Bersih 4: My full 34-hour experience

Bersih 4 Dataran Merdeka jalan raja

Bersih 4 was a success regardless of what some may say

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

12.00PM, 29 August 2015: Along with my friends, we took off to KL Sentral to have lunch and gather with their other friends. Even before the “gangster” deemed yellow Bersih 4 t-shirts illegal, we had already planned to be extra cautious by not wearing yellow in case the police were randomly intimidating and arresting people like during Bersih 2.0 in 2011 (I’ll never forget what they’ve done to us then). We were inspired when we saw plenty of yellow as soon as we arrived at KL Sentral and changed our tops immediately. I guess everyone’s just more angry than afraid of the government. I believe all of us brought the essential stuff, like water, salt, mask and goggles. I had powerbank and sleeping bag packed too as I was going to stay overnight there.

Bersih 4 kl sentral

2.00PM, 29 August 2015: We walked to one of the gathering points in Brickfields where there was already a large crowd here waiting to march towards Dataran Merdeka. We followed them for a while before going ahead on our own as they were on a busy street and moving way too slow. The chanting, signage-holding and photo-taking begun while snowballing ourselves into a much larger crowd in Jalan Pudu. “Hidup, hidup! Hidup, Bersih! Bangkit, bangkit! Bangkit, Rakyat! Undur, undur! Undur, Najib!” We saw and spoke to a couple of friendly police officers who were assigned to safeguard the area. Many bus and taxi drivers were honking and waving their hands and yellow items to show support despite having passengers in their vehicles. They definitely would’ve joined us if they weren’t working on this day.

Bersih 4 brickfields

bersih 4 pasar seni

BErsih 4 cardboard signage hoes before hose

3.30PM, 29 August 2015: We have arrived at our planned destination, which was Menara Maybank in Jalan Tun Perak. There were definitely thousands of attendees here alone but still far away from Dataran Merdeka. After having a taste of teargas and water cannons in previous Bersih rallies, my friends wanted to play it safe and just hang around here instead of going closer to the frontline. I also received a dubious text from an unknown number (+6 012 378 9955) that says in Malay, “Malay people get out of Dataran Maybank now!!” But nothing happened. Curious of what it’s like further in front, I left my friends and moved forward. It felt safe enough as it looked as though there were 2 – 3 times more attendees than previous rallies. I wasn’t tired yet but man, it was hot. Bersih volunteers were giving out free water bottles and recycling garbage bags in almost every where in the area.

bersih 4 menara maybank

bersih 4 melayu keluar sms text

bersih 4 yellow balloons jalan tun perak

4.30PM, 29 August 2015: The weather remained hot but the haze made the skies look gloomy. It was amazingly jam-packed of people in yellow, shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the road from Jalan Tun Perak all the way to where the barricades of Dataran Merdeka was. There’s a stage-truck in between where Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, was giving speech at, and more creative and hilarious signage and “art pieces” made appearance among the crowd. There were certainly a lot more going on here with a lot more things to see. To go around the massive congestion of people, I went down to a small road beside Masjid Jamek LRT Station where there were a lot of drinks and foods being sold. There were Domino’s Pizza too on motorbikes, RM5.90 per personal pan of Hawaiian. I bought one without hesitation and ate it before continuing my journey, squeezing through the yellow sea while bumping into a few friends who went separately.

bersih 4 jalan tun perak lim guan eng

bersih 4 najib hitler

bersih 4 domino'sbersih 4 najib in bars jail

bersih 4 jalan tun perak

bersih 4 jalan raja

Bersih 4 melayu malays Jalan Raja

5.30PM, 29 August 2015: I finally reached the barricades on Jalan Raja. Can’t believe it took me more than an hour just to get here from Menara Maybank. The actual barricades by the police was far behind the yellow barricade set up by the Bersih organisers themselves. Only the media, lawyers and the safety & security units from Bersih (Pemantau), PKR (Skuad) and GHB (ARiF) were allowed to be in between these two barricades. Nobody was getting through to Dataran Merdeka this time and nobody would dare to start any trouble around that area either. The amount of people in yellow here was just too great. Even the violent “Red Shirts” only had guts to make appearance after the rally. I could hear sound from speakers but I couldn’t really catch a glimpse of the main stage as it was really, truly, crowded. The opposition leaders were only allowed to speak if Bersih or the crowd agreed. If there was any concern that immediately popped into my mind after taking a look around, it’s the lack of Malay attendees. I’d say probably 80% were Chinese and the rest were Malays, Indians and Orang Asli. And it saddened me quite a bit. Where were the rest from previous Bersih rallies, I wondered. Yes, the ideal is that it shouldn’t matter what race was there as we’re all Malaysians, but we all know what ‘they’ would say, and we needed to continue to show that all Malaysians are still truly united.

