SALAM BERSIH: A survivor's tale on what to do, what to wear and what to bring
MUST READ For those going to Bersih 3.0, here is my advice from my past experience.
For this Saturday, there is only one additional item compared with 2011 and it is a just-in-case. Even so, it is better if you remember - bring EAR PLUGS! Anything so long as it can block out sound in case our devious and desperate Malaysian police force decide to use the Long Range Acoustic Device they bought recently on us!
Isn't it terrible that a government can even consider such a thing to let loose on its own people. But no big deal - so long as you bring some ear plugs.
Next, TEAR GAS! Don't be afraid of tear-gas but be prepared for it. Here is how...
1) Bring a small but thick towel (to cover your nose and mouth from tear-gas.)
You can also lift up the upper part of your T-shirt to cover your nose and mouth if you didn't bring a towel.
2) Wearlong pants and long sleeve shirt (to protect your body from tear-gas stings - covered part of your body cannot be affected by the stings, which are like a thousand-needles piercing you.)
3) Bring a small packet of fine salt (salt is an effective antidote against the stings, rub it against any exposed part of your body, like your face and neck. It takes away the stings immediately. The stings are harmless, but for first timer, it can be scary. Don't worry, it will pass after a while.)
4) Don't open your mouth (as the tear-gas can enter your mouth and cause you to cough badly),
5) Don't wait for the gas to reach you. (This one is most important--I repeat: DON'T WAIT FOR THE GAS TO REACH YOU.)
Why? I learn this the hard way. At Bersih 2, I was standing at least some 80 feet away from the nearest gas canisters, on a slope far enough away, video taping the scene. I thought it will take time for the gas to travel to reach me (few seconds, maybe), judging by the fumes it emits. But, wrong!
The gas is invisible and reaches you instantly (the smoke you see is not the gas). Therefore, once you see the tear-gas canisters being shot into the air, get your towel out immediately and cover your nose and mouth. Turn your face away from the gas canisters and walk away. No use running because you cannot out run the gas. It reaches you in less than a second after it bursts.
6) Wearjogging shoes, it is most comfortable and sensible.
7) Carry an umbrella if you cannot tahan the sun or rain.(Unless you are at the frontline, it is not necessary to carry a raincoat for protection from water cannons.)
8) Carry a bottle of water and your camera.
9) Don't bring your children (though it may be a good experience for the older children).
10) Stay away from the frontline and you should be OK.
(Let the frontliners clear the way for you. Stay at the back and walk in a group with your friends and family, and look out for each other.)
11) Lastly, go early. (At least 2 hours earlier. Don't wait till the last moment. You never know the traffic, the delays, the crowd, the road-blocks, the parking, etc. The last time, the action started at about noon though it was scheduled to start at 2 pm.)
Remember, Ambiga and many others were tear-gassed in a tunnel (enclosed space) and yet they were none the worst for it. The effect of tear-gas is only temporary and will pass very quickly in a few minutes. Majority of the protestors will not even experience the tear-gas as they will be too far away and out of reach. Only the frontliners and photographers, like me, get it.
This time, I think Bersih 3 will not be as bad as Bersih 2. In Bersih 2, people were not even allowed to wear yellow, they were questioned and arrested on the street in the early morning, KL was completely locked down (aah, you missed out on this experience of what a lock-down is really like, this in itself is an experience).
There was also a crackdown by the police, there were threats from Perkasa and Umno Youth, a court order forbidding a bunch of leaders from entering KL, news of planted parangs at SOGO and Pertama Complex (probably planted by you know who to scare away protestors), pre-arrests and raids on premises, and so on. This time there is none of those. Hishamuddin even said "Bersih is not a security threat". What a change from last time.
I enjoyed the experience of Bersih 2 very much even though I was tear-gassed. The whole experience was enriching. I can now understand better what it is like to be tear-gassed, as well as how a crowd behaves, the atmosphere of being in a crowd, the stresses, the psychology, the suffering, the bravery, etc. Being there is a thousand times better than watching it on TV, where you feel nothing except your own imagination.
Finally, there is the Unit Amal (PAS Security Unity) to protect participants. They are highly disciplined, well mannered and trained volunteers. I was impressed by them.
They were there to ensure a peaceful assembly and so were the frontliners, to protect the protestors from the police as well as to protect the police from the protestors.
If you want to burn a flag, they will stop you. If you want to throw a stone, they will stop you. If thugs want to attack you, they will stop them. They are the peacekeepers, there to ensure peace.
It's great to have them around. They may be in uniform or they may not. In Bersih 1.0, they were in red. In Bersih 2.0, they were not because of the police crackdown, but they were there in the crowd nonetheless. Look carefully and you may spot them.