resumed classes in spring 2009, and he and other medics began training a new crop of street medics across the Northeast. The 20-hour sessions cover first aid, a brief history of the street medic movement, and, he says, “street tactics—how to run and do things when you’re being shot at.” Later that spring and summer, he traveled to Washington, D.C., for another IMF-World Bank action, to West Virginia for a campaign against mountaintop removal mining, and to Pittsburgh, Pa., for the 2009 G-20 summit of world leaders.

Last winter, Stein dropped everything once again to provide medical care to earthquake victims in Haiti. Two weeks after the temblor, he and another emergency medical technician, two wilderness EMTs, and a clinical herbalist boarded a flight bound for Port-au-Prince. They camped out by an orphanage near the airport, sleeping under tents and tarps. They woke at 5:30 a.m., packed up their medical supplies, and set out for areas that needed help. Stein says they treated patients with open fractures, infections, crush wounds, head injuries, and preexisting medical conditions. When they’d done what they could in one area, they would scout another location or requisition more supplies from aid groups like the World Health Organization.

Stein says his professors had no problem with his two-week absence, allowing him to make up the class work he’d missed. He says he enjoys similar support from his parents—to a point. “Some of the things I do make them uneasy for multiple reasons,” he says, “not the least of which is my safety.”

“He definitely adds some stress to our lives sometimes,” says his mother, Carrie, who works at a cancer research center in Seattle. “When he goes to a protest, with a lot of arrests and tear gas, it makes us nervous.”

But the family is close, she says, and Stein always lets them know where he’s going and what he’ll be doing. “It’s definitely a passion for him,” she says. “He has always cared about people who are less fortunate than he is.”

Their son’s work has inspired both parents to become more involved in issues they care about. His father, Dick, who works for Boeing, volunteered as a legal observer for the National Lawyers Guild at the 2008 Republican National Convention. “I was on the streets the whole week,” the senior Stein says. “We would joke about that afterwards, that Jeff’s dad saw more action than he did.” The experience was an eye-opener. “I got to meet his friends and people he associated with. I found they were pretty passionate, bright, and committed.”

This past spring, Stein opted not to attend the G-20 talks in Toronto. As an activist with a record, he says, he wasn’t confident he’d make it across the border. Instead, he took summer classes, then traveled to Chile to help a friend doing research on the effects of mining runoff on indigenous populations.

Come winter, he’ll likely be back on the streets, missing a few classes and risking arrest. “Every day you can open the paper and see some horrible injustice that’s being perpetrated by corporations or governments of First World countries,” says Stein, who has been thinking about nursing school since returning from Haiti. “And these kinds of things need to be fought, and they need to be actively resisted. Is my everyday life affected by the decisions of the G-20? Yes, but does it make my life horrible? Not in directly observable ways. But the people who are getting screwed over in Third World countries aren’t able to fight these people. We have the privilege of being in the places where they meet and of being able to fight them. If we can do that as an act of solidarity with people who can’t, then we need to do that.

“Where do I fit in? To resist these people, at the very least we need to be healthy, and at the very least, we need to know that if someone gets shot with something or has chemicals all over their bodies, we will be able to take care of them. We can fight harder when we’re taking care of ourselves.” ■

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On 22 March 2011 at 4:46 PM, Brian wrote:

As an experienced EMS professional (4 years in the back of an ambulance as an EMT-B/EMT-E/EMT-P and 2 years in a trauma center ER), I don't find myself "unjustly" lumped in with someone like Jeff - in fact, I find it an honor. Why? Because he obviously desires to help others despite the cost. How many professional EMTs would be willing to render aid in the middle of a roiling protest? Methinks that would fail our "scene safe" criteria by a mile! David and Taylor - So BU gave Jeff, a non-necktie-wearing political activist with a heart, some coverage and the underappreciated "pro's" didn't get any....who cares? The point is that people who need help are getting help. The job is NOT about glory - and being in it for glory will ALWAYS disappoint. Ben, just because he's not roaming the gutters and slums of the inner city doesn't mean he's not helping. If you really care that much about them, why don't YOU go? Jeff - keep it up! I'm glad someone recognizes that protesters are real people - whether I agree with their stances or not, they deserve to be treated with the same dignity due a fellow human being.

On 11 March 2011 at 1:58 PM, D.Leikam wrote:

I just wanted to say I'm inspired by your work and so are lots of my friends. So keep it up because there are lots of people (Libya, Japan) that could use your help right now.

On 22 November 2010 at 9:57 AM, sarah wrote:

John, what do you think the government saw MLK as? They didn't see him as a compassionate leader back in the 60s. When there is something to protest and fight for then it needs to be done. Sitting back and letting the government control your every move when what they're forcing is wrong, is stupid. You can sit back and let people mess up the world, doing unjust things and taking advantage of as well as abusing people in a different race or class as you, but some of us choose to do what is morally right. If Jeff gets arrested while doing a noble deed, then he isn't doing anything wrong. That is being a true leader and doing what is right.

