When I said to Jason that we should participate in Bersih Melaka 3.0, he replied, "But I can't run. What if they start firing teargas?!" We laughed but really, the images from Bersih 2.0 had gotten stuck in our minds and hearts. Perhaps, it was those very images that sealed the deal for me. I will participate in Bersih Melaka 3.0.
Now, I have people telling me (and this was after last year's Bersih), "What's the point of all this? Might as well stay at home and not get hurt. This kinda thing won't change anything." Maybe immediate change in our country was not evident after Bersih 2.0 but I would not say that it was in vain. Even a small pebble can cause multiple and increasingly big ripples. Somethings were already brewing. Change had begun.
Personally, I wanted to put action to my words. I had spoken against the unfair governance of our country among family and friends and in cyberspace. I should walk my talk. I also want my kids to know that when we can, we should take action on our convictions. There's honour and integrity in that.
And so, we followed the developments via Facebook and made plans. Salt, a bottle of water and face towels were packed into a small backpack. We dug our cupboard for yellow tees. Emergency numbers were saved into our handphones. We asked my in laws if we could leave the kids with them for those few hours. We planned where to park the car.
Saturday, 28 April 2012, was bright and hot. We had explained the whole thing to our 8 and 6+ year olds as best we could. We arrived at my in laws' home early. Jason started checking Facebook for updates. Roads to Dataran Pahlawan were clear. Ample parking in Mahkota Parade. At about 12.15pm we left for Dataran Pahlawan.
We parked near Jonker Street and started walking. As we neared the Clock Tower, I saw two police bikes parked along the road near Aldy Hotel, tourists buying ice cream, tourists in trishaws and tourists snapping photos. A typical Saturday afternoon in Historical Malacca. No other yellow tees in sight.
As we neared the public pool, I saw a police truck parked by the road and a bunch of policemen taking shade under a tree at the playground. A few more were keeping watch as we neared Dataran. They looked very serious.
We made our way to the "rooftop" of Dataran and saw quite a number of people in yellow tees lounging in Old Town and walking about. I felt less conspicuous then. We could see that the field had been cordoned off for a "Pancaragam dan Kugiran" event by MBMB. We made our way to the seats which were almost empty. The VIP chairs and table were to our left and there were half filled glasses and empty saucers on the table. The VIPS had left. On the field, a stage was erected far out in the center and canopies with rows of seats were on either side of it. We could see the students in their band uniforms on the left and no one under the canopy on the right. The band on stage started playing and a lady started singing a Malay song. We left to find our friends.
At about 1.15pm, two or three people informed all of us to gather downstairs, at the main entrance of the Mall. I could see quite a crowd there and someone was shouting, "Bersih! Bersih!" and almost everyone echoed. Then someone started singing Negaraku and we all joined in. The excitement was palpable. Some held banners, some waved flags, quite a number took photos or videos. Jason and I got busy joining the photogs. A group went to the roadside with their banner and several cars honked in support. A cheer went up when lawyers in their robes joined the crowd. We all then made our way to the steps leading to the field.
We were there for a good 15-20 minutes. A YB took a hailer and started speaking and leading the "chants" of "Bersih! Bersih! Hidup Rakyat!" etc. The air was festive and filled with anticipation. It was almost 2.00pm and the YB made his way to the top of the steps and everyone got ready to enter the field area. We were way back in line. Everyone waited patiently for the barricade to be opened. No jostling. The crowd started to move forward. And stopped. The people at the top turned back. A few seconds later, they moved forward again. And turned back again. There were murmurs and we were wondering what's wrong. We could not see past the crowd to the top of the steps but suddenly, the crowd started to move down towards us quickly and there was some sort of scuffle at the top of the steps and some loud protests. Jason immediately put his arm around me and started to lead me away. That's when I heard a loud clank like metal hitting concrete. I turned in time to see a man in dark blue uniform (there were quite a number of them at the top of the steps, behind the barricade), angrily pushing and kicking something. I think he hit out at the barricade and one piece of it fell. I felt scared for he was the first angry and violent person I've seen since we arrived and I was afraid that things might get out of hand. Thankfully, the crowd did not push back or fight. Most waited patiently. Two young men lifted the fallen barricade. People started gesturing to the next flight of steps and most of us made our way there and onto the tiled area ringing the field for those steps were not barricaded. So what's the point of barricading that one flight of steps? The bunch of men in dark blue standing guard behind it? The show of anger? It's silly and pointless.
There were cheers here and there as the crowd moved onto the tiled area. Groups of yellow tees big and small were under the shades of trees, in huddles under umbrellas, simply filling up the area. There were grannies and grandpas, young couples with young kids, lotsa teens and young adults, pakciks, makciks, you name it. Though the crowd was predominantly Chinese, I saw Malays, Indians and Eurasians too. An old lady handed me a yellow balloon. She then started to echo the chant of "Bersih! Bersih!". Out of time with the crowd. In a tiny voice and a fierce, determined expression. I smiled. We strained to hear the YB with the hailer but could not make out what was said above the groups of chants all around us. I stood on tip toe and could make out that a group had plodded themselves down on the hot, scorching tiles and there were echoes of "Duduk. Duduk." It was supposed to be DUDUK Bantah after all but most of us did not. We just continued standing in clumps under the blazing sun.
I looked to the field and behind the red and white tape that surrounded the field, the police stood and observed quietly. Some were sitting under the canopy. A school band was marching round the field and the crowd cheered. I think it was because the berets of their band uniform was yellow in colour.
At about 3.30pm, the crowd started marching round the field, ended up at the Old Town area and slowly dispersed. We met a few friends, chatted and decided to leave. We then discovered that a large portion of the crowd had gathered at the Fort. We joined them. There were quite a number of anti-lynas supporters there too. After more rallying and chanting, we all sang Melaka Maju Jaya and Negaraku and at 4.00pm, most of us started dispersing.
We were not far from the Fort when we saw several youngsters, five or six of them, in red or black tees, standing on and around a small makeshift platform, shouting "Kotor! Kotor!". Yells of "Bersih! Bersih!" was thrown back in reply. The red-blacks then yelled "Bersih bodoh! Bersih kampung!" and other unpleasant stuff while the yellows countered. Policemen had gathered there in case it got ugly. A pastor friend with a hailer urged the crowd of yellows to disperse and not to be fooled into a fight with the red-blacks. Jason took my hand and told me to walk away quickly.
As we waited to cross a street, a car with Wilayah plates slowed down next to us and the passenger smiled and gave us a thumbs up. I smiled and nodded in return. We got home tired, lobster red but safe and excited. That excitement was short lived. We turned on the internet and read in mounting horror about the way the rally in KL had gone. The video clips of people trying to run away from tear gas and water cannons, being caught and beaten, and that terrible tragedy of the police car crashing into a group of protesters, shocked and saddened us. Days after, as I continued to read the many eyewitness accounts and the sad response of the government, I struggled with the price many have paid and will continue to pay for a change in our country. Was it worth it? Time will tell. My conviction remain unchanged. We must speak out against injustice. We must not be silent for if we are, what is left of Malaysia for future generations? May the Lord hear our cries and heal our land.