bersih 4 dataran merdeka barricades

bersih 4 dataran merdeka jalan raja

6.00PM, 29 August 2015: Made my way backwards to Mannequin Bar near St. John’s Cathedral to reunite with my friends again. My legs were already in pain but I decided to join them in their walk back to KL Sentral for dinner, beer and transportation back home. But really, I should’ve just taken the LRT as it wasn’t as badly crowded as we thought. After some drinks and a bit of rest at Malone’s Bar & Restaurant in Sooka Sentral, I left my friends again and returned to Masjid Jamek by LRT on my own. As it was a 34-hour solidarity demonstration, I wasn’t going to allow my fatigue to stop me from staying committed for the entire thing. Like the thousands that were there, I was angry, and I still am. I want our racial card-playing, scandal-filled prime minister to step down. I want our economy to recover. I want a clean government to serve us, not the gangsters and fools running the country. And on top of it all, I want a free and fair election with genuine freedom of speech for everyone and all media. Besides, if everyone went home or slept at hotels, the rally would’ve seemed like a failure.

bersih 4 jalan raja stage night

9.00PM, 29 August 2015: Back at Masjid Jamek – Dataran Merdeka, many have left the scene but it became a full-blown carnival. It reminded me of the Christmas night at Universal Studios Singapore. There were food stalls, music, never-ending chants, more creative displays, and of course, the very annoying vuvuzelas. Seriously, many were using vuvuzelas even when the organisers were telling them to stop. I guess Tun Dr. Mahathir’s appearance at the rally really pumped a lot of people up. Although there were many commercial shops around like 7-11,, McDonalds, Burger King and mamak’s, free foods and drinks were still being given out. Apparently some of them weren’t even from the organisers. It’s a kind gesture but afraid of food poisoning, I had fast food again. I bet the businesses here were making a lot of money these two days. I was quite convinced that nothing terrible’s going to happen on this night, at least not from the police FRU. They have been very fair and friendly throughout the entire 34 hours, otherwise there would’ve been a lot of drama, tearjerking moments and new true-1Malaysia stories to share again.

bersih 4 kids children jalan raja

bersih 4 techno suit

bersih 4 art piece chicken pig najib rosmah

bersih 4 signs yellow flowers balloon

bersih 4 masjid jamek night

12.00AM, 30 August 2015: The spirit and energy of the people remained very high. The night ended with everyone singing the national anthem. Many left and I’d say only around 10 – 20% stayed back to sleep on the streets. I saw DAP’s Lim Kit Siang and PKR’s Rafizi walking from Jalan Tun Perak to the main stage but not sure if they slept on the streets like us. GHB’s Mat Sabu was seen sleeping near the barricades on a sleeping bag. The Bersih organisers were apparently sleeping behind the main stage. Most of the attendees slept on the sidewalks or around the barricades while I positioned myself in front of Menara OCBC but I couldn’t sleep at all. The sounds of motorbikes from time to time made me feel a bit anxious. Plus, I’ve never slept on the streets before in my life and the street lights were bright. This experience made me appreciate my bed more than I already did. I never had an issue with toilets. There were portable toilets prepared by the organisers but ironically, thanks to my recent digestive problem, I never needed to do the number two. An old friend whom I hadn’t seen for many years drove here and met up with me. Thanks, Dex! That helped kill some time.

bersih 4 barricades dataran merdeka

bersih 4 sleeping on street

6.30AM, 30 August 2015: Here comes the sun~ do, do, do, do~ Many have already woken up. Free breakfast and coffee were being handed out. The garbage-handling volunteers were collecting rubbishes. As for me, I was just hoping I could last the next 17+ hours despite the lack of sleep. My phone battery and powerbank were running out but it felt like I needed to keep on posting on my social media channels to inform and encourage more people to attend today and stay until the countdown to Merdeka.

