The first light of dawn had just broken through the horizon. It was Sunday, November 13th 2011. Most of Kuantan were still asleep. After all, it was very early on a Sunday. Like most Sunday mornings, the city was peaceful, quiet and tranquil – waiting for the rest of the day to start.
On this day, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas (SMSL) had planned a family-friendly “Whack a Piñata” action. “Piñata” is most commonly linked to a Mexican, Latin and South Anmerican ritual. Wikipedia has a lot of information about the piñata if you are keen to learn more about it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi%C3%B1ata
For SMSL, the ritual was to give residents and their children the opportunity to symbolically whack the evil of the Lynas rare earth project into total ruins in return for some goodies for those who did it. It was also aimed at getting the media attention, to raise public awareness and to send a message to the government to stop the controversial Lynas rare earth refinery project from Australia.
At the crack of dawn, SMSL members and supporters – generally made up of peace-loving, respectable citizens consisting of mother and fathers, grandparents, children, students, and youths of all background – got up and gathered their gear and props to head towards Taman Gelora. They put on the striking black, yellow and red “Save Malaysia Stop Lynas” t-shirt and urged or dressed their children or grandchildren the same. They then made their way to Taman Gelora, the popular seaside recreational park which has been used for a series of very colourful and creative Stop Lynas activities.
The day was a success despite the heavy police presence – they set up road blocks at every single entry point into the park. They warned people against joining the action, took down some people’s identity card details and harassed many others. Most people felt so strongly about the issue they ignored the police warnings to join the action. Many were angry that the government is wasting tax payers’ money to protect a toxic project of a foreign company.
Irene, a staunch young supporter of SMSL rightly asked,
“Why has the Polis Di Raja Malaysia become the Polis Di Lynas?”
The Piñata action drew many thoughts and emotions from everyone. Here we have gathered some to share with you.
Firstly, the making of the piñatas would not have been possible without the generous support and contribution of Mr YC Kwok. He is a man of few words with a heart of gold. He has made tremendous contributions to SMSL and the Stop Lynas campaign even though he would be moving his family to Kuala Lumpur in late December.
The 1311 event took up many hours of Mr Kwok’s time. On top of that he also made his air-conditioned factory available day and night for at least two weeks for the making of the 26 amazingly stunning and colourful piñatas.
Yet Mr Kwok was ever so humble. He said:
“I’m not what you called so ‘generous’. When SMSL decided to have the 1311 event with the hitting of the piñatas, the Committee was looking out for a suitable place. At first an office was offered but I felt that it would be too small and unsuitable for this. I offered my factory to SMSL since the factory is not in production at the moment. I felt that I should contribute as much as I could to Stop Lynas. Many experienced and highly trained technical people I know also said that the plant is not safe. Like me, they would like to kick the LAMP out. So I hoped by offering my factory for the piñata project it would be a small part of a campaign to Stop the Lynas project.”
Dr Yu, a local GP and a committed Stop Lynas campaigner. She was the brainchild behind the piñata idea, with the help of her children as she explained:
“Why the piñata? I was very much a fence sitter before, undecided as to which side and which of the groups to link up with. I met SMSL Chairman Mr Tan once at Dr Carmen Chew’s place. I am however out of the loop due to my busy life. Then I was approached by Grace to give some ideas for the family day event 1311, which I promised I would.”
“Armed with very little knowledge about rare earth, I sounded my 3 kids out. They, particularly my number 2 suggested for us to use a piñata for the action. After some research, I thought it would be a good idea to gauge the public reaction and to encourage them to participate in whacking the piñatas as a symbolic gesture of whacking the many evils of the Lynas project. I was very impressed by the enthusiastic response of so many people. The scene of the day was most invigorating – a picture speaks a thousand words indeed!
Haji Ismail has been with SMSL since the beginning, through thick and thin. He hopes that more Malays will take part in the Stop Lynas campaign especially when most of them will be directly affected negatively by the Lynas project. He is worried about the families living in the various kampungs near Kuala Balok and Gebeng close to the Lynas plant.
The Kuala Balok fisher folks will be worst hit because they live near the Balok River where Lynas’ waste water likely to be contaminated with radioactive particles and other hazardous substances will be dumped. Many of them eke out a living from artisan fishing – catching fish and other seafood near shore in small boats. Shellfish such as crabs, prawns and cockles bred and spawned in the mangrove swamp of the Balok River are bottom-feeders easily contaminated by any pollutant including the radioactive thorium and uranium which are heavier and will sink to and accumulate in the bottom of the mangove.
Haji is sad that many of the kampong folks lack understanding and are easily manipulated to the point where it has been difficult for the better educated informed people to reach out to them.
Haji hopes that by being in the forefront of Stop Lynas activities, he can help in some way to encourage those who will be most negatively impacted to pay attention to the issue and to join the Stop Lynas campaign. Despite his age, he has never shied away from the Stop Lynas activities.
