The seed of hope

Jun Watanabe
April 29, 2012

I was at the head of the sit-in protest on Leboh Pasar Besar when the police started mobilizing the armored tanker-trucks to the front of the police line and without warning started spraying chemically laced water onto us. From later accounts after I got home it seemed that some protestors got violent and broke through the barricades in another location, but from where we were we had no intention or at least urgency in crossing the line. I found out also later that the bell that rang was a warning that they would start spraying, but at that time I suppose we were not familiar with riot procedures.

Most of us were visibly stunned, not unlike deers caught in headlights, displayed delayed reaction in view of oncoming water gushing juggernaut. It wasn’t until the pop-pop sound of tear gas canisters being emptied and started falling around us that we turned around and ran for dear life. We took shelter behind buildings and road signs, where some of the more foolhardy amongst us would emerge again into the open and taunt the police. Some petulant ones would rummage for anything to throw at the trucks, but being too far or his chosen projectile too unwieldy, almost always comically failing to hit the mark.

It was then most of us started to feel it.

The chemical water was irritating my skin, but not enough to persuade me to give up my ground and continue taking pictures. With the first whiff of the gas however I started to choke, and within the next few seconds I heaved and wheezed with much difficulty, my eyes started to hurt and water, and the pain was quickly becoming excruciating. I ran away a few blocks disorientated, clashing bodies and tripping over pavements. I could hardly open my eyes, but spied a young Malay couple running with a young child in the father’s arms, all wrapped up and bawling her lungs out. All I could think then was thank you for being here, but leave the kid at home.

At a clearing at the Tun H S Lee junction I paused to take in my surroundings. I accepted some salt this lady was handing out at a street corner, and quickly ingested it. People were streaming in from wherever they were running from. Everywhere I looked, people were exhausted, disheveled, wet from sweat or the chemical water or having rinsed themselves, their eyes blood red from its effects or some visibly crying. Some defiant ones pointed their middle fingers to the riot police in the distance or above at the helicopters.

We lingered at little bit more, got boxed in a little bit more, got shot at with tear gas a little bit more, and ran a little bit more, but it was clear to me that our day was done. We had proved a point.

We came out in encouraging numbers, approaching 100,000 according to some media estimates. From my start point in Brickfields we moved off in the direction of the city with a couple of hundred people which quickly swelled to the thousands, whopping in welcoming groups to merge into us from the highway ramps & the side streets, motorists honking and takings pictures and giving out thumbs up signs. We held up banners. We chanted slogans, and at underpasses, our echoes resonating even more and penetrating us back with spine chilling effect.

The point that some would make is that most who attended the Bersih 3.0 rally were already the converted, that they would be voting for the other side anyway. But it is not just about that. It also also not solely about marching regardless of race or creed or religion, that the Indian man would be walking side by side with a Malay woman, and on her side a Chinese boy. It is not just about that.

We are probably the-already-converted who attended the rally, but having been there reinforces us, dispelling our big brother fears and entrenches the belief that what we are doing is right, that we are holding up our democratic rights, the right to a clean and fair electoral system, one that decides our representatives in government. This year more people openly wore the iconic yellow than before. Most importantly, we knew that we were heading towards Dataran Merdeka not as the opposition or to meet with a politician or a political party, but with the knowledge that we were there for ourselves and the future we will leave to our children.

The fight will not be easy, and it will not be fair. Already the cynics among us are saying that the unruly protestors who broke through the barricades may have been Special Branch, that the people who threw the gas canisters back at the police line looked like they knew what they were doing, as if they had military training in the way they threw them. It may turn out untrue, but whatever the story is, we know that we can no longer trust the sitting government. We know that they control the mainstream media, the civil service and a compromised judiciary. They have a huge war chest and they will do whatever to desperately cling onto power. We know but can’t blame the poor amongst us who sell their votes for a sack of rice. With everything going against us we must possess the fortitude to see through the promises of this awakening – that it is the people who wields the power.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Monday, 30 April 2012 - 12:50 pm

    Long live people power! Cheers!

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