My Bersih Brisbane story
BRISBANE, May 3 — I am a Malaysian who moved to Brisbane, Australia about a year ago. I attended Bersih 2.0 Brisbane last July because I was angry.
Angry at all the shenanigans that the government was doing to stop its own rakyat from exercising their fundamental rights of free speech and to assemble.
Angry that innocent people were being arrested and beaten simply for wearing anything yellow.
Angry at the insincerity of the government and all its false promises.
The list could go on but you get my point.
Come on lah. All we want is to say “We want clean and fair elections”. It’s not supporting any political party. It’s not saying “Let’s overthrow the government”. So why are you, the government, so afraid of it and so vehemently determined to stop it? Wouldn’t it be better (for the sake of your credibility and popularity) if you just went “OK, yes. We want to listen to the rakyat so we will support/endorse/participate in it”?
But anyway, back to my story. After I came home from Bersih 2.0 Brisbane, I glued myself in front of my laptop. I had Facebook, Twitter, online news portals and online streaming open just so that I could catch everything that was going on. I wanted to experience every second of the day, even though I couldn’t be there physically. And as I read through Twitter, and watched the pictures and videos from the day, I teared up. A sad tear of the police brutality that was unleashed on its own people, the sad state of Malaysia, and the disappointment that I couldn’t be there to experience it with my brothers and sisters. But, a happy tear because I finally saw what 1 Malaysia really looked like and how there is still hope for the future of the country.
Fast forward nine months later, before Bersih was even announced, I had met another Malaysian (from the Bersih 2.0 rally) and we talked about starting initiatives here to educate our fellows here regarding things they can do post-Bersih 2.0. And then we heard about the possibility of Bersih 3.0. We thought that it could not have come at a better time and it would jive in with what we were planning to do anyways. So when Datuk Ambiga announced that Bersih 3.0, I immediately texted my friend “Bersih 3 just announced. Time to get to work”.
Through the powers of Facebook and Twitter, we were able to get a team of 4-5 people together to help organise the day. We didn’t know how or what we wanted to do on that day, but we knew that we didn’t want it to be just a normal rally. We wanted to do something that the participants can take home. Something that would keep that spark or passion burning. Something that would keep them connected to our homeland and to help our brothers and sisters back home.
So we decided that we wanted to educate the participants. “Education is empowerment”. That was our motto. We will have an educational workshop in the morning of 428, followed by the rally in the afternoon. However, we soon came to realise that organizing an event like this was not easy. We each had our own commitments, be it family, studies, or work, which sometimes took precedence. We also heard about the risks and dangers of organising such an event, such as the possibility of being denied entry back to Malaysia as well as rumours that we might be monitored or watched by officers from the Special Branch.
Although I can’t speak for the rest of team, I knew from the very bottom of my heart that I was doing the right thing. I knew this was a calling for me from God because I knew that I am fighting for my fellow Malaysians who are voiceless (due to choice or due to “restrictions” — if you know what I mean). I also knew that I am fighting for my family and my parents, who have stayed silent all these years because they wanted to keep the country safe for us. And I was fighting for my future generations, my children and my children’s children, so that they can have a better future, a better opportunity, and a better Malaysia that they can be proud of.
I wasn’t afraid because I knew I was doing the right thing and I know that God protects those who are righteous. “Come at me bro!” That was my other motto if someone tried to do anything fishy against me. Yes, I know some of you who do not support Bersih will say that Bersih is illegal, and that it is not within Malaysian culture to go to the streets to protest. That Bersih led to the chaos that ensued during Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0. That Bersih broke the law by trespassing the barricades into Dataran Merdeka. That Bersih was hijacked by the opposition. But to this I ask you the following questions:
Would the United States have an African-American president if Rosa Parks had obeyed the “law” at that time and gave up her seat to a white passenger?
Would the United States have achieve independence if the founding Fathers did not commit “treason” against the colonial British? Would WE have achieved independence if we didn’t fight for our freedom?
Would the dictators in the Middle East still be around if one Tunisian fruit vendor decided NOT to set fire on himself in an act of defiance?
There are so many examples in history where change for the better came about because people stood up and made a stand for what is right, even if that meant going against the law or the government.
Anyway, back to topic. So in the final days leading up to 428, we worked tirelessly in developing our workshop material. We developed materials touching on topics such as “What is Bersih and what does it mean to you?”, voter registration and postal voting FAQs, and a few NGOs that exist for a better Malaysia (i.e. MyOverseasVote, My Harapan, Suara Kanak-Kanak, etc.). As tired as we were on the morning of 428 (we didn’t really get to sleep the night before) and as anxious as we were about the weather (it had been raining non-stop since the night before), we were determined not to let our fatigue or the weather stop us from making 428 a success. We were angered by PDRM’s need to set up layers and layers of barricade around Dataran Merdeka (seriously, razor wires?), yet we were encouraged and strengthened by our fellow Malaysians here (our Facebook event attendance list jumped from 30 to 125 people within three days) and at home (who came out in droves the night before to be at Dataran Merdeka).
We had 20 participants attending the workshop, which was held inside the Brisbane Square Library at 11am. Although that may not seem like a significant number, each and every single one of the participants showed genuine interest and determination for a better Malaysia. We exchanged thoughts and ideas on what we could do as Malaysian, and we each shared our Bersih story of what Bersih meant to each and every one of us.
When the workshop concluded two hours later, it was still pouring outside and we, the organisers, had no idea how many people would still attend the rally because of the rain. To our surprise and amazement when we walked out of the library, there was already a big group of around 100 people gathered under the shade to shield themselves from the rain. The group consisted of people young and old, professionals, students, retirees, children, church members, Malays, Chinese, Indians, and even a few white Aussies. We also had people from the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast drive all the way to Brisbane just to attend the rally. We even had Malaysian tourists who sacrificed their vacation time to be with us!
Slowly, the group swelled up to approximately 200 people and everyone was in a cheery, happy mood under their umbrellas and raincoats. Complete strangers were taking photos of each other and talking to each other as if they were long-lost friends. During the rally, participants shared their Bersih stories and chanted to “Bersih Bersih!” and “Hidup Rakyat!”, drawing curious looks from the regular Aussies who were walking past. We read out Ambiga’s statement for Global Bersih and we briefed the crowd on the amendments to the Election Offences Act that was bulldozed by the Parliament. An hour passed by within a blink of an eye, and before we asked the participants to disperse, we had a group photo taken and we asked the participants to help decorate the Bersih banners that we had brought. We even had video interviews with the participants throughout the day (that we hope to make into a documentary) to capture their thoughts on Bersih, and their concerns of what is going on back home.
Overall, Bersih Brisbane was a success. Malaysians of all walks of life gathered for a common cause, which was to see a better Malaysia. We achieved our goal of reaching out to the people and educating them on what we can do to help our brothers and sisters back home. We had people calling us up days after the rally, asking how they can register themselves as postal voters. We had people who had been living in Australia for decades who still came out to the rally because they still cared for their homeland. Like the saying goes, “You can take a Malaysian out of Malaysia, but you can’t take the Malaysia out of the Malaysian.”
So to all those who attended the Bersih rally all over the world and in KL, I would like to say a big thank you. Thank you for breaking down all racial and cultural barriers and showing the world what 1 Malaysia is really about. Thank you for showing the world that we can achieve great things together as one. Thank you to all Malaysians overseas for showing that we still care for our country and for the people back home. Thank you for fighting to make Malaysia a better place.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.