“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” (V for Vendetta)
I am not a blogger. Saying goes: A picture is worth a thousand words; I beg to differ. I believe that the best photo is always complimented by words that truly give life to it. But what do I know? I am not a blogger.
I missed Bersih 2.0 last year due to some reasons. Today, I made it a point and tagged along with my cousins, my brother and his friends. Of course, last year’s stories gave us more than enough reasons to prepare our inventories. My brother advised me to bring salt to counter teargas effect and headphones/earplugs because rumors went round that the government set up some sound-wave device around Dataran Merdeka. I prepared two bottles; one for drinking, one for washing, and face masks. With that, I headed into the battlefield of Bersih 3.0 on a humid Saturday morning.
Being a first-timer, I did not really know what to expect. To be honest, my main concern was not the crowd or how violent things will turn out but rather the teargas effect. Yes, I sound like a wimp but what do I care? I am not a trained militant. Moving on, I took the LRT from Taman Bahagia to Pasar Seni. The train was already packed halfway through; albeit with a not-so-yellow crowd. Perhaps, lesson learned – some who wore yellow were actually stopped at stations last year. So, most actually brought their Bersih shirt along to change upon reaching.
Of course, our first goal was to look for brunch before we started doing whatever we were meant to do at the rally. Lai Foong was more packed than a can of sardines so we ended up tapau-ing chicken rice and makan-ed by the roadside. The crowd was slowly growing in number; patches of yellow were seen all over the streets. As I was eating, POS Malaysia decided to send their boys on a parade down the street (or tasked to spy if you happen to be a cynic). A group of motorcyclists in red and blue uniform tore down the road with the crowd cheering and waving. Most of them looked happy; one cheeky motorcyclist even showed us his yellow watch. Nobody understood the significance of the whole POS Malaysia thing but what do I care? Even civil servants reserve the rights to stand up for whatever they believe in.
By now, the crowd has grown into a full-blown, massive assembly. The streets were flooded with yellow and green men. And some other colors, mind you. Cheers, chants, honks, songs broke out from all directions; it was hysteria. As I strolled along the streets, a small boy caught my attention. He was sitting on the shoulders of an adult, shouting, “Bersih, Bersih! Hidup, Bersih!” to the delight of the crowd. Of course, he may not have understood the full significance of his cry or the rally but his age, his presence, and his patriotism took my breath away just like how Auntie Bersih took all of ours away last year. Young and old, both were present at the rally. After all, age is just a number.
Jalan Sultan was our first destination because apparently, some DAP big shots were going to pass by. Along the way, banners were seen everywhere with Bersih messages. Basically, everybody wants free and fair elections. Else, why even bother having them? The delusion of democracy has overstretched its limits – the Rakyat has awaken and we want our fair share (if not all) of decision making in this country. No more phantom voters. No more bureaucracy. No more gerrymandering. No more corruption.
From an economics perspective, the smartest people today were definitely those who made the most profit out of Bersih. Not surprisingly, every shop that was located strategically (some even not so strategically) were painted yellow inside-out. Of course, the second smartest group of people was the “recyclers” (as I call them). These people collected whatever bottles/tins/cans that literally filled the streets for recycling and God knows how much they actually made out of them. This indirectly helped clean the streets and therefore, epitomizing the very English idiom that we are all too familiar with – killing two birds with one stone. Talking about smart people, there was also this group of very-determined-and-patriotic people. Despite their limited physical abilities, they too, were present to make their voice heard. Perhaps, this group of people leaves us to wonder why some born physically perfect would rather spend the day watching “The Avengers” instead. I’m just sayin’.
Now, I wrote earlier about civil servants and their rights to remonstrate. But what about the police? Police are civil servants too. Yes, I may not be unbiased when it comes to the police force, but today, I believe that they were just doing what they had to do (in a certain way, or subject to those I met). As we tried to converge with a larger crowd on the other side of the road, we were barricaded by a human chain formed by the police. The purpose was unknown and the strategy was definitely not a very smart one. You see, we managed to bypass the human chain using an alley on their left. Right in front of their eyes. Oh, did I mention that they have helicopters overhead as well which means they have a bird’s-eye view of the whole area? Perhaps, the police need a little more training in roadblocks. But I digressed. My main point is, even the policemen looked happy. The lot were smiling and many a Bersih people actually took photos with them which included Jarno Trulli (yours truly in F1 language), me. They were, in a way, enjoying the whole atmosphere but I do wonder how many wanted to openly declare their support for Bersih but could not due to job restrictions. Not a very democratic Malaysia now, eh?
After the photo session with the men in blue, we bypassed them and arrived at the bridge leading towards Dataran Merdeka. I took a photo of this group with Guy Fawkes’ masks and playing the kompang or some sort. The mask was an illustrated voice to all that Malaysia is OUR country. Again, the bridge was barricaded not just by the police, but with additional contraption – barb wires. In the midst of all this tension, the Bersih crowd actually found a lighter side to things. I’ll let the photos below do the talking. This was definitely one witty, humorous lot.
After hanging around the area for a bit, we decided to move to Masjid Jamek which was just beside the bridge. The crowd was massive there with half already started their duduk bantah. Chants of “Hidup Bersih”, “Hidup Rakyat”, “Hancur SPR”, “Hancur Kezaliman”, and even the Bersih version of Olé, Olé, Olé were heard all around. Police trucks that passed through the crowd were booed and given the real life version of a YouTube thumbs down. There was yellow, there was green, and then, there were Angry Birds. And pigs. Perhaps, it was meant to show how angry the Rakyat is. And how stupid the EC is. One of the only big guns that I managed to photograph was Karpal Singh (saw Ambiga and Nurul Izzah as well). He was mobbed by the crowd and flocked by his bodyguards so I suppose you can forgive me for the quality of the photo below.
Ambiga gave a speech to the crowd, telling them that today was already considered a success before following through with a barrage of motivational talk. Ambiga’s group then proceeded to move to the front of the crowd where another barricade was. We decided to follow after observing for awhile before we saw teargas fired from afar. The crowd was pushed back, people started booing the helicopters, everyone told everyone to move back, someone told everyone to calm down. My Converse wasn’t being very kind today so I willingly agreed it was time to go home. On the way to Pasar Seni station, we suddenly saw people running towards our direction followed by thick smoke behind them. We started to move faster but the teargas eventually caught up with us. If you ask me how it felt, it felt like peeling onion while eating wasabi. Mydin worker pulled its shutters down as soon as he saw the crowd running, looking for cover. Thank God KFC was a little retarded; we managed to hide in air-condition and internet connection for a good couple of minutes. Well, the day didn’t end very smoothly as LRT stations were closed for security reasons and flagging down a taxi was practically impossible. We did manage to get one in the end for RM40; which was a good deal if you asked my legs. And so, my story ends with a photo evidence: I was there.
You see, what I took away from Bersih 3.0 is this. Yes, everyone reserves the rights to stand up for what they believe in but not everyone can exercise those rights. But for those who can and yet willingly choose to remain ignorant, apolitical, they are the parasites of this country; feeding on her resources without any contribution. They are the armchair critics, Monday morning quarterbacks, who talk about change but do not realize that change begins with people. No, I do not believe that you have the rights to sit home and enjoy your movie while we fight for our country. I believe that you, too, need to take a stand; not sit on the fence. And until that happens, we are not a people. But what do I know?