Leading up to BERSIH, we know there will be a deluge of stories resulting from this weekend. So before that storm, and to perhaps inspire those that might still be wondering if they should go, we thought we’d take a moment to ask our readers about their first BERSIHs, be it 2007, 2011 or 2012.
Because you never, ever… forget your first time.
* Stunning featured image above taken from Steven Wong’s beautiful documentation of BERSIH 3.0.
1. The girl who almost didn’t go for BERSIH 1 (but has since gone for ALL of them)
Before Ee Chia became a BERSIH veteran, she, like some of you reading, was still undecided between going and not, even up to the morning of the first BERSIH event.
“I was awakened by an SMS saying that all the roads leading into KL are closed, and police are everywhere. Anyone in yellow will be stopped. My colleague heading to Melaka said that his bus was detoured as the route to the Istana was closed, and advising me to be careful when attending the peaceful walk later.”
She went online and chatted with some friends. Some said the gathering was illegal and people might be arrested, even sending flyers with legal advice for “those who will get caught”.
“My adrenaline was running high. Should I go? Why should I go? Should I wear yellow? Will I be arrested? What if I was arrested? Having to try to advocate the importance of voting among my friends and family, I told myself that, I should walk the talk. I told myself, YES, I want to walk for this cause and be counted. And I think I would regret if I did not attend it…”
She arrived at Masjid Jamek Burger King with a few friends in tow, dressed not in yellow, but clutching their bags containing yellow shirts, water and towels. They saw that the Bar Council people and PAS Unit Amal were ready to march to Dataran Merdeka. The FRU trucks were in front of them.
“At that point, I was feeling excited and scared at the same time. Suddenly the FRU started firing water cannons without warning. I thought that was unnecessary as the crowd wasn’t violently protesting. There were no riots, no warnings issued by the FRU, no nothing,” – Ee Chia
The Burger King staff hurriedly closed their doors, and asked people to retreat into the shop if they want shelter or leave. “It was really scary. I continued to stand at the side to watch. It’s sad, but it’s true, I was only like an observer, I didn’t join in the crowd to brave the FRU.”
The group tried to break the FRU barrier to march into Dataran Merdeka a few times, but were held back by water cannons and tear gas fired by the FRU. Another thing she clearly remembers was this.
“Despite of being attacked, they did not resort to violence.”
Leaving with a new-found admiration for their courage and persistence, Ee Chia is currently on the way back from Hungary to attend BERSIH, which she hasn’t missed since 2007.
2. The dude that accidentally attended BERSIH 3.0
“I was there to buy sports things at Pertama Complex. I actually forgot that Bersih was on the same day!” – WK
That really kinda sums up this story. So WK was pretty confused when he came down from the complex. Not to mention, he fit right in, wearing a yellow 100Plus t-shirt, so mostly out of curiosity, he joined the march.
“Then when authorities started spraying water cannon and tear gas, we ran like headless chickens till at one point we ended up in the middle of the road in front of Dataran, where on one end it was the BERSIH crowd and other end was the FRU.”
Thankfully, they managed to find a way out. But since the LRT was closed, they had to take a long walk to another station, picking up a gas canister souvenir along the way.
3. The strange tale of a man named Dark Justice
Patrick was covering the event for a local online portal, and early in the morning, at the cross junction of Jalan Tun Perak-Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, he met a very interesting man.
“I asked him if he was there for the protests and he said yes, and we got talking. DJ told me he was from Kuala Kubu Bahru, and I asked him if he had one of those yellow Bersih t-shirts.”
The man sat down on the divider and pulled this gem out.
“My t-shirt is yellow, but it is not Bersih, it is Kotor!”- Dark Justice
Patrick asked what Kotor meant, and Dark Justice (let’s call him DJ from here) said the term was referring to the government. “Where I come from, I am called Dark Justice because I fight for justice!” he said. Patrick, amused, asked more about the first word in his name.
“I didn’t get any committal answers, so I can only assume that he was either (a) a masked crusader who battled evil in the night or (b) making reference to his race. It was also at that time that he showed me his OKU (disabled) card.” – Patrick L
Anyways, DJ decided to tag along with Patrick, who was observing the police from afar. But DJ damn champion, he walked straight into the lines of police. He started to talk to the police and told them about people he knew who may or may not have been in the force. They were of course, surprised at this guy coming so close to them when everyone else was walking away. Looking at the crowds of people gathering that morning, DJ started to shout: “Disperse! The police are merely doing their job!”
