This post is a documentation of what I saw and did on 9th of July, 2011.
I dare not label myself as an activist, but one who is concern about the country and where we are heading in general. Just like most Malaysians of the internet generation, I get my news not only from the established traditional media but also via more independent news sources such as TheMalysianInsider, MalaysiaKini, blogs, and even twitter.
When news of Bersih 2.0 starting to creep into my online peripheral vision a couple months back, I decided to take a closer look into the matter. I read bersih.org, and later started following @bersih2 twitter account.
Bersih is about these 8 things and 8 things only:
- Clean the electoral roll
- Reform postal ballot
- Use of indelible ink
- Minimum 21 days campaign period
- Free and fair access to media
- Strengthen public institutions
- Stop corruption
- Stop dirty politics
I initially did not plan to join the rally, but as the day grew closer, my interest grew stronger. The government’s refusal to honor their words to Bersih and the ever stronger intimidation tactic was just too much. This isn’t democracy, but they kept telling us that we are.
At this point I decided to do something, and donated $10 to Bersih’s paypal account.
Friday was a friend’s birthday, and I wished her over MSN and asked her what’s her plan for the day. She told me – “Have dinner, and get ready for Bersih tomorrow”.
She’s a lawyer, and instead of having a party, she was preparing to volunteer at Bersih, that was when I thought maybe I too should not be just an armchair activist.
Saturday morning, Suan called and asked if I could accompany her to take the LRT down and just take a look at what is happening. We were to stay close to a journalist friend, be safe, and observe. That was the initial plan anyway.
So we took the train to Pasar Seni, knowing that Masjid Jamek station is closed (despite RapidKL initially stated that train services will not be interrupted). There were heavy presence of police in the city as we walked towards Masjid Jamek.
have you seen masjid jamek this empty before?
Suan, myself, the journalist friend and two other journalists then walked to Bukit Bintang trying to check out the “Patriot” counter rally by Pemuda that was supposedly starting from there. The streets were empty in KL, it was like the scene in Inception, all the buildings were there, a few bewildered tourists and some locals pretending to go about their daily lives.
We waited at Bukit Bintang till 1:15 pm. Pemuda had promised to show up at 1 pm, and they were late. Time for plan B then.
Then suddenly someone said something and the whole group of mostly press members started running down Jalan Bulan, we followed.
the crowd walking towards Jalan Bukit Bintang
Out of nowhere there was a huge group of people marching down the road chanting BERSIH, BERSIH and HIDUP RAKYAT. It was a sight to be seen, an atmosphere not unlike a seeing your favorite sports team being introduced into the stadium.
We followed them all the way down to Jalan Pudu, the group kept growing, even before reaching Jalan Pudu it had swell to at least several thousand people.
The marshals were doing a very good job directing human traffic to the left side of Jalan Pudu. Very few were wearing yellow, but there were those with yellow flowers, balloons. The chants grew stronger – BERSIH BERSIH, HIDUP RAKYAT, HIDUP RAJA, PEACE PEACE.
It was then I made the decision to join the rally. Seeing all these Malaysians from all walks of lives, with different skin colors, age, and sexes risking their comfortable lives in a demonstration to make this country a better place for everyone, it would be impossible not to feel inspired.
We marched towards the old Pudu roundabout, trying to get to Stadium Merdeka I assumed, but of course the road was blocked by FRU and their trucks. The crowd kept on chanting and at this point we were tens of thousands strong.
water cannon was used
Then without a sign of warning, came the water cannon. Instead of turning violent, the crowd started booing, just like you would against the sports team you don’t like. We understood that the cops have a job to do. Nobody throw water bottles or towels to the truck, the only “weapon” most of us were armed with.
Most of us stood ground, sang Negaraku, chanted BERSIH BERSIH, and boo the FRU more.
Then came the tear gas, and at this point Suan and I had already lost the journalist friend. (tear gas isn’t actually gas but fine acid mist)
Man did the tear gas stunk! Eyes hurt quite badly I can’t keep them open properly, had difficulties in breathing, and my throat were burning too.
We ran towards the side of Puduraya to Plaza Rakyat LRT station. It was a dead end. People were offering salt to counter the effects of tear gas, sharing water to sooth the throats and eyes even though they barely have enough for themselves. The fire hose at Puduraya was used too help people wash their eyes too.
After a while, we decided to find the journalist friend, went down Puduraya terminal’s basement and emerged back up at Jalan Pudu where the bus entrance ramp. At this time the crowd were split, we were with the group in front of Tung Shin hospital, being flanked by the FRU from both sides of Jalan Pudu.
It was a back and forth event, when there were tear gas and water cannon we would retreat. At one point FRU at both sides started shooting canisters of tear gas towards us, and the crowd got a bit panicked and started to rush up a small stairway next to Tung Shin hospital.
People were yelling TENANG TENANG and RELAX RELAX and for the most part it was still orderly tho of course with a great sense of urgency.
Then it started raining, first drizzling and after a while it got heavy. The rain provided a great relief for us, helping to wash off chemicals for those who were sprayed by FRU, and also eased the irritation from tear gas quite a bit.
A Malay chap told us god had listened to their prayers, it happened too during Bersih 1.0. We smiled back.
We came down to Jalan Pudu again when it had seems to be calm again. The rally must go on, and people were not going to step down even though FRU still blocked the road.
taking refuge at Tung Shin hospital’s compound
Then came more tear gas and water cannon, except this time the FRU truck came quite a lot closer. We had no choice but to take refuge in Tung Shin hospital compound. FRU sprayed chemical laced water directly into Tung Shin hospital compound and onto the car park. I was shocked.
We were us stuck at the hospital, a group of FRU standing guard at the main gate, and a few of them even started beating their shields with baton as if it’s their war cry.
Everyone ignored them, whenever anyone started walking down the road someone would yell “CALM DOWN CALM DOWN”. The crowd was determined to behave and keep the rally a peaceful one.
After some time, from Twitter and words of mouth it was communicated that a peaceful dispersal has been negotiated (later found out that it was by PR’s R.Sivarasa). The group of FRU at the hospital gate retreated, and so the crowd slowly worked our way back down to Jalan Pudu again.
FRU trucks however, were still blocking both ends of the roads, we had nowhere to go, so everyone started sitting down. Then all of a sudden, the negotiator was arrested and FRU started using their water cannons and tear gas on us again.
They said police used “reasonable force” and was “provoked”, how did a crowd of people sitting on the road seen as provoking the police? Unless singing Negaraku was seen as act of provocation…
We then ran up towards the hospital bersalin, scaled the wall over to Nan Kai school to escape. Everybody was helping each other and no one was left behind. If anyone tells me different races can’t coexist with each other peacefully, they should have been there.
We then walked out and got to Ceylon hill. It was 4 pm then and as agreed, the end of the rally. Bersih 2.0 had proven its point.
We walked down Changkat Bukit Bintang, had a bit of food and chatted up with a few fellow demonstrators who were there at the restaurant, a girl had her knees gashed from falling down, but mostly we felt good and felt hopeful for the country.
After that Suan and I walked to KLCC to find out that the LRT was closed. Took us quite a while before we could find a taxi willing to go to PJ (shared with 2 random Malay chaps).
We were wet and tired, but we felt good.
It took the worst of Malaysian government to bring out the best of Malaysians. If last Saturday was any indication, it showed that the country indeed has a bright future and we can definitely coexist together beyond racial/religion lines.
It was a good day being Malaysian.