by Amanda Ong
Community Action for Liberation Medics (CALM) is a street medic collective that has been in our streets since the summer of 2020, following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent uprising. This October, CALM established a street medic hotline through which the community can contact them. The goal of the hotline is to support the extended community with medical and psychiatric decision-making.
Street medic work is part of a mutual aid model of consent-based care. It emphasizes the practices already in place that communities use to take care of each other, whether that is how immigrant communities, protesters, or drug users come together and care for one another. Street medicine, too, rises from the community.
“It means using the resources that you have available rather than ones that are housed in a hospital, and looking for solutions outside of state institutions,” said Sara Post, a member of CALM, in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “There are many legacies that fall within the umbrella of street medicking. Many people in the United States associate street medicking with a 20-hour training that was developed around the time of the WTO protests in 1999. Most of CALM has gone through the 20-hour training; however, all of us understand street medicine and community first aid as going beyond that model.”
Post is a nurse, but she has worked in street medicine for even longer and was a crisis counselor before that. To her, nursing has always been contextualized within street medicine and grassroots ways of understanding health outside of professionalized roles.
Each member of CALM works in a professionalized medical role. Most members are nurses or nurse practitioners, though some have other roles, such as a physical therapist, a mental health professional, and a naturopathic doctor. All members are also queer, giving them expertise in LGBTQIA health issues. In an interview with the Emerald, another member of CALM, Boi Casillas, added, “[Queerness] is a huge part of who we are and the community we want to serve. Offering information about safe sex, anal health, safe chest binding, is a part of what we hope the hotline can do.”
Within the collective, members’ greatest strengths are not only their medical knowledge but also their access to and understanding of the medical and psychiatric health care systems. For the average person, the medical system is so deeply convoluted that navigating it can be frightening at best and dangerous or harmful at worst. It’s commonplace to be afraid of or at least express discomfort in hospitals.
The members of CALM are professionals, but beyond that, they are a group of friends who have known each other for years. “We really formed as CALM last summer,” Post said. “We noticed that a lot of people were wanting to be on the streets doing care work … and we had some experience that we wanted to share with other people, on how to put into practice values such as autonomy, harm reduction, consent, and abolition.” The members are largely based in South Seattle and had come together in past years before the creation of CALM for a Reclaiming Health Series and the Beacon Hill Block Party. Now, they have come together for their newest project by making themselves available through their hotline.
CALM can offer some transparency in the panopticon of hospitals and medicine. “There are so many reasons why people choose not to seek hospital care. For example, if there is a warrant out for their arrest, or if they’re worried about being judged, or if they’re going to have to involuntarily detox,” Post said. “I know a fair bit about navigating the system at this point, and what the system can and can’t offer. I think there’s a lot of confusion about that from a lot of people. I don’t think we should abolish hospitals, but I feel like there are so many ways that we can make them more accessible and actually become a healing connection.”
Post hopes CALM can more readily offer medical help outside of the hospital structure to those who need it. Having a professional to talk to about medical issues, even when it’s not an emergency, can make all the difference. “My whole goal is for people to be able to come to us when they don’t know what to do, because they can’t access or are scared to go to their doctor or hospital,” Post said.
These kinds of situations happen frequently and can be incredibly frightening for average people without medical knowledge. Just the other day, someone reached out to Post for help for their friend, who was not English-speaking and had concerns about her son. The friend was hesitant to navigate the issues through a hospital or the medical system. But Post was able to help her navigate everything, from identifying her son’s primary care doctor, to understanding the diagnoses, to obtaining medications. While this might seem to many like it could easily be conveyed by a doctor or hospital, it can be extremely inaccessible for someone like the caller’s non-English-speaking friend.
“I think the hotline is most helpful for situations where people feel really frustrated at the kind of care they are or aren’t getting,” Post said. “[The hotline] can be an outlet to both be frustrated and have that be really validated, and then get some support on what to do next.”
Post mentions the mentors and leaders of street medicine who paved the way for CALM, with groups that were mostly Black-led, from the Black Panthers to the Young Lords. These groups formed at times in U.S. history when it simply wasn’t safe for People of Color to go to the hospital. For example, in 1969, a 15-day takeover of the department of psychiatry by predominantly Black and Puerto Rican nonprofessional staff at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx helped lead to the birth of the community mental health movement.
CALM’s hotline currently operates through a Google Voice number that can be texted or called. The collective responds to messages on Sundays, and has an auto-reply to direct anyone in need of immediate assistance to call 911 in a medical emergency or to try the 24-hour EvergreenHealth nurse line at 425-899-3000, which includes interpretation of dozens of languages. In any case, CALM members will be there every Sunday, sifting through each of their messages and finding the best resources and support they can provide.
“We’re all queer and/or trans, and I think it’s important, because despite the demographic of Seattle at large, medicine is still predominantly white, straight, and cis,” Post said. “We’re mostly People of Color. We are entirely grassroots and will never seek nonprofit status or other funding with strings attached. And you can call us anytime.”
CALM’s Street Medic Hotline phone number is 206-395-5334. When their community calls, they’re there.
To contact CALM for more information about the hotline, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured image courtesy of CALM.
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