At this point, the officers around him stood a least a few feet away, with very confused looks. For a time, nobody knew what to do with DJ, so they layan him for a bit. He would continue this, telling people to get away from the streets and go home. A couple of police officers tried to speak to him, and while Patrick couldn’t remember what was said, a few walked away giggling.
A few minutes later, DJ started to change his tone, and wanted Bersih protestors to know that more help was on the way. “Don’t worry!” he said. “Nik Aziz will be in KL with many buses!”
At that point, the police took him in. He didn’t protest or struggle, but he did ask why he was being taken.
“I remember the policeman saying something along the lines of “Tolonglah. Jangan. Ok? Ok.” Then they put DJ into a police car (he politely went in) and drove off. That was the last I ever saw of him.”
4. The reporter who got gassed at TungShin
At Bersih 2.0, Nasa was at the Bukit Bintang/Tung Shin area, on duty from 6am to 8pm. Like everyone else’s experience, it was pretty peaceful right until the tear gas started raining.
“My colleague and I were in the first two waves of tear gas near the Pudu station – everyone quickly retreated from the area, amazingly in a very orderly manner. No one pushed or shoved and people looked out for each other – through the burning in our eyes we could hear people encouraging us on “Don’t worry, just walk straight. Try to watch your step”, happy to share their water and toothpaste.” – Nasa
Unfortunately, Tung Shin hospital was the scene of one of the most reckless moments, as some overzealous FRU officers shot tear-gas INTO THE FRIGGIN HOSPITAL. Here’s a video of cops shooting tear gas volleys into the hospital, and one particular douchebag openly punching a protester.
Still, Nasa managed to get out, although she cautions… “If you wear contact lenses you won’t feel the burn until after you remove them, unless it rains”.
“It was nice to see Malaysians come together for a cause, even better that when push came to shove and we had to hit the ground running it didn’t become every man for himself.”
5. The guy that almost got nabbed by the cops
Another reader, Tony Teh, had a very interesting experience. While speeches were going on, the cops suddenly charged and nabbed people everywhere!
“Those who had yellow on them were caught in front of my eyes. Not just the ones with Bersih t-shirts. Even the ones with normal yellow cloth or headbands” – Tony Teh
His group decided to duck out to KLCC but the entrance was blocked off by cops as well. As he was walking calmly and texting, a policeman ran to him, grabbed his right hand and put it through a black plastic cable cuff.
“I was stunned. I put my hands up and did not resist the arrest. Steve, who was in front of me, rushed to me in concern right away. The cop grabbed his hand as well but he swung it off. A bunch of Malays who were passing by came to my rescue.
He then freed his hands from the cuffs while the Malays pushed and shouted at the cop, telling Tony to ignore it because there was no justification for the arrest.
“I gave the failed cop a stare of disappointment before walking away with hundreds of others. He didn’t try to nab again. His facial expression seemed to indicate that he was disgusted of himself. I could’ve been an innocent citizen who wasn’t involved in the rally. I wonder if he was just trying to pretend that he was doing his job. He didn’t lock the cable cuff after he put my hands through. He could had easily done that.”
6. The videographer that saw a greater power at work
For Cheng Huat, he figured the way he could contribute best would be to document as much as he could on his camera. He came into KL early in the morning before LRT services were halted, updating his FB status frequently. Eventually, he heard some faraway chants, but no people seen.
“Others like me who where hiding and camping began to come out and join the crowd. The feeling was ecstatic to see Malaysians standing together.. no religion, no race, no age, literally no barrier.. only one goal in sight”.
Of course, shortly after, the police and FRU showed up. “All I can say that somehow it reminded me of the Shaolin Soccer scene where they were playing against a team and the linesmen, referee and sponsors were all the opponent’s ‘people’.”
But what happened next, made Cheng Huat pause.