bersih 4 morning dataran merdeka

8.00AM, 30 August 2015: I planted myself in front the main stage in Jalan Raja. Since I was going to be with nobody I know until the Merdeka countdown, I might as well stay here and be entertained by speeches, performances and announcements. The only problem here was that I couldn’t go online. The vandalised Bersih 4 Volkswagen Beetle was placed right in front of the main stage where there were constantly people selfie-ing with it. It’s sad and it hurts to see it with my own eyes. Its battle scars truly represents the struggle that we’re going through. The programme at the main stage kicked off with a senaman pagi (morning exercise). This had got to be the biggest senaman pagi in the history of Malaysia. Then the young and charismatic emcees, Adam Adli and the other student activist (sorry, can’t recall the name) took over. Politicians get allowances, but these activists get no personal gain out of what they’re doing. Utmost respect for them. They also kept reminding the people not to trespass the barricades as that was the key condition the police had. Music performers and those who wanted to speak were invited onto the stage. I was moved to tears by some of the speeches, particularly from the recently arrested #OccupyParliament student activists who shared their experience, and the OKU representative who’s fighting for the rights of the OKU people.

bersih 4 volkwagen beetle

bersih 4 senaman pagi morning exercise

bersih 4 adam adli bangsart main stage

12.00PM, 30 August 2015: Lunch break! Finally, I got to get up and move to somewhere with better internet connection. As soon as I walked into Jalan Tun Perak, I could already feel that the number of people had grown. Yesterday was more than previous Bersih rallies, and today was more than yesterday (there’s no way of knowing the actual number but it sure did feel like it). The spirit and energy were much more stronger than yesterday, and it was constant. You will never feel anything like this at any where else. It was also very encouraging to see much more Malays as well compared to yesterday. Although I was tired as hell, I was extremely delighted. I wanted to reserve my spot in front of the main stage again so I didn’t want to take too long for lunch. I simply bought some bread from 7-11 and went back to the barricades. It wasn’t easy at all moving through the crowd from there to here and back there as people were surrounding the smaller stages in between where superstar opposition MP’s were giving their speeches. The vuvuzelas really did get out of hand as many failed to show respect by keeping their excitement down during Muslim prayers. If this wasn’t strictly a peaceful assembly… well let’s just say many of us wouldn’t have been as tolerant.

bersih 4 second day jalan tun perak

2.00PM, 30 August 2015: It was so hot sitting in front of the main stage that I got sunburnt and then the rain came but most people did not budge. Political music band BangsArt got the crowd singing, hopping, pumping their fists in the air, clapping to the beats, just basically having a lot of fun. There were songs about Bersih, Najib, Malaysia, and one to thank the police for doing their job. The melodies were simple but catchy and uplifting, and the lyrics were smartly written for people to follow and singalong easily. It was like a real rock gig, if not better. Dato Ambiga Sreenevasan and Bersih 2.0 Steering Committee Chairperson, Maria Chin Abdullah, were on stage as well during the rain.

bersih 4 waktu solat

bersih 4 rain

bersih 4 maria chin abdullah during rain

5.00PM, 30 August 2015: The rain stopped but I was already all soaked, with 4 hours to wait before the finale that was starting from 9pm onwards. The crowd here seemed to have grown even bigger despite the rain. As I said, the spirit and energy of the people here were constant. It was so congested that I had to literally force my way through to Masjid Jamek LRT Station. According to Maria Chin Abdullah, there were 500,000 attendees at the rally. I took the train back to KL Sentral to have a good rest and meal at a quiet restaurant where I could sit and eat comfortably but the soreness in my thighs and the bruise-like pain in my feet couldn’t go away. I guess I was being too active without knowing my limits. There were people at Nu Sentral that gave me the stares and one of them even jokingly said, “Jom kita start rally ‘hidup Najib’ sini.” What to do? Ignore lor…

Bersih 4 muslim prayers evening

7.00PM, 30 August 2015: I took the LRT back to Masjid Jamek after finishing my dinner, checking for news updates online (found out that Tun Dr. Mahathir made appearance again to “support the people”), changing into a drier t-shirt (that I wore yesterday) and removing my wet socks. It was Waktu Solat (Muslim prayers) and the annoying vuvuzelas were at it again but much more obedient than before this time as the moment of silence were longer.

8.00PM, 30 August 2015: Managed to get myself a pretty good spot again near the main stage. The whole hour was seemingly dedicated to Muslims where Muslim figures were invited onto stage to give their speeches and prayers for the rally. One of them whose name I can’t recall (sorry, I’m really bad with names), said that if it’s true that there were more Chinese than Malays in this rally, he is thankful to the Chinese for fighting for the country. His words, not mine.

bersih 4 flag

9.00PM, 30 August 2015: More speeches and music performances until the countdown to Merdeka. BangsArt were back on once again to give us yet another powerful performance which got the crowd behind them and responding to the music actively. Every time BangsArt was performing, they never failed to produce cool, magical and beautiful moments with the people (check out the video below!). A two-piece band, that I didn’t mention before, called Eddie was back on stage too by popular demand to play some popular Malay, Chinese and English tunes. That girl sure can sing very well in all languages.

