Bersih 4: On a wing and a prayer

Here I am, on the way to the Bersih 4 rally in KL. It is August 28, a day before Bersih 4, and a thick haze has descended on Penang.

Sep 04, 2015

Anil Netto

Anil Netto
Here I am, on the way to the Bersih 4 rally in KL. It is August 28, a day before Bersih 4, and a thick haze has descended on Penang.

I have no idea what to expect. The haze choking the watery morning sunlight reflects the shroud of uncertainty over what will happen at the gathering, just ahead of Merdeka. The haze is also a metaphor for the political and economic gloom enveloping over the country, strangling any sense of optimism we can muster.

But from north to south, a yellow wave has been rising across the peninsula, perhaps not so much in the East Coast. Roads to Dataran Merdeka are blocked and traffic is likely to come to a standstill as hundreds of thousands people make their way to KL.

Will the gathering be allowed to pass without incident? Will the authorities clamp down on the gathering? Will many be arrested? We can only guess and there is an air of trepidation.

I know for sure many parishes and religious congregations are praying for this event to proceed smoothly. I am so glad the Churches have opened their doors, as a place of sanctuary, for those seeking refuge during the gathering.

There comes a point in the life of a nation when we have to choose which way forward we want to go. At times like this, we cannot afford to be fence-sitters.

We are called to be open and to read the signs of the times. Sometimes great sacrifice is required. Others sacrificed for us in the past, whether it was our parents, those struggling for our freedom as a nation, unionists championing labour rights, farmers who tilled the land, labourers who built our roads and railway tracks, the rubber tappers and tin-miners who toiled long and hard.

Today, it is our turn to sacrifice for future generations. And many Malaysians, bless them, are rising to the challenge. They are venturing forward to the unknown on a wing and a prayer. They have no idea what to expect, except that they will be joining hands with a multitude of people who long for a better Malaysia.

In a sense, it is almost a spiritual experience, as they are motivated by almost a transcendental sense of what clean governance working for the common good is all about. This concept of government that should act in the interest of the common good is very much in line with Catholic Social Teaching.

No matter what the outcome, will Bersih 4 achieve anything? I believe it is going to be one of the watershed moments in the life of the nation. We are at a crossroads, on the threshold between despair and hope.

Whatever happens, those Malaysians who turned up know what they want. They have made a choice that they believe in our better side as a nation, founded on the ideals of democracy and liberty, a land where justice and freedom will flourish.

We want clean and honest leaders, a responsible government. We want strong and independent institutions of government that can protect the rights of the people, especially the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the disempowered. Enough of corruption and oppression!

Bersih 4 is a reflection of that hope and those aspirations.

Will the haze over our land finally give way to blue skies? Will a rainbow burst forth after the storm clouds have blown away?

Bersih 4 is not about coming up with immediate answers. No one seriously expects everything to be hunky dory the morning after; if anything, the uncertainty could heighten, and many are bracing themselves for what lies ahead.

Many more sacrifices will be required. The struggle for freedom, justice and peace is never an easy one. But it is a journey we have to embark on, despite the personal costs.

To be sure, we will take away memories of the throng of humanity, clad in bright yellow T-shirts on the streets of KL, standing like so many candles, flickering with the hope that the darkness can be dispelled from our land.

Already I can almost hear the distant chant, Hidup, hidup; hidup Bersih. And so we go forth on a wing and a prayer.

Thoughts after the rally:

What an uplifting and empowering experience it was! Half a million Malaysians, a vast multitude crammed the streets near Dataran Merdeka over the 34-hour event that began at 2.00pm on August 29 and ended at the stroke of midnight on August 30.

Never before have I heard the Negaraku sung with so much gusto, fervour and love as I witnessed when the clock struck twelve. The rousing rendition revealed that the struggle for justice, freedom, cleaner elections and accountable government is underpinned by a deep love for the nation.

All around me, streams and rivers of yellow-clad Bersih supporters along streets like Jalan Tun Perak poured into a sea of humanity around Dataran Merdeka, the multitude stretching as far as the eye could see. The creative, eye-popping initiatives, and witty placards on display astonished many. Many others stepped forward to volunteer their services — from cleaning the streets of litter to guiding traffic along crowded streets.

The last-minute, almost desperate and laughable attempt to deter Malaysians from attending by banning the Bersih 4 T-shirts proved to be an exercise in futility. Many attended anyway, crossing their own personal thresholds of fear to join their fellow Malaysians in a show of solidarity that will be long remembered. For many, this was their first public rally, and going by the fervour on display during the rally, it won’t be their last.

Thousands slept on the streets and pavements on the night of August 29, making a statement that this was a small sacrifice in the struggle for a cleaner and more accountable government.

The highlight for me, was when a row of people with disabilities, rode along the streets on wheelchairs, to thunderous cries of Bersih! Bersih! Next to them someone carried a placard to the effect that RM2.6bn could have provided so many amenities to cater to the needs of the disabled.

Churches earned tremendous goodwill by providing hospitality and portable toilets on its premises. A photograph of Archbishop Julian Leow on the LRT heading for Bersih 4 went viral on social media.

The fact that the gathering of half million ended without any major incident, was to me, a miracle in itself, after all the earlier uncertainty and fear. An answer to the prayers of so many Christians and those of other faiths.

Sure, there is still much work to do to connect and express solidarity with the aspirations of those who were not present, including those in rural areas.

For now though, syabas, Malaysians! This was a major milestone in the journey towards freedom and solidarity in our land. The struggle continues.

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