And David, you sound jealous. The article doesn't say that Jeff is the most skilled person in the medical field. This article is about Jeff because he is a street medic and there is a need for street medics these days, especially this year with everything going on. Doctors do what their job description requires, Jeff is doing things to be a good person. He's not getting paid a doctors salary.

On 17 November 2010 at 1:13 AM, Joseph (CAS'10) wrote:

To John L.

1. "The article of Jeff Stein is funny!" You really have a bad sense of humor.

2. "How could BU support this guy and give him all this ink." What's wrong with BU supporting people that want to help others in times of pain? I sincerely hope BU isn't supporting people like you financially, especially with your views of looking down on people who help others.

3. "Would MLK support this?" I have a nagging feeling MLK would not put down Stein for helping people fight for their human rights. After all, didn't MLK fight for the human rights of his people?

4. "MLK was a compassionate leader not an Anarcist." I turn to David's previous comment "1. If you had bothered to read the article you would know I'm by no means an extremist liberal.". I really didn't notice anything in the article that suggested Stein promotes a stateless society.

5. "Way to go BU I'm sure kids across the country would love to be an MLK scholar now after reading this article." Maybe I'm not dying to be an MLK scholar, but I am curious as to the accomplishments of the other 19 MLK scholars. Have they fought for social justice on an equal magnitude? Perhaps you should also look into the details on MLK Jr. Scholarship winners. "Today the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship provides four-year, full-tuition awards for academically gifted students with proven leadership abilities, a strong commitment to social justice and a record of community involvement." Maybe I lack the intellectual ability to see things from your point of view, but I for one am genuinely interested in getting to know the kinds of people that won such a generous award. Reading about an example like Stein is enlightening.

6. "Seriously, this article is just DUMB..." I absolutely love the intellectual vibe you're giving off. Since you clearly look down on MLK Scholars maybe you should go ahead and prove yourself worthy of doing so. I wonder if you've won any scholarships more prestigeious than the MLK Scholars at BU?

7. I hope you never take care of my teeth.

On 16 November 2010 at 9:19 AM, John L (SDM/GSDM '00) wrote:

The article of Jeff Stein is funny! How could BU support this guy and give him all this ink . It just goes to show you the direction BU is going. Would MLK approve of this? MLK was a compassionate leader not an Anarcist. Way to go BU I'm sure kids across the country would love to be an MLK scholar now after reading this article. Seriously, this article is just DUMB...

On 7 November 2010 at 9:15 PM, HippieCowboy420 wrote:

He helps other Human Beings in NEED thats good enough for me.

On 6 November 2010 at 10:04 AM, Ben (CAS'12) wrote:

Jeff, Chill out buddy. There are always people who disagree. You're clearly passionate but now you just seem pompous. I think it's good that you're providing medical treatment to people but what about walking around the inner city? I'm sure there are plenty of people there who need treatment, rather than protestors. I think you may need to relax.

On 5 November 2010 at 12:08 PM, Jeff Stein (CAS'11) wrote:


1. If you had bothered to read the article you would know I'm by no means an extremist liberal.

2. If you had bothered to read the article you would know our level of care goes far beyond that of "hippies with band aids, and that dozens of those "trained EMTs" (as well as EMT-Ps, RNs, and MDs) are part of our crew.

3. If you had bothered to read the article you might begin to understand why treating a belligerent head injury patient in a cloud of tear gas is difficult and complex. But that might be asking a little much of you if your comment is any kind of an indicator.

4. Respectfully, shove it.

On 4 November 2010 at 3:34 AM, Shawn Malkind wrote:

David, who cares whether he's an EMT-B or an MD? I'm a higher level provider myself, but kid's providing medical aid to people who need it. What are you, an EMT snob or something?

On 4 November 2010 at 1:09 AM, Taylor wrote:

So true, David. Why don't they do more stories about college EMT's who sacrifice their fridays and saturdays to help fellow drunk college kids get up off the street and onto the gurneys so you can hold their hair back and roll them on their sides so they don't aspirate their vomit? You noble nurses of hos and CEOs night, you martyrs of mononucleosis. Keep up the important work. Hippies and band-aids be damned, you've got your trusty moderate conservatism and barf bags!

On 3 November 2010 at 10:50 PM, Fred Yudin (STH'12) wrote:

David, my man. Politics aside, you completely undermine your proclaimed loyalty to "real" EMTs with your deprecating comment regarding Stein as a Basic. Also, if you had read the whole article you would have learned that he volunteered his medical services in Haiti immediately following the earthquake in January. Now unfortunately, there isn't sufficient space here to go into the definitions of "difficult" and "complex" however I would guess that these words could adequately describe post-disaster health care.

On 3 November 2010 at 2:20 PM, David (CGS'13) wrote:

Words can't express how ridiculous this is. Aside from my problems with the extremist liberal movement, there are thousands of trained EMTs who do an incredibly difficult and complex job all over the United States. It is insulting to put us in the same category as ignorant hippies who apply band aids. Street medics... My bet is Jeff Stein is a Basic...

On 2 October 2010 at 6:38 PM, Melinda Cespedes (CAS'68) wrote:

People like this are the real angels in our lives and the life of our planet. I admire his clear thinking and action following from his commitment to social justice.

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