“I’m not a religious person but I can tell you that on that day… a greater power was there. During the first few rounds when the FRU started firing smoke grenades, the winds continuously blew the smoke back towards the FRU (unfortunately, I was also there at the FRU side and cried a lot that day). So much so that the FRU had to stop a few times to collect themselves again.” – Cheng Huat
Indeed, he shot a video and at 11:30, it does indeed seem like the FRU are literally pissing into the wind. “The FRU continued to push forward, until they met at the famous point in front of Pudu. The protesters were seated and the FRU were walling up, but again, wind continuously blew the smokes back to the FRU side. The people were armed with flowers, banners, balloons, t-shirts.. and the voices.. a peaceful wall met with a barrage of weapons. At the end of the day, Cheng Huat kinda knew that it wasn’t going to make anyone step down, or directly effect a change of leadership.
“But it was a good start.. After that day, people just went back to their work and go on with their life.. that is how it works.. soon 0907 started to fade into the back of our memories. But this fire inside me hasn’t died.. it is still burning silently, waiting for the time when my country needs me.”
7. The guy that saw the FRU after working hours
GHC Keong, like many others here arrived in the morning, and it was a very different scene from what he expected.
“I arrived to see Malaysians of all ages milling about – some were having a picnic, some took a stroll. There were even toddlers, prams and even older folks with their walking canes.” – Keong
However, at 1pm, the mood changed. ‘Negaraku’ gave way to political chants, and some even laid out banners with faces of politicians, inviting passers-by to stamp on them. “Ever polite, most Malaysians declined and walk around. The air turned nervous, and those with younger children began to leave.”
Two hours later, after the water cannons and the FRU, Keong tried to find a way out of the city and accidentally stumbles upon a group of FRU officers washing their tear-gassed faces with water. After a tense moment, the FRU guys smiled and waved at him.
“They too, were teary-eyed and weary. There were only Malaysians there – even if some had uniforms, riot gear and orders from above.”
The other thing Keong noticed was that the majority of protesters were almost supernaturally passive. “On that day, Malaysians came together to make a point, and discovered that despite our differences in race, religion, economic or education backgrounds, we all stood up to speak out for something we cared about – the future of our home. And this time, perhaps not just louder, stronger and firmer – but calmer, more confident and standing taller than we have ever been.”
“We also developed a new level of trust – that there would be water to share, help for the fallen, advice on where to run – and it cut across race, economic background, and in some cases, even between the rakyat and the police, FRU and security forces.”
If there’s one thing that unites these stories, it’s… errr… unity.
Here are some quotes from other stories we received.
“Then the water cannon was deployed. People were forced to run again, but some smart aleck guys were joking in their encouragement, “It’s ok, it’s just syrup!” When the water cannon stopped spraying, the crowd advanced again to its original position near the DBKL building. It was during this time that I saw the most incredible and surreal scene of the afternoon. On the front line, facing the water cannon trucks, tear gas launchers and hundreds of armed cops, somebody was tossing a freekin’ Winnie The Pooh giant pillow high into the air – again and again and again…! Now this was the Bersih, I was expecting!” – Chee Seng
“The PAS folks lead bravely and it was glorious to see uncles, pakciks, kakak tudungs and annehs sit together sharing bread between the March; I even saw an old chinese Aunty helping a young Malay teen wash his face post-gas. Everyone became just rakyat. Chants of Hidup Rakyat echoed the streets; chants of ‘Reformasi’ were half-ignored; I guess most people there knew that it wasn’t and shouldn’t be about the opposition or Anwar.” – Vix C
“There were 2 things that delighted me about the experience. It reminded me how diverse Malaysia is and how nice all Malaysians are. It was a festival of optimism. Together we felt we had the power to create the home we all wanted. Just by being able to legitimately choose our leaders and have them represent us when decisions are being made.” – Haanim
Something mentioned in ALL the stories is always a mention of unity – something Malaysians hear everyday, but don’t really understand until they come for a BERSIH rally. When people gather, you really see the most diverse mix of Malaysians imaginable – every background, every ethnicity, every income group, every race. All walking together, helping each other out, joking with each other and voicing out for the future of the country.
It just feels like this is the way Malaysia should, and actually could be.
And in this age of agendas, division, and uncertainty…anything untainted is what our country needs desperately right now.
Happy Merdeka, Malaysians :*)