Here is the lowdown on pepper/capsicum spray for those who couldn't get to our direct action workshop. i handed out photocopies based on starhawk's action medics manual here: http://www.starhawk.org/activism/trainer-resources/teargas.html but i just want to say that while the information is excellent, the language is a liiiiiiiiiiiiittle bit hysterical, so here is my opening spiel, followed by a condensed version of how to deal.
THIS IS NOT A DEFINITIVE GUIDE.
i encourage you to read the entire manual, use your common sense & look out for your friends & anyone on their own. it looks like we will be running more direct action trainings in the future, but in the meantime please take this advice seriously.
nothing here is a miracle cure & i don't want to give people a false sense of security, but if you are calm & sensible & follow this advice, you can reduce your risk of being sprayed & recover a bit more quickly.
there is a lot of shock & awe associated with the use of tear gas and capsicum spray, as reflected in this literature. often it is used as much as a psychological weapon, to deter people from protesting, as a physical weapon to control crowds. we here at occupy melbourne have not experienced the use of tear gas yet.
we want you to be aware of ways you can look after yourself & others but not to freak out too much.
we also want to mention that the type of policing we have seen at occupy melbourne so far, while brutal & violent & completely unacceptable, is not significantly different or heavier than the violence & humiliation that poor people, especially homeless & Indigenous people experience at the hands of the state on a daily basis.
we aren't trying to imply that what activists experience at protests is not completely fucked up. no one should ever have to experience what happened in melbourne on friday the 21st of october.
we would however like to encourage you to learn from this experience & perhaps gain some empathy with poor people, especially homeless & Indigenous people & move towards a place of genuine solidarity.
1] capsicum spray causes extreme pain & irritation to your mucus membranes [nose, mouth & throat], eyes & skin. the molecules can get trapped between any oily layer on your skin such as makeup or oil based sunscreen & between your eyes & contact lenses. please use a water or alcohol based sunscreen.
how to deal:
2] being capsicum sprayed can be a terrifying experience & often causes panic attacks. TRY NOT TO PANIC. easy to say & sometimes very hard to do. panic makes you breathe faster & can make the symptoms worse. remember that you are not alone. remember that you are very strong. if you are sprayed you are in for a very painful time that can last from about 30 minutes to a couple of hours, but you can & will get through it.
3] prevention - if you think you are about to be capsicum sprayed you can leave the area. sun tzu said tactical retreat is NOT a defeat. obviously he said that in ancient chinese, but you feel me, occupy melbourne facebook group? there are options available to you other than remaining & taking a spraying. dispersing, regrouping & returning are all options. having said this, leaving the larger group on your own or with a few people can have it's own risks, so you will have to use your best judgement, based on the circumstances . people with asthma, heart conditions, eczema-like conditions [including bad sunburn], elderly people, children, pregnant & nursing women & people wearing contact lenses are at added risk from capsicum spray & should be encouraged to consider leaving & given assistance if needed. we must look out for our brothers & sisters who are more vulnerable than us.
4] reducing the risk - covering up as much as possible is important. try to minimise how much skin you leave exposed. a mask or bandanna covering your nose & mouth & googles or sunglasses covering your eyes are a good start.
5] a note on masking - masking up can offer some protection from capsicum spray. be aware that if you are masked, you will draw attention to yourself & unless lots of people are also masked, you may make yourself & those around you more vulnerable to snatch squad tactics. masked up protesters can also look intimidating & alienating to others in the group & there are people in the OM movement who may have a problem with you masking up. if, when & how you mask up is something you will have to use your own judgement & common sense on.
6] a note on goggles - if you wear goggles, make sure they are not tiny swim goggles. they should be big enough to sit on or above your bony eyebrow ridge & on or below your cheekbones. you do not want to cop a punch to the face wearing tiny goggles.
if you are sprayed in the eyes:
7] remember the pain is only temporary. blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough, spit & try not to swallow. try to remove contact lenses or get someone else with uncontaminated fingers to do it. BE VERY CAREFUL & GENTLE WHEN REMOVING CONTACT LENSES OR TOUCHING THE EYES. a pair of gloves can help, if you have time. DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES OR SKIN.
8] the LAW formula - wash a squeeze bottle such as a sports drink bottle with an action cap/nozzle in hot water & soap, RINSING VERY WELL & fill with 50% liquid antacid & 50% water. MYLANTA antacid [available in chemists, supermarkets & some convenience stores in a light blue bottle] is perfect. any liquid antacid with magnesium hydroxide or aluminium hydroxide as a base ingredient is fine. tilt the persons head to one side, encourage them to open one eye [they may not be willing or able to do this themselves so ask if you can assist them & BE GENTLE] & flush out the eye from the bridge of the nose to the edge, allowing the formula to flow down the cheek & onto the ground. repeat with the other eye. be aware that opening the eye will temporarily increase the pain, but the formula will quickly reduce the pain & assist in quicker recovery. LAW - LIQUID ANTACID & WATER.
9] if you don't have this formula, a mix of 50% water & 50% dairy milk can help, much as your mum probably told you to drink a glass of milk if you ate hot chilli. saline solution [contact lens fluid] can also help. water & lots of it is better than nothing.
ALL THESE FORMULAS CAN BE USED TO RINSE THE MOUTH OUT AS WELL.
if you are sprayed on the skin:
10] wipe the skin with gauze or a clean rag with canola or vegetable based oil. follow this with alcohol swabs or rubbing alcohol [available in the first aid section of chemists & some supermarkets.] AVOID THE EYES. again, if you don't have these things, water & lots of it is better than nothing. take a cold shower & wash the skin with soap as soon as practical. until then avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. discard contaminated clothing & do not wear it again until it has been well washed.
please try to share this knowledge as widely as possible & if you can afford it, bring extra LAW formula & alcohol swabs for those who can't afford it.
please look out for yourselves & for any vulnerable people, especially children, the elderly & disabled people who are also part of our movement, but are often forgotten.
i don't have time to answer specific questions about this, but be aware there is a lot of misinformation about capsicum spray circulating. the above information is accurate & helpful to the best of my knowledge & i want to share it with others, but everyone needs to be very careful & gentle with anything involving the eyes.
it is my hope that sharing this information will reduce fear & make it easier for us to stand our ground [while still reserving the right to temporary retreat & regrouping as circumstances require.]
WE ARE NOT MACHINES & THIS IS NOT AN ARMY.
we don't need heroics or unnecessary risks. when everyday people stand together for justice, in real solidarity, we can achieve amazing things.
2 more things crew. thing 1: some people say soaking your bandanna/mask in vinegar can help, but i can't vouch for that. i do know apple cider vinegar is less irritating than your fish n chips vinegar. thing 2: just throw contaminated contact lenses away, it's too dangerous to try & use them again & wait at least 24 hours/as long as you can before wearing new lenses again.