Malaysiakini Letter

My experience of Day One at Bersih 4

Dharm Navaratnam  |  Published:  |  Modified:

My friend was late. We had decided the previous night that we would leave at 12 noon and drive into PJ, park the car and then take the LRT into town. But my friend was late. At just past 1pm, he came round on his Vespa and said that we should just bike into town and see how far we could go in. Gamely, I got on to his Vespa. It has been more than 15 years since I rode any form of motorised two-wheeler.

We feared that the roads may be blocked, but it was a smooth ride into town and we got into Jalan Raja Laut within 15 minutes. We parked the Vespa just behind the iconic Coliseum Cafe.

Popping into Coliseum, we quickly recognised a few familiar faces and it was indeed heartwarming to see the place filled with yellow T-shirts. I was in white, simply because I didn’t have anything yellow to wear. The banning of the yellow T-shirts the night before was almost laughable and the sheer numbers of people wearing yellow just showed how frivolous that ban was.

I made my way down Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman toward Dataran Merdeka. There were people mingling everywhere, mostly in yellow, and I stood out like a sore thumb in my white T-shirt. As I reached Dataran, some speeches were already in progress although I couldn’t really hear what was being said. I inched my way through the crowd till I was able to hear what was being said.

This particular speaker was thanking the police for being supportive and then he urged the crowd in singing together with him to thank the police. Basically the lyrics were to effect of “Terima Kasih, Abang Polis!” Quite a nice touch, albeit a little corny.

I walked on. There was a tiered stand erected just opposite the old DBKL and facing toward Jalan Parlimen, that was probably going to be used for National Day. People were seated in these stands, giving them a view of the speeches and a comfortable place to sit.

Walking on further I came to the fringe of Dataran Merdeka that was barricaded off. The barricades seemed to be manned by observers and another 20 metres or so behind them was another barricade that was manned by the police.

So that was the ‘view’ from the Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman side. I made my way back to where the speeches were. Between speeches came the rallying call of “Hidup, Hidup! Hidup Rakyat!; Reformasi!; Bersih, Bersih! Hidup Bersih!”; There were also urgings for Najib Abdul Razak’s resignation. And of course the call to rise up - “Bangkit Bangkit, Bangkit Rakyat!”

The response from the crowd was more than enthusiastic, with people cheering loudly and the buzz of vuvuzelas filling the air. Clearly, the people are discontented with the current leadership and state of affairs. And they wanted to show it. Suddenly a loud cheer went up. Craning my neck I could only see the Johor flag being waved proudly and that seemed to elicit the wild cheering!

A few hundred metres away on Jalan TAR there was a truck with speakers attached. The speakers were both the electronic kind as well as the human kind. Again, the speakers spoke about the importance of us gathering together. The rights of the people to gather and express their discontent. The hopes for a better Malaysia. The rights of the rakyat. All very uplifting stuff.

One thing that came to my mind as I listened to all these speeches was that most of the speakers were youngsters. Perhaps in their 30s or younger. Sure, there were some more senior people, too, but the majority that I saw were youth. That can only be good for the country and I was very proud of them. Again, each speech was interspersed with those now famous rallying cries.

Carnival-like atmosphere

The atmosphere was like a carnival. People were coming and going. I was trying to find my neighbours who had been messaging me since 11am, asking where I was. Text messages were slow in transmitting and sadly we never did meet up. The road leading down Jalan Tun Perak was packed with people and you couldn’t see where the mass of people ended.

Shops were doing brisk business and many enterprising Malaysians were selling burgers, drinks, ice cream and other foodstuff. A&W was packed to the brim as was Coliseum. I am sure many other shops in the Masjid India area would have been packed as well.

I met some old friends and I made many new friends, some from as far up north as Penang. Everyone smiled at you. Everyone said hello. Everyone was your instant friend. Everyone said sorry if they bumped into you or stepped on your feet - which was really quite inevitable. In more crowded areas, especially closer to Dataran Merdeka, everyone was courteous and gave you room when you said, “Excuse me” and let you pass.

It was quintessentially Malaysians at their best!

Outside the Coliseum, a motorbike was parked with a very interesting number plate. Many, many people stopped to take pictures with this bike and I understand the photos of said bike have gone viral.