bersih 4 handphone lights

11.00PM, 30 August 2015: Only one hour left before history was created. There was a small explosion on Jalan Tun Perak that even the people on the main stage in Jalan Raja could hear. From then on, everyone was noticeably anxious. The emcees and organisers obviously knew what happened but to keep the people calm, they didn’t tell us. Dato Ambiga came on to tell us not to waste it, there’s only 30 minutes left to complete the 34 hours. It was after that I found out that someone threw a firecracker into the crowd. He was apprehended and handed over to the police. Nobody was seriously injured, only minor burns. Good job by the people and the security units. Opposition leader and Anwar Ibrahim’s wife, Wan Azizah arrived and was given a roaring cheer from the crowd. She went up the stage for a few words before Maria Chin Abdullah gave the final speech of the entire rally, encouraging the people to pressure their MP’s to pass a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Najib Razak.

bersih 4 wan azizah

12.00AM, 31 August 2015: Maria Chin Abdullah almost screwed up the countdown to Merdeka (watch the video below, it’s funny!) but fortunately it didn’t spoil the glorious historical moment. Everyone chanted Merdeka several times before Bersih 4 was official ended on a high note with one last Negaraku with the tens to hundreds of thousands. Everyone slowly but peacefully dispersed. Some hanged around to eat. There were even more food stalls and trucks compared to the previous night. Probably ’cause they heard how great the other businesses were doing and how harmless the rally was. My friend gave me a ride back home (thanks, Joel!) and I pretty much slept till the morning of September 1st.

So how could you not agree that Bersih 4 was a success? So much could’ve gone wrong with the hundreds of thousands people there in one area but it went so well and probably had less problems than an actual carnival or festival. Nobody went over the barricades blocking Dataran Merdeka. It was a brilliant idea to have had another barricade set up by Bersih themselves. Many volunteers kept picking up rubbishes throughout the event and holding up signages to tell people where to throw or recycle their garbage. There were also many volunteers, including those who weren’t directly involved with the organisers, who were giving away free food and drinks. There were never ever a problem with hunger, thirst or toilet.

bersih 4 garbage volunteers cleaners

Many who never slept out on the streets before actually stayed and did so. There were medical teams, security and safety units, and “information counters” (generally for people to ask where the closest toilet is) in almost every corner. The police didn’t test the power of the people either, as I said, otherwise there would’ve been drama and true 1Malaysia stories to share like before. And one of the rally’s messages was clearer than anything else — WE WANT NAJIB TO GO! It was an unbelievably fantastic job by Bersih 2.0 Steering Committee in organising this 34-hour rally. So much thought and details had been put into it. Bersih 4 was undoubtedly a success. My heartfelt thanks to all those involved for their great efforts and true patriotism.

bersih 4 art performer on the streetYes, there were also some frustratingly disappointing moments and acts, mostly by the attendees, that may have helped provide the naysayers with ammo to further taint the rally as a “Chinese” one. There were lion dance on the second day, attendees stomping a photo with PAS’ leader Hadi Awang in it, vuvuzela noises during Muslim prayers, banners and satirical cardboards written in Chinese (come on, even I can’t read Chinese), and music performers covering songs by Beyond (Chinese rock band) multiple times on stage which majority of the attendees sang loudly along to. The Beyond songs may have relevant meanings (even Adam Adli was singing along to it), and I’m a huge fan myself (I used to jam their songs when I was in band too) but most of the non-Chinese speaking attendees didn’t know that and it may have made them feel left out a little bit.

Although it’s difficult (even to me), please forgive the inconsiderate acts. Many of the attendees were young, still immature, not fully informed, and above all, not politicians. They were there to exercise their rights to protest and to speak up peacefully without knowing that some of their actions may be disrespectful or too, for the lack of a better term I could think of, cina. Hopefully they would come out and apologise publicly through the media as well (probably Bersih 2.0 Steering Committee could help find and guide them through the process?). I believe we will all eventually learn to be more respectful to each other, and use a language(s) that all of us could understand when we’re not doing a culture exchange of sorts. If there were dikir barat, wayang kulit or any non-Chinese performances, I’m sure it would’ve been very welcomed by the attendees as well. I personally would’ve loved that more than a lion dance.

On a last note, allow me to emphasise this again — next time, PLEASE DO NOT BRING, BUY OR USE VUVUZELAS or anything that’d make loud noises. Rallies aren’t sport events. What if something terrible was happening but many couldn’t hear it coming due to the noise pollution caused by vuvuzelas? Jangan buat suka-suka saja, tolonglah fikir sikit.

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