He has this to say:
“I have kept my commitment to Stop Lynas and have been actively involved with SMSL. I participated in most SMSL activities including the weekly meetings, public seminars, press conferences and the first trip to Australia which was freezing cold. I took part in most of the SMSL public events including 109, 1311 and 1211. These activities were very well organised and fruitful. They showed that we worked in solidarity with each other and that we are seriously concern about the issue. At the same time we continue to create awareness amongst local residents especially those living in Kuantan.”
“Regarding the 1311 event, it was heartening and encouraging to see so many people bravely stood up to demonstrate peacefully wearing the SMSL T-Shirt to show those in power that we the people will decide what is best for our country.”
“My wife and I were involved in the planning discussion of the event including the piñata idea. I appreciate the good effort of my fellow committee members and the volunteers who helped out. On the day of 1311, I was very embarrassed and disappointed to see so many armed personnel giving us a hard time even though it was just a peaceful event.”
“Taman Gelora is a public area. No permit is needed from the authority for the kind of activity SMSL has organised. .After all, it was a family gathering with no subversive element loitering around to cause any trouble to anyone or to damage any property. Anyhow, the armed personnel and heavy police presence did not deter the thousands of residents from coming forward to participate.”
“1311 was not a demonstration but a gathering of people who want their living environment safe and clean. We do not want a toxic radioactive plant nearby to contaminate our food, water and air. Deep in our minds we uttered: ‘I Don’t Wanna Leave my loving home and place’. After all, why should we forgo our homes just because of a foreign company called LYNAS and its greed and toxic plant??!!”
Wen Tan, our amazingly creative and passionate graphic designer and a concern mother has the following heart-felt reflection to share:
“Old newspaper, hot starch, anxious heart, worried and busy hands, ….. it’s already midnight – how we wished that this is the very last piñata to be made….”
“To support the SMSL November 13th Family Day of Action <<One Heart, One Determination to Protect Our Homeland>> at Taman Gelora, concern fathers and mothers in Kuantan took time out from their hectic schedule racing day and night to make enough piñatas for the event. We deliberately made these piñatas to appear evil and nasty to symbolise the evil power of Lynas Corporation. We then get everybody to whack these piñatas collectively to symbolise our united stance and effort to topple Lynas.”
“7am November 13th our entire family of young and old travelling in a car to the park. As we were approaching the road outside the Sultan’s palace, we were stopped by a police road block. The police took down our IC number and warned us against taking part in the action. As we approached the park, many police were also heavily guarding two of the entry roads leading to the park. The atmosphere was very tense.”
“…every time we organised a Stop Lynas activity, there would be a parallel “recreational” activity organised by the state government to coincide with our event- deliberately staged at the same time in the same place. They would send a few buses of participants, erect some tents in key strategic locations to attempt to occupy the park and to drown out the impact of the Stop Lynas activities. The Police would send troop to stand guard everywhere. Through the mainstream news services and the press, they would declare our activity an illegal gathering close to the day without giving any legitimate reason. Their aim has been to warn the public and to intimidate them in an attempt to stop them from taking part – creating many obstacles and difficulties for the Stop Lynas movement.”
“Very often, we hear the many government slogans such as “citizens first (Rakyat di Dahulukan…); protecting justice, fairness and integrity, etc. .. However what the Government most wanted to shut off are the true and genuine voices of the people. When I think of my homeland becoming a radioactive waste dump, my heart bleeds….!”
“Many advanced industrialise nations have shied away from developing rare earth plant in populated areas. Why? Rare earth plant costs the people’s health and sometimes their life. If we have to pay with our life, isn’t it frightening enough?”
“The scariest part is that we will not see the end of the hardships – contamination of the water supply, contamination of our food and pollution of our air – are just some of the risks.”
“We have to fight this battle so that our family can live peacefully in an environment free from pollution. Do not feel defeated, do NOT be scared. As long as you are willing to stand up, just like a lone strain of grass when standing in unity with others will have the strength to withstand strong forces. If we as a group kept quiet, pretend not to see the reality, a tragedy will sure to befall us soon.”
Steve is no stranger to the many people actively engaged in the social media for the Stop Lynas campaign in facebook, twitter and the SMSL blog site. Steve is known for his regular posting of many positive and encouraging comments as well as reminders in the Pahang Don’t Need Hazardous Project facebook group.
He is a tireless young campaigner who is ever so willing to act and to work to Stop Lynas. Steve is instrumental in most of SMSL’s media liaison work and is the major domo of most of SMSL’s social media sites. Few if any of SMSL members can surplus the dedication of Steve. He is well liked by most if not all of SMSL members and supporters who know him. Steve is a young man of few words and a determination of steel in defeating the Lynas rare earth project.
Steve’s recollection of 1311 is brief but precise:
“I was touched seeing mothers bringing their kids along to make piñatas. To make the 26 piñatas was not a fast or easy job. It was not a 1-day job but it took about 2 weeks of very long days and a lot of hard work by a team of very dedicated people.”
