When we all stand as one in numbers, who can be against us? Who can deter us? We forge on because we believe in something, because we want and deserve change for the better.
The weather was divine: sun peeking out of the clouds and breeze blowing in our faces. It was a pleasant walk from Pudu to Petaling Street. The clear, roadblocked streets of KL looked so tranquil without vehicles clogging the road.
So calm that I even decided to lie down a bit in the middle of the road. It’s actually quite comfortable, y’know!
Many shops were bolted up and closed, but Restoran Lai Foong (famous for beef ball noodles) was one of the few who remained open. And what booming business it had! Obvious rally-goers filled both lots of the shop.
The hustle, bustle and chatter smelled of eagerness and earnest discussion.
We arrived at about 10 something, and so had lots of time to explore the streets and roam about in the traffic free zones. Petaling Street was lined with people sitting by the sidewalks – talking, getting to know new friends, sharing pictures and cameras.
One store stood out in particular. Football jerseys were being sold here for RM10. Cheers to the guy holding up the yellow one!
More and more people began to arrive around noon. Everybody started to gather and move in a similar direction. Some began chants of “Hidup rakyat, hidup demokrasi!” and the rest loudly joined in.
We were marching through the streets – a huge procession – and many bystanders and tourists whipped out their cameras to snap the moment. Some even joined in.
Some were looking from upstairs. We called them down to join us.
The diversity of the people was phenomenal. The unity beautiful like never seen before. Walking together. Moving as one.
People were brave, they were buoyed by courage and the spirit of change to be present at the rally and demonstrate their desire for progress and reformation.
The Bersih tees were proudly displayed at the rally. Nobody cared that it was a banned item. They held it high in the air, proud and strong.
This lady offered to fan anyone who needed air or felt faint. Her fan was powerful enough to fan more than a few people around her!
The crowd outside Menara Maybank. We were chanting “Bersih Bersih, hidup Bersih!” when the FRU and their trucks came at us with water cannons and tear gas.
Tear gas really stings. It permeates your eyes, nasal passage and skin. It makes you slightly dizzy, makes your eyes tear and your skin itch. It smells like sulfur and fart.
We scattered and ran to seek shelter at a hotel entrance nearby. Everybody was offering each other water and salt to neutralize the effects of the gas – one beautiful picture of citizens caring and looking out for one another.
The sky began to pour. Thank God for the rain because it washed out all the chemicals in the air. After some drying up and another round of cannons, everybody gathered again to proceed with our walk.
We moved past three policemen. We chanted, “Kuning, kuning, takut kuning. Polis polis, sangat baik!” I could’ve sworn that the officers’ lips curled to show a slight smile.
Petaling Street LRT. More tear gas.
See those guys in the midst of it? They were stamping on the cans so that less chemicals would be released. That is what you call sacrifice. That is what you call loving and serving the rakyat. These men stand among the many unsung heroes of Bersih.
Another hero to note was a person who bought several boxes of water and distributed it to the crowd with dry throats and smarting eyes. Water has never tasted so sweet. Water has never brought so much relief.
Ice cream man. He ran from the FRU and stopped his bike nearby to serve the crowd.
Customer asked, “You stop untuk jual kat sini, tak takut polis tiba-tiba datang ke?”
Ice-cream man: “Tak apa lah. Saya tak takut.”
Lawyers in full suit and court shoes who were with the crowd and who continued to work at police stations after midnight to deal with the 1667 arrests, kudos to them. This nullifies common assumptions that lawyers are money-minded, word-twisting people.
Also among heroes are the Unit Amal, the field commanders who led the crowds, the people who arranged logistics and managed communications, and many more.
This man here brought his two small kids. Anak-anak Bersih, everyone was saying. I hope they got home safely. These kids help build the future of our nation.
And as at any rally, we should not litter. We should take responsibility and keep Bersih. Plastic bags were passed around for trash to be placed into.
Hats off to the elderly people who who showed up at the rally. Some were very frail and walking very slowly. And yet, they were present. Respect.
We saw policemen, we shook hands with them. Both parties smiled and there was mutual understanding.
Although there were claims and counts of police brutality, I can say that many of those officers looked hesitant and guilty for having to follow orders to do such things. A respectable police force is one that genuinely protects the rakyat, that we can talk to them without feeling intimidated, that makes us feel safe. That has not yet been achieved, but I believe that if we press on and take actions to make a difference, things will improve.
It was amazing to note that, even though there was a ginourmous throng of people, everyone met with many friends. Nothing gives more joy than to see people whom you know present at the rally.
Yesterday I saw the spirit of true unity between the rakyat. People from all walks of life, from everywhere around Malaysia, all gathered together in solidarity for a common cause.
Never have I felt so proud of my country.
Never have I felt such love for my country and people.
Never have I been brought to tears by the beautiful sight of togetherness and diversity.
Never have I believed in the possibility of mobilizing so many people to a single event.
Yesterday, all those doubts vanished. My faith in humanity is renewed and restored. I have fresh aspirations and I see hope in the faces of the people.
When we all stand as one in numbers, who can be against us? Who can deter us? Not the FRU, not the corrupt ruling authorities, not the chemical-laced gases.
We forge on because we believe in something, because we want and deserve change for the better. I love you, Malaysia.
RIP Sdr Baharuddin bin Ahmad who passed away from breathing difficulties while being chased down by cops at KLCC. Your sacrifice will be remembered and we, the rakyat, will seek justice for you and all others who were injured.
All photos copyright of Justine Mei-Ern.