Eyes still smarting from the tear gas, legs aching from all that walking, the first thing that greeted me when I reached home was my four-year-old daughter launching herself into my arms. Immediately, all the anxiety and stress left me, as cuddles and kisses abounded.
She asked, “Mama, did you go for the march?”
Surprised, as I had only told her I had gone out to do something important, I answered, “Yes.” Perhaps she had overhead the adults talking.
I showed her the pictures and video clips on my phone, and when I was looking at the news online, she scrolled through the pictures that the websites had posted.
“These are pictures from the march!” she called out excitedly to her two-year-old brother. He came hurtling next to us and repeated, “March!” Then true to his food-loving form, said, “That’s a burger!” pointing to the fast food ad banner on Malaysiakini.
“See all these people in yellow? They’re the good people”, I explained. “They’re fighting for change in Malaysia, so that we can have a better future.”
“Who are these?” she asked, pointing to an ominous picture of the FRU in a line, shields up, batons at-the-ready.
I sighed. How to explain to a four-year old that the police, supposedly there to protect the rakyat, were in this case, doing the exact opposite?
By the end of that historic day, July 9, Malaysians were left with no illusions about the police brutality that had occurred, as more and more reports, eyewitness accounts, photos and videos flooded the blogosphere. More than 1,600 were arrested just for expressing their rights peacefully.
Yet, despite the threats, despite the intimidation, despite the fear, despite the roadblocks thrown up, thousands evaded the lockdown, braved the heavy police presence and emerged victorious on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
Six thousand, you said? Dear Mr IGP, were you there? I turned the corner of Jalan Sultan into Jalan Pudu and was greeted by a sea of humanity.
The whole road was awash with Malaysians from all walks of life, of every creed and colour, young and old (I saw a brave lady with a walking stick; my sister saw one in a wheelchair. A friend’s 80-year old father was at the rally, together with his 80-year old friend).
Turning to the left, a huge crowd, thousands strong, was making its way down the road to join us. Now, I may not be able to do a ‘head count’ as the police were seemingly able to (how does one count a teeming, moving mass?) and I won’t claim to be able to put a figure on the numbers on the street, but I was there at the million-strong march in London in 2003, protesting against the Iraq war, and I think I can tell when numbers are big.
(By the way our police could learn a thing or two from their counterparts in the UK. That march was incredibly well organised, with routes mapped out way in advance, police and marshals all along the route, to help guide and cheer us on.
There, the police were not something to be feared, but people to turn to for help and who actually worked with the organisers. The result: one million took to the streets to protest an unjust war, and there were no incidents of violence).
“Why did you go for the march?” my daughter asked.
This was hard to explain. I wagered a tentative reply: “Sometimes, there are things that people are unhappy about, that we want changed in our country. So it is our right to assemble peacefully to make our voices heard. I wanted to be there”.
Astutely, for a four-year old, she rejoined, “Because you are good”. Of course, mothers are heroines in their little girls’ eyes, but I am just an ordinary Malaysian who was at Bersih 2.0 because it was something I believe in, because I want to see change for the better in our country.
Because I was angered by the heavy-handedness of the authorities, of their unwillingness to compromise, of their ridiculous posturing – I mean, really, yellow T-shirts are illegal?
Because the antics of Perkasa and Umno Youth were enough to make anyone throw their hands up in despair and weep for the folly of our country, for in what other place could there be demonstrations against demonstrations, and threats of war waged against a call for clean and fair elections?
Because of the injustices wielded on Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), individuals whose integrity, humanity and compassion know no bounds. Oh, if only those in power could be half the (wo)men that the PSM folks are!
The list goes on. Electoral reform, yes, of course. But the clear need for such reform is symptomatic of the deeper, systemic change that Malaysia needs.
I believe I was one of thousands at Bersih 2.0 who were there to express the longing for such change.
Malaysians, we can be proud of ourselves for what was achieved on Saturday. We need to seize the moment, press on, and continue the fight. The journey for some started years ago; for others, July 9 sparks the beginning.
Together we can build a better Malaysia, for ourselves and for our children. Because if my four-year-old can perceive that there is good in the cause, then surely we all can.