“On the day of the 1311 action, I was at first worried and frightened to see so many police blocking the roads in so many places. I decided to park my car further away from the road block and jogged in. The only thing in my mind was to get inside the park so that I could take part to make 1311 a successful event.”
Grace is one of the longest serving SMSL Committee Members. She has been with the Stop Lynas campaign since the beginning. Below is her refection of the piñata making and the 1311 family day of action:
“I took part with one common cause to STOP LYNAS!”
“My participation in the piñata making and the family day of action stemmed from my role and responsibility as a SMSL member and a Kuantan resident. I am committed to campaigning to Stop Lynas through joining SMSL from day one!!”
“I am very touched by the hard works and efforts of some of our new volunteers’, especially the pretty mamas who have spent many hours each day making the piñatas. We shared great memories of working together for two weeks from 8am till midnight every day. Although we were exhausted from the long hours of hard work, everyone was happily making the piñata with the hope that the action will be delivering a strong message to Stop Lynas so that we may have a better future for many generations to come.”
“We took 13 days to complete the 26 beautiful and colourful piñatas. Each of them symbolises a different evil of the Lynas project. It was a fantastic achievement. The whole process was enjoyable and meaningful…even though we could do with more volunteers and helpers. Those who turned up were truly dedicated. I am very impressed by some members turning up on the Hari Raya Haji public holiday. Some came in after office hour to play their part! I did not go to the office for two weeks. The passion, dedication and commitment of these SMSL Committee Members and supporters are truly admirable and commendable.”
“As Steve often said: “Unity, solidarity and peace!” .The 1311 event was a success. Nearly 2,000 people participated despite a major obstacle with police setting up road blocks at key roads leading to the Taman Gelora. It was heartening to see that people in Kuantan were aware of their rights. They were not afraid of the roadblocks and police intimidation.”
“Lastly, I would like to suggest that we make our opposition to the Lynas project public frequently, at least once a month. The more reactive actions from the government to try to create obstacles, the more the public will be made aware of the infringement of their human rights by the government, thus infuriating them to be more committed to supporting and participating in the Stop Lynas campaign!!
Fong Kiew is one of the hardworking and dedicated young Stop Lynas campaigners. She is a silent mover and shaker running around to get things done without saying much. She is loyal to the cause and is determined to Stop Lynas. Fong Kiew worked so hard and put in so much energy into the piñata making that she was in tears at one stage.
Here is what she said about her experience:
“I have exhausted all of my energy to dedicate my time and effort for the event – day and night, apart from attending to my work, I was planning and preparing for the 1311 event. I helped to give out flyers, put up posters, made piñatas – an activity I believe no one in the whole of Malaysia has ever done before…”
“I am in one heart and one mind to stop the Lynas rare earth refinery project. I hope to call out to many more people to rise up together with us to pay more attention to this kind of issues and to wake up to the harm it will bring to the public. That was why I put aside everything else to make the 1311 event a success.”
“Of course, the event was very successful – which was one of the reasons why I was so moved. The pain was in my heart when I saw people putting their full force whacking the piñata while shouting “Stop Lynas” loudly to express their strong opposition and anger. We had put in so much effort into making the piñatas and they turned out so amazingly wonderful. In the midst of making the piñatas, knowing that these creations of ours would be whacked to destruction, I was thinking quietly to myself: “Lynas, I want to beat you into defeat!””
“When you see the scenario and atmosphere of 1311 where the public explicitly showed their strong emotion and anger I felt that all the hardships and effort are worth the moment!”
“I hope the public consciousness against the Lynas’ threat and the opposition to this kind of public health issue will continue to grow. Humans are unlike plants and wood, who can remain totally unmoved and unaffected?”
“The 1311 <<One Heart, One Determination to Protect Our Homeland>> action should not be the concern of only one single person. It is a national concern which will affect everyone. Let us all stand up to fight till the end!!”
Irene is one of the enthusiastic young Stop Lynas supporters and active members. She is a regular facebook activist with a good network of similar allies throughout Malaysia. She belongs to a new generation of passionate young Malaysians who are outspoken and intolerant of bad political decision and behaviour.
1311 was one of her first actions which she got actively involved in. Her motivation is pure and simple:
“At the time, I had no idea at all how best to Stop Lynas. I would do anything and run with any idea as long as it would disadvantage Lynas. In the period leading up to the 1311 action, I did not get home till at least 2am every day. My elderly grandmother who brought me up and my young sisters were my driving force. I do not wish to see Lynas destroy the peace and tranquillity of my grandmother’s golden age. And I do not wish radiation and the pollution of the Lynas plant ruin my sisters’ future.”
This article was compiled and edited by Jade Lee at the request of Ng Chi Woei. Translation of the Chinese passages was done so that their heartfelt thoughts and reflection can be shared as widely as possible.