Reflections on and from Bersih 4

– Katrina Jorene Maliamauv
The Malaysian Insider
18 September 2015

I wrote these thoughts down immediately after Bersih 4, but I’ve decided to only share them days down the line, once the news-cycle presumably moves on to something else, once the frenzy of pictures and status updates capturing the warmth, excitement, hope and enthusiasm fade away.

As powerful and moving as it is when hundreds of thousands of people come together in an act of protest, it is necessary always for us to remember that for protest to be transformative, it cannot exist as a singular event.

It is also critical for us to remember that acts of change cannot merely be external; we are part of the force for change, in ways that are vital beyond our feet marching in unison, our voices raising together in rally cries, our bodies on the street in acts of overnight resistance.

There is a quieter, less visible, more reflective (and creative) side of protest that we must talk about: the connecting of dots, and the utilising of our collective imagination (anger! sadness! frustration! hope!) for creation.

Connecting of dots: It is the piecing together of history (the official, the lived, the not-talked about, the experienced), a weaving of narratives, an exploration of unanswered questions, an outcome of constant vigilance and continuous interrogation of ourselves/each other/the systems that will help us understand how we got to this point that we’re in.

Creation: It is the permission we give ourselves to imagine what the values we stand for (justice! dignity! human rights! muhibbah! peace! radical love! respect!) will look like in practice.

It is the persistent and relentless imagination to create that world, and to live that creation in the everyday choices of our lives even as we work towards building that greater world.

Protest is as much action as it is reflection. Thinking about some of the conversations around Bersih 4, and the experiences (my own/others) over the years, here are some reflections and questions I hope we can reflect on individually, points we can challenge each other with as we fortify our resistance and expand our vision of the world we want:

1. In response to the cries of “where are the Malays?” after the first day of the rally, Hafidz Baharom (August 30, 2015) asks, “Were there no Malays, or did you fail to notice?”

He urges us to “look all around us”, at the people working in the train stations/restaurants/café/hotels/road stalls that protesters used/visited, the majority of whom are ethnic Malays, most likely unable to take the day off to join a protest because that would mean a loss in wages they cannot afford.

His call to us is a stark reminder of the millions we render invisible to ourselves every day, the millions we file away as that lump of statistics, “the poor”. Do we fail to notice them? Why? When we say one of our demands is to “save the Malaysian economy”, as Hafidz asks, who are we saving the economy for? How will the vision for a more just economy include the people we fail to see?

By the way, why don’t we ask “where are the ethnic Indians, the Orang Asli, the gender diverse, the elderly, people who are differently abled?” Sure, people from all those communities were present too, but proportional to our population? Or are we so used to not-seeing them either?

2. “I’m not Malay, Chinese or Indian – I’m Malaysian”: while I can appreciate the sentiment, I’d ask us to reflect on what that really means, what we’re truly saying. Do we need to abandon our differences before we can see our commonalities?

We are not all the same – our histories, heritage, lived experiences in relation to the State, in relation to economic policies, in relation to each other are often very different. Turning a critical eye away from race often leads us down that terrible path of indirect racism. How do we think about race while weaving the thread of unity? Where is the space to manoeuvre through our complexities – when we say we are “one”, what is that “one” composed of?

3. For many, Bersih 4 was the first time they stepped forward to protest. I think that’s truly wonderful, and I don’t want to diminish the value and force of that. I do want us to ask ourselves and each other, what held us back before?

What were we willing to put up with; what did we allow ourselves to endure; what did we not see, notice, pay attention to, realise? What more do we need to learn how to see, to listen to, to learn in the years that we missed with our absence or inaction?

4. How will we build our resilience towards inaction? How can we foster perseverance?

5. What are we going to do differently this time? Beyond this moment of rallying in the street, beyond the tweet, beyond the filing of albums in glorious yellow – what are we going to do differently in our every day to live that vision?

6. What world do we want created? How will we work towards creating that world? With whom will we co-create? Who does this vision include? Will it just be people who look like us, who live in our communities, who speak like us?

Or is our vision inclusive of people in economic states so different from ours; people who are ethnically/religiously different; people we cannot understand or imagine because they are too far from us (we keep ourselves far from them) – how will we include those we do not see, do not hear, do not understand in the world we’re creating?

7. How do we expand our capacity to imagine inclusivity? What does being inclusive look like in our relationships, in the work we do, in spaces of interaction, in policy documents, in leadership we choose and display? How do we ensure we do not replicate divisiveness?

8. How do we hold on to that spirit of muhibbah, of respect for each other and the environment? How do we replicate the little joys so celebrated during Bersih (giving way so people can pray, making sure rubbish is collected, celebrating each other’s art, being courteous and helpful) – how can we make that manifest in our daily lives? Where are we failing to do so? And why?

9. Are we prepared to confront in uncomfortable and painful ways our complicity in creating and enabling the ‘monster’ that lives today? It is well and good to target Datuk Seri Najib Razak, a necessary immediate focal point. But what about the monsters of racism, classism, patriarchy, prejudice, economic violence, displacement and gender discrimination that we feed with our hand, that we let loose when we turn our eyes away?

10. And finally (for now): Are we preparing ourselves for a journey that is long, and difficult? How will we take care of each other as we do this difficult work? How do we stay vigilant, remain critical and conscious without burning out from exhaustion?

How will we celebrate this journey of resistance and creation? And will we give ourselves permission to discover new ways to connect with one another, to grow, to love, to dream, to inspire, and to be changed in unexpected and transformative ways? – September 18, 2015.

  1. #1 by boh-liao on Friday, 18 September 2015 - 7:42 pm

    How can dis b a united nation?
    LKS still referred 2 as BABI, not Barbie

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