Circulate widely... Surviving Deadly Heat at this Summer’s Political Demonstrations By Kirsten Anderberg ( Political protests in the middle of summer, such as the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC) protests this August in NYC, mix heat and adrenaline in what can be a deadly combination. Protests hold different demands than normal heat environments, including the need for protective clothing, such as long sleeves, pants, and shoes, when one would normally shed layers of clothing. And the need to avoid oil-based sunscreens that could trap pepper spray onto your skin. Then there are the usual problems to watch out for, such as dehydration, heat exhaustion/stroke, and sunburn. People forget that standing on hot pavement surrounded by lots of hot bodies for hours increases summer heat at protests. Likewise, many miles are often hiked on a protest route, yet few prepare for marches as they would for long summer hikes. Preparing for the heat with a protest environment in mind, will relieve the pressure on street medics who often get overwhelmed treating heat illnesses, and will give you more energy, and less discomfort, during protests in summer. When going to a protest where illegal police brutality may occur during the summer, you should wear a light long-sleeved shirt and long pants, even if it is hot out, as they are proven to protect skin from chemical weapons. For the underneath layer, wear loose-fitting clothing that covers exposed skin, maybe with elastic or buttons at wrist and ankle openings, and allows sweat to evaporate. Cotton is good, although if it gets soaked it doesn't allow as much evaporation. Specialized fabrics designed to wick sweat away from your skin are even better. It is also wise to wear an external layer of protective clothing made of synthetic water-repellent or non-absorbing material. Do not wear fleece, it soaks up chemicals like a sponge. Cotton and wool also act like wicks to chemicals. Rain coats (with hoods, even better) and windbreakers are good outer layers during chemical dousing by police. You do not have to wear the protective layers all the time but definitely having them while in danger areas is wise. Bring a change of clothing, also, so you do not have to walk around in pepper sprayed clothing afterward. Clothing will also help protect from sunburns, which will help with cooling, as sunburned skin does not cool one’s body down the same as normal skin. Also, sunburn does not begin to appear until 2 - 8 hours after exposure, and usually peaks 24 - 36 hours later, so do not wait for pink skin to alert you to take precautions. The issue of sunscreen as it pertains to protesting must be fine-tuned with police chemicals in mind. Water or alcohol based sunscreens are recommended by Black Cross ( and Boston Area Liberation Medics (BALM) ( They also warn not to use Vaseline, mineral oil or oil based sunscreens, makeup, or lotions on your skin before a protest as they can trap chemicals. Some even recommend washing all skin with a pure castile soap such as Dr. Bronner’s Baby soap, before a protest. In the past, people thought maybe putting on thick skin creams would form a protective barrier, but they do not work like that. They soak up the toxins and keep them on you instead. And remember that some medications and herbs (such as St. John’s Wort) make people more prone to sunburns than they normally would be, so take precautions. Shatterproof sunglasses or swimming goggles can help protect your eyes (contact lenses are not recommended at protests as they may trap chemicals under them in your eyes). A sun hat or sun umbrella could be useful, but also could just get in your way. Baseball hats can be invaluable to reduce strain on eyes in sunlight and to protect faces from sunburn. Police horses, police bikes, and police boots like to smash protesters’ toes. Wear closed toed shoes to protests, even when it is hot. But these are the external requirements for safer protesting. The internal preparation is equally important. Remember, in a normal year, approximately 175 Americans die from extreme heat. BALM’s website has a great section on heat and protests. They refer to the concept of drinking lots of water for days before a big protest, as “prehydration.” Up to 3 quarts of water per hour can be lost through sweat. So drinking lots of water for days prior to an action gives you a “fluid cushion,” according to BALM. Ways BALM recommends preventing heat injuries include prehydration, getting enough sleep, making sure to eat and drink regularly throughout the protest, staying out of the sun when possible, taking breaks and pacing the day out, and avoiding alcohol. They say that thirst is not a good thing to rely on regarding dehydration. By the time you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. You need to make sure to replace salt and electrolytes if you are sweating a lot also, and sports drinks such as Recharge can help with that. Put Recharge into a plastic jug at home before leaving. Once feeling dehydrated, take sips of liquid, not gulps, or else you may want to vomit. Heat emergencies (or hyperthermia) fall into three categories of increasing severity: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. If the problem isn't addressed, heat cramps (caused by loss of salt from heavy sweating) can lead to heat exhaustion (caused by dehydration and the body getting too warm), which can progress to heatstroke, which happens when the body can no longer cool itself down and is overwhelmed. Heatstroke, the most serious of the three, can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure, and even death. The symptoms for heat exhaustion are headache, fatigue, nausea, vomitting, and confusion. One street medic says, “These are the two things I always emphasize when I'm trying to warn people about heat-related illness: If someone seems to be intoxicated, confused, combative for no apparent reason, or just "out of it" and has been exposed to hot conditions and exertion, always suspect heatstroke…A dead giveaway is *hot* skin -- a patient with heat cramps or heat exhaustion will have warm (or even cool and clammy) skin and be sweating, but if the patient's skin that is HOT to the touch (sweaty or not), it's a priority 1 medical emergency and the patient has to be cooled immediately *and* transported to the ER immediately.” The usual protocol for street medics cooling a heatstroke patient is simply to remove clothing and apply cold packs -- or bags of ice, or wet towels, or spray with water bottle mist, whatever is available -- to the armpits, neck and groin. Elevating the feet is often encouraged also. Anyone with heat exhaustion should rest for at least 12 hours before further activity. Heat stroke can be deadly, and many symptoms of heat exhaustion can go unnoticed until they bowl a person over all at once, and the situation is suddenly critical. Or as one street medic I talked to put it, “The scary thing about heatstroke is: you can be treated in the field, rushed to the hospital, treated further, and released in good condition, and two weeks later, you die anyway because of irreversible damage to vital organs. ER care is not enough -- heatstroke survivors need appropriately skilled aftercare.” Prevention is the key here. A buddy system to help you stay in check in heat is not a bad idea. Prepare your heat strategy before protests, and follow heat safety rules during actions and demonstrations. Don’t let the heat keep you out of the streets.