Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bersihlah Negaraku! This is Ee May's Bersih story

This is another well written 9.07 story

Bersihlah Negaraku! This is Ee May's Bersih story

by EeMay Lee on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 3:54am

My Bersih fight started not on 709. It started as I sat helplessly in front of the computer, watching the friends I worked with at the NGO Empower in March, the secretariat to Bersih  being marched into the Black Maria by the police. Arrested. Detained. Locked up. The entire office I volunteered at being raided a week and a half before the rally.

I cried. These were girls my age! And it was the day I was supposed to go to the Empower office to collect Bersih tshirts! 

Somehow, when you watch your own friends being arrested, it is not the same as reading about it in the news. It is a tight slap across your face. A wake up call. You realise you can't just sit back and do nothing as you watch this injustice affecting your own friends.

I had a friend who made fun of me for being so Bersih-centric a week before 709. But I knew deep down inside that after you watch your own friends being arrested, something stirs within you. You know you can no longer afford to be silent. Something within you mandates you, forces you to speak up.

You know you need to arise.

Two days before Bersih: I had horrible jitters. I don't mind being detained. I don't mind water canons and tear gas. But I do NOT want to be injured! There were times I just broke out in panic attacks, so afraid of what was to come. Would I be safe??? Would I be the one to sacrifice something I couldn't yet give up? 

But I remembered the cry of Teoh Beng Hock's sister for Malaysians to seek justice. It broke my heart. And I knew that for change to happen in Malaysia, democratic practices first had to find its firm ground via properly administered elections.

I was doing this for Teoh Beng Hock. And the other Teoh Beng Hocks we never even got to know about.

Friday noon, mum dropped me off at the KTM station and I took the train up.

Personal details had been given to lawyers. Guidelines, handbooks and legal advice had been read up.

In the train, I thought to myself, "Man...Ee May, what have YOU gotten yourself into???? SERIOUSLY????" And I honestly didn't know the answer.

But I knew it was me to stand up for what is right. Even if I was standing alone. I just HAD to do it. 

I was the first to get to the hotel. Of which 12 other people came.

It was a funny experience. Most of the time I opened the door for someone, it was the first time I met these people, the people I was going to journey with.

For example, I met Indra only because I saw a message he posted on Elaine's wall whether she was going for Bersih. I immediately jump in and asked him to join us. We have never met before. And he brought two other friends along.

We bunked out in two rooms. 

The day of 709, we packed our tear gas amo. Baking soda water, towels soaked with vinegar, salt.

We hid our yellow shirts in the security box. We heard that police may come to raid empty hotel rooms. We dare not even bring the yellow shirts out with. Didn't want to be arrested along the way.

We slowly crept out from our hotel in twos and threes. We passed by at least 100 police just on our way to Petaling Street from the hotel.

KL city centre had an eery weird atmosphere that day. The ghost-like streets, the deserted walkways.

There were only five different groups of people that were present- the heavy police presence, the media, the confused tourists, the bar council lawyers and of course the protesters. This left a weird funny dynamic to KL city that day.

We loitered around Petaling Street waiting for what was to come. Noticed groups of people looking exactly like us. Bersih people. Spots of them. Congregated everywhere. But nothing to bring us together.


Until from a distance, we suddenly heard the echo of chants. Of marching. As it comes nearer, and it becomes louder.

Reformasi! Reformasi! You hear it. In awe.

And finally the march of people appear. And what a scene to behold!

PROUD BERSIH PEOPLE WALKING WITH THEIR HEADS HELD HIGH! Tearing through the police tapes. People carrying yellow flowers, yellow balloons, the jalur gemilang.

Peole holding up the BERSIH t shirt proudly up high! What was once something to be hidden, to be banned, to mean detention. Finally finding its liberation and dignity amongst these group of proud marchers.

People of different colours, tribes, languages, religions and ages. All marching in unison, as one. Shouting "VIVA RAKYAT! VIVA BERSIH! HIDUP RAKYAT! HIDUP BERSIH! BANGKIT! BANGKIT RAKYAT!" 

It was a scene I will never ever forget and will continue to hold so dearly within my heart.

"WHAT AN AMAZING ENERGY!" I cried out to my friends as we cheered at the parade-like rally.

I loved how we could see the different groups slowly marching! OOOH! THE DAYAKS WITH THEIR HEAD GEARS!!! ANd oohhhh!! That's the group of the Sarawakians!!!! WITH THEIR FLAGS!!! And ohhh the PENANGITES ARE COMING!!! ANd ohhh..those are the christians!!! And this must be the Muslims!!!!"

EVeryone marched ever so proudly, knowing that they came from different backgrounds, but were all there for the same purpose, the same goal- for our voices to be heard.

It felt as if it was an Independence Day parade. Except this wasn't the celebration of independence from colonial powers. But the independence of the rakyat's voices.

We could no longer be stifled.

We joined the march as the wave swept by and carried along the pockets of people standing by. I was just so happy to be a part of it. We ended up congregating at the Maybank tower.

I met a group of neneks in their 70s from Kedah. Wow. I could not believe it! That these neneks made their way all the way from Kedah just to attend this rally. I was overwhelmed!

I met an Australian and two Canadian tourists. "Do you know whats happening?" I asked. "Yeah! BERRRRRSEEIH!" replied the Aussie. "I was just tear-gased at Deiiiteiiran Merdeiiika!" Wow, even foreigners were supporting our cause! And as soon as they were tear-gased at Dataran Merdeka, they rushed to join the crowd at Petaling Street.

I saw uncles and aunties with yellow carnations on their heads. I saw a man without legs.

I saw people like me. I saw people different from me.

Everyone was proud to be there. They weren't afraid. We were all together. United. And as Esther aptly put, "Something Najib and all his 1Malaysia campaigns could never invoke."

A PAS leader with a loud speaker called out and said that now was the time to don our yellow shirts. And around me, I astoundedly watched as people reached into their bags for their yellow shirts. No longer hidden. No longer afraid of intimidation. People weren't fearful of being seen in it any longer.

Fear that the authorities tried to imprint in us had lost its place.

Soon, the water canons and tear gas struck. What were mere moments before a celebratory atmosphere of the liberation of the people's voices turned into one of stifling by other forces.

Of literal suffocation.

I always imagined tear gas as one just of pain and discomfort. I never thought it was one of torture.

It deprives you of your basic need- oxygen. And as your lungs heave and wrench desperately for air, you gasp in poison instead. 

You try to run to fight for air but there's too many people and you are smashed in between the crowds amd the wall.

Another tear gas explodes..and people start climbing up walls like insects scurrying away. Desperate, choking, suffocating. Your eyes hurt like mad and you can't see where you're running. At the same time you are drowning in open air, scrambling for the first inhalation of fresh oxygen. 

My first thoughts: despair because as I screamed out for help, I look around and realised no one could help me. They were all suffering the same way I did.

I saw people choking till their mouths all foamed.

I was ready to give up myself. To fall and lose consciousness when my friend grabbed me and helped me to fresh air up a slope.

I took a while to recover from the tear gas attack and ended up sprawled at the side of the road, heaving and gasping for air.

Many people, all ages, all races, ran up to help me. I had a dozen old Malay uncles offering salt. "Makan garam! Makan!" I had 15 different water bottles given to me. I had 10 people help fan me. Another lady took a wet towel and wiped my whole face.

Another guy gave me his astma inhaler. "I don't know how to use this" I cried. "I'll teach you." "PARAMEDIK!!! PARAMEDIK!!!!" A group of them rushed to my aide. Immediately administering basic