At about 5pm, some Bersih T-shirts started to go on sale and I didn’t hesitate to pick one up. I quickly changed my white shirt for the yellow and I no longer looked out of place! More and more speeches were going on and at 6pm, the organisers announced a break with the intent to reconvene at 9pm. People started to disperse and look for a place to eat, drink or simply to rest.

I took this opportunity to move back into Dataran Merdeka and get a closer look.

There were many people carrying placards. Some of the placards of note were ‘You can ban a T-shirt but you can’t ban an idea’; ‘Siapa takut bersih memang kotor’ (Those afraid to be clean are definitely dirty). There were many other placards protesting the Goods and Services Tax (GST); highlighting the economic hardships of the rakyat; questioning the source of the RM 2.6 billion ‘donation’; making fun of the RM2.6 billion ‘donation’; there was even a mock funeral supposedly depicting the death of our future.

Tourists were seen taking pictures with my fellow Malaysians. I personally helped take pictures for a few of them who were trying to take selfies.

Someone was standing on one of those red road barricades and waving a Malaysian flag. Another person climbed up to join him, while the cameraman in front suddenly called out to me to and asked if I minded joining in a photo to make it a ‘1Malaysia’ photo! I gamely clambered up on to the barricade and posed for a few photos.

Sadly the cameraman had disappeared once I got down from the barricade. If anyone has that photo, please send it to me!

We hung around till about 730pm before deciding to call it a night and made our way home to get news that we had just missed Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s presence at the rally! So that was my experience at Day One of Bersih 4. Many stayed on overnight and camped on the streets of KL and to these my fellow Malaysians, I salute you. The rally will continue on till midnight on Aug 30 to herald in Merdeka on Aug 31.

Uplifting experience

To see so many Malaysians standing up for what they believe in can only be described as uplifting. To read today’s news that the PM accuses those of us who were at the rally of not loving the country is absolutely absurd. It is BECAUSE we love the country that we took part in the rally. Do you call people suddenly breaking out into song those who do not love their country? Especially when that song that they broke out in was Negara Ku?

There also seems to be an obsession on the number of people that attended the rally. Let me tell you that is immaterial. The fact of the matter is that there is a substantial number of Malaysians that are dissatisfied and they are simply trying to voice their dissatisfaction to the powers-that-be. You can choose to listen or not.

Let me finish of my experience with Bersih 4 by taking a leaf out of the PM’s speech at an Umno function yesterday. He is reported to have reminded party members of the five ‘S’ - setia (loyalty), bersatu (united), semangat (spirit), santun (decorum) and servis (service).

In my opinion, yesterday’s rally showed all the ‘Five S’.

Setia - We showed loyalty. Impeccable loyalty. We are loyal to the country first and not to any political party or otherwise. We are Loyal to Agong and Country and we always will be. The government of the day is not the country. Please don’t be confused about that.

Bersatu - We are United. I say ARE and not Were as we have always been united. United as a people and United to the cause of improving our country. It is after all our country. Not yours, not mine. Ours!

Semangat - We showed great Spirit to convene as one people, to brave the heat and the threats and the bans . We showed we will not be cowed and that takes Spirit. Planning a 34-hour rally needs Spirit. Attending a rally needs spirit. That spirit was clearly evident yesterday. Semangat Rakyat!

Santun - Decorum was shown. We were polite, we were clean, we were tidy. We didn’t force anything on anyone. We were peaceful. We expressed our opinions in a safe and peaceful manner. What more Decorum do you want?

Service - in a strange way, this was about National Service or Service to the nation. You see, by standing together as one, we are trying to tell the powers-that-be that things need to change. We want a better Malaysia for ourselves, for our children and for our children’s children.

So to all the detractors that do not comprehend why the rakyat were at the rally, please understand this. Participation at the rally is really patriotism at its best and it is sad that you seem not to be able to see it. When so many people choose to gather together for 34 hours to voice their disatisfaction, it shows their love for the nation. It shows they want more for their country. Remember, it is oft said that Dissent is the greatest form of Patriotism.

Happy Merdeka Day or rather Happy National Day 2015 as apparently the Communications and Multimedia Ministry has confirmed that this year’s 58th Merdeka Day celebration is to be known only as ‘National Day 2015'. Regardless of what you call it, have a great one Malaysia.

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