I was still, at 11am, rushing to an appointment at Summit Subang USJ, excitingly wanting to join the Bersih 2.0 rally after that. However, I was stuck in a massive police induced bottleneck that reduced 5 lanes to 1 including the new highway towards Persiaran Kewajipan, causing a drive that usually needed 10 minutes becoming an hour (and there were not much private transportations on the street). Busses were not spared. On the Bersih 2.0 twitter, crowds were mushrooming at locations near Sogo Mall, Pudu Jail, Maybank Tower and KLCC, while the radios announced that no one had turned up just yet. After lunching and discussing business at the Summit, I tried to rush home to change only to be caught in another 3 roadblock induced jams, one across the street from Summit, near Persiaran Tujuan and another on Federal Highway. If the police were this hardworking, the crime rate here will be at an all time low. I managed to get home onboard a near empty LDP highway.
The radio at home was still declaring that though there were arrests at Sogo, Pudu and at the LRT stations, generally there was no one at the rally. However, my friend who was at Jalan Hang Tuah seems to brisk-walking while talking to me on the phone while many people were chanting in his background. That was when I knew who was telling the truth. Going without the Bersih 2.0 shirt to avoid detection at the LRT, I quickly drove to the Kelana Station where surprisingly policemen were no longer there. The KL Sentral, Pasar Seni and Masjid Jamek stations were closed, and I only managed to alight at Dang Wangi Station. At 2.30pm, while walking through dozens of people seemingly taking a stroll, I FaceBooked and found out shots of tear gasses and chemical laced water were already fired in some Bersih 2.0 hotspots around KL city. I was hoping to be part of the action when I was met by a large group of policemen at Jalan Raja Chulan.
Seriously, if there were “not much civilians involved at the ‘illegal’ rally”, you would not need a hundred of them in one location. By the time I reached Jalan Tun Perak, it was an awesome sight. On my right, like a scene from a Hollywood made movie, an endless flood of thousands of people were walking through the streets, with sudden rushes all over the place as water cannons were deployed. Many attempting to walk in to join this crowd were arrested by the police. I knew that it was too late to join that large gang. On my left however, were another hundred of policemen and FRUs arresting anyone suspected of wanting to join the rally. As I strolled quietly towards the Pudu bus station, with very heavy scent of tear gas still surrounding that area, one by one the police were walking with civilians, all whose hands were bound by a plastic rope, including a young couple that was somewhat surprised they were arrested.
Chasing after my friend who was running about to not be spotted by mobilizing policemen while avoiding getting caught as a stray myself, was not an easy task, but I did manage to reach Jalan Bukit Bintang, and then the Jalan Hang Tuah and Jalan Imbi intersection by directly walking to the policemen and asking for directions. After all, “berani kerana benar “, right? This would probably keep me safe. The police themselves seemed red-eyed and dazed, so knowing they were still distracted by the gigantic scenery upfront, I took the opportunity to go along Jalan Hang Tuah on foot looking for my fat guy friend in pink and found him with the group at Stadium Merdeka which was guarded by the police at all entrances. Then it dawned upon me that we at least reached the targeted destination safely. Elsewhere, the Bersih 2.0 Twitter reported that their memorandum was unable to be handed over to the Istana as they were blocked.
We walked through Jalan Petaling where I was told how it all started. By then, Bersih 2.0 was over. We ended the afternoon at the mamak around central market, where Bersih 2.0 supporters and police force who ended their hostility were also around. There, through social media, we were able to get all the latest news of the aftermath, involving several people from the steering committee. Some of whom were even arrested. As we FaceBooked and twittered away, revelations of Bersih 2.0 supporters being beaten bloodied, and hospitals around the Puduraya area getting tear gassed made me sick to my stomach. As evening comes, at home in my room, news of this rally made international headlines throughout the world making them our witnesses, as videos after videos were released via social media showing the violence of policemen and FRUs against a peacefully done rally. The mass media again lied through their teeth to contain the government wrong doings. And many of us were witnesses of what really happened at Bersih 2.0.
I am deeply regretful to have missed the crux of the action before me, because I believe one has to go through the ordeal to really understand what was won there. It was freedom. The Bersih 2.0 supporters knew exactly what they were doing. No trash was thrown. The streets were clean. No building was vandalized. But what happened today perhaps vindicated my presence there and validated what Bersih 2.0 is for. “Peaceful?” the New Straits Times declared. “Defiant” was how the Star painted the Bersih 2.0 supporters. And within the first few pages, attempts to downplay Bersih 2.0, lies and deception, wordplay that attempted to demonize participants, and even a show of inflated ego by the Home Minister, showed exactly why we need reforms not only in the election system, but the government system as well.
