APRIL 26 — I’m not your average Joe. After the first Bersih (N1) in 2007, tear-gassed and run ragged by the police, especially their cute anti-riot division over three hours, I did what any level-headed bloke would do — hop on the train for 10 stops, get into my car and drive over to my die-hard Umno friend’s Raya open house.
Nothing like a hungry protester.
Last year, I had feed-time high on the agenda. I was getting into my McDonald’s Spicy Chicken McDeluxe burger when the tear gas canisters started clanking all around me outside the Puduraya 7-Eleven. I decided to be indomitable, and probably more than slightly stupid. I continued standing until I finished my food and found a proper bin, even as the fog of engagement grew around me. Something about general principles, not losing manners even in dire situations.
I almost collapsed 20 minutes later from a combination of the tear gas and water cannons. It did not seem all that sexy at that point, being the protester. That single, insignificant person wobbling by the side of a bus terminal no one really wants to enter, not thinking anymore about buses or burgers, just trying to keep breathing.
And there they lined up, facing me. The state apparatus, the police. Moving in, sizing us up and picking targets for an untidy arrest. Up the slope, down the slope, through the shoplot, pass the backstreet, near the undergrowth and constantly pinned-in.
It takes a lot out of you. Time, stress, fear, hate and loneliness.
But it matters. These are days which will determine the long-term future of this country.
The state has to be reminded occasionally that the people determine things, not through a series of convoluted ideas. Just them, telling those entrusted to administer our lives that they do not get a free pass.
So this Saturday
Are you afraid (N2)? I so understand you, and I’m not going to throw some baseless accusations at you. Stay home, don’t worry there will be enough of us out there. When we are less, our voice may be less, but our resolve remains the same.
Activists cannot fight for their right to express, and then turn around and lambast the rest who want not to express. The right to express includes the rights to not express, not to be interested. This right must be defended too. Otherwise, we’ll end up being self-righteous moralising reprobates. That is not freedom, that is not right.
So choose for yourself. The right to vote is the starting point for all our other rights. When the vote is demoted, our rights will be demoted soon after.
But let us speak of happier tidings (Bersih 101)
I’m done with the social message.
What can be done at a rally to have fun? Democracy cannot be a boring unbelievably preachy concept. It is about giving us the right to realise our humanity. And fun is right up there.
There are obvious downsides. Fashion for example. There is only that much you can do with yellow. And when thousands are in it you are really not going to strike out, setting hearts racing. Plus the designs are, to be honest, pretty gaudy.
It is a reprieve for fashion ignoramuses like me. No one will notice that I have zero fashion sense.
However, for those seeking to show there is more to fashion than colour, then there are accessories you can avail.
The bandana is out this season, no seriously. Place them back in the drawer. Same goes for the turtleneck sweaters.
Bangles, chains and shoestrings might give you the slight edge, allowing you to catch the eye of the dashing riot policeman in his tight-fitting pants, if you can only see the curves through the multi-layers, baton, shield, helmet and cleverly disguised smile.
If he comes for you, this might not be good news. Let him chase you, play hard to get. No, seriously, run.
There is a social gap at these Bersih rallies. No one knows what to sing. It is almost tragic, until you see someone smashed in the corner by two policemen.
I am sure “Kumbaya” might not be an instant hit, neither would a Pitbull track. The Chumbawamba’s classic “Tubthumping” (I get knocked down, but I get up again, you never gonna keep me down) might be good.
Every Malaysian can always fall back to “Rasa Sayang” and “Can Mali Can”, if you can get a small group at Dataran to sing a verse to a smartphone and put it up on YouTube, it will go viral pretty quickly.
Which leaves us two major preoccupation, dancing and picking up.
For those in love with the “chicken dance” I’d usually say refrain yourself, but if you are willing to put yourself in harm’s way to champion democracy, you can have your dance. Go on, do it. I’ll smirk not too much.
Just because you are a protester does not mean you stop being a gal or guy. And it is a Saturday. Imagine all those post-Bersih parties (No, I do not know of any post-Bersih parties, I am making this up).
Honestly, good couples come from those sharing feelings and beliefs. So it is always a good place to acquire some friends (behave boys!).
This is no joke
We know what we believe in, those who have shown up and are going to show up this weekend.
The light bits aside, the unadulterated truth is a smiling protester is worth five.
To be faced with such adversity, no recourse, an arrest possible and no “angpow” at the end of your travails requires a certain character, a certain pride.
I try, but I do lose my resolve at times.
But those who can just look up and smile at their armed aggressors and accept harm as part of the trade off of wanting real change, these people are just gold.
So here we go, before another weekend. Raise your glasses to the organisers, the men and women who never get thanked, the various social groups, the individuals canvassing for attendees, those sending emails organising travels, those putting up strangers in their homes, garage and storeroom, those who rush to you with water and salt because they feel your hurt needs tending before their own, those who just stop calling each other by names but just “abang, adik, pakcik, makcik” and expect the courtesies that any civilised person should.
And toast them, for they are remarkable. You are remarkable. You guys are no ordinary Joes or Janes. Let’s teach those who don’t know how much this democracy means to us.
(N1) Bersih is a coalition of NGO seeking fairer and free elections in Malaysia. Their eight demands are: a clean electoral roll, reform to postal voting, the use of indelible ink, a minimum campaign period of 21 days, fair access to the media, the strengthening public institutions, a stop to corruption, and an end to dirty politics.
(N2) Bersih 3.0 is planned this Saturday, April 28 at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur. The home minister, mayor and prime minister cannot make up their minds between them, which usually means they are going to send in their men in uniform to prove democracy is about law and order.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.