This is the truth; I saw with my own eyes many more on the streets itching to join Bersih 2.0, but were not allowed to join the rally with the threat of arrest by the police. And many who tried to sneak in were arrested after all. The police did their best to stop supporters from all states at bus terminals to the highways to the LRT. In the end, please do not insult my intelligence; I have been at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium at near full capacity to judge. It was indeed easily tens of thousands of supporters on that road near Jalan Tun Perak, as many peeking down the LRT train at Central Market can see themselves, and even on ground. (I do not know about KLCC because I am not there, but I heard it was a huge group as well). Yes, as most would realize, the number could have been much, much more. Also, a friend once told me, a good liar needs a good memory. The mainstream newspapers backtracked on their words, were inconsistent in their reporting and clashed ideas in terms of what happened. The police were able to control the situation simply because the protest was peaceful; until they started firing.
And yes, Tung Shin Hospital was hit by the tear gasses and chemical water as well. At the time I was not there, so how did I know? Because everyone I asked were consistent with their story of what happened with pictures to prove. Unlike the media that brushed off this unthinkable act, along with contradicting reports all the way on radio and newspapers. The government again acted indecisively; they knew the international media is watching and Bersih 2.0 would love to let the world see how the policing works here, so why the hell did they step on a seen trap? Why would they react violently against peaceful protests? The latter was a question our dear information minister stuttered like a child to answer at Al-Jazeera’s channel.
The incredible traffic jams that lasted two days were due to the police, not Bersih 2.0. Any person of a reasonable thinking capacity knew that it was just the police being desperate enough to avoid more people coming in to Kuala Lumpur city, not “maintaining order” as claimed. If the police had really wanted to guard the rally, they would have just stopped all intercity roads going towards Stadium Merdeka like the MRR1, Jalan Kinabalu, Jalan Syed Putra and many others. The police force was just paranoid and overreacted to the situation by blocking all access roads across the whole territory of urban Selangor. The same paranoia that caused the Home Minister to declare a call to action for a peaceful march for a clean, fair and just election, as “illegal”. And correct me if I am wrong, there is not one single law available to arrest people with shirts associated with any movement, yet the police force who was supposed to protect its people, found just simply wearing a symbolic yellow Bersih 2.0 shirt a big offence.
Bersih 2.0 somehow brought out the worse of the federal government and their authorities. Whether it is the fact that the police, with such commitment and hard work at stopping a peaceful rally, failed to stop the mat rempit menace and snatch thefts. Or the thoughts that came out from some minister’s mind about the alleged “damage” to economy amounting to billions. Even lazy-to-drive-outside-KL-for-clients-during-demonstration taxis were given wasted space in the newspapers for giving excuses on staying back and charging ridiculous rates, and much more. However, I would look and say the Bersih 2.0 rally did bring out the best in people. 1Malaysia happened in the most extraordinary circumstances, where all races, all religion, all education backgrounds, all ages, all gender, all sexuality, and all the factors of Malaysian people, gathered in the midst of scorn by orders of the Home Ministry. A proud, priceless moment in Malaysian history however the government will try to spin and ignore its importance.
Democracy also happened. What cannot be expressed in votes, were expressed in numbers of marching people who came against all odds, who braved the wave of tyranny, in friendship of the strangers around them that they can now call friends, to absolutely get their voices heard, voices that were usually silenced by the media and the government. Chants of reforms, realizing that there is a better future for Malaysia beyond the walls of the coconut shell we have been living under for so long, resounded for that brief couple of hours amidst the pain in their eyes and nostrils caused by tear gasses. The worse kind of freedom is one that you do not even know you have and are bound far away from it. However, the 9th of July 2011 will be remembered by many as the day many awakened and realized that they have been had, and the news will spread fast on what we have missed from the government for so long, and what they have not been telling us, to the lies they have been feeding the public for decades.
I sincerely, as a citizen of Malaysia, really hope that the federal government, instead of being defensive, would effectively join us to seek change. I humbly ask the federal government to finally look in the mirror themselves and start serving the people instead of attempting to brainwash and keep them out of the loop with the media. The people’s interest should come first, not themselves. It is time that countless letters to the government be replied, services be improved, corruption be addressed in the best possible manner, and stop wasting money on projects that will drain our finances for the sake of pocketing from the people. The rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer, so it is time that we Malaysians step out as equal partners to each other, with equal opportunities. One may wonder why I am writing this, that negates from Bersih 2.0’s demands. It actually transcends even that. One clear message we have sent on this day, is that we can unite as one, for a common Malaysian cause and to defend anything that is worth risking our lives and livelihood for. I can finally say, seeing what happened in those few hours, being in the climate of love and courage during a time of atrocity, I am very proud to be Malaysian. Thank you Bersih 2.0 for the experience, showing our hearts out to the government. We hope our future leaders will one day take the same lead, to overcome all the roadblocks for a better Malaysia.
(Many thanks to those who were there one way or another and saw a part of our Malaysian history in the making, especially my few transsexual sisters who represented our small community with their big hearts on fire in love.)
(This post is dedicated to the illusive fat guy in pink: Read his first hand account here in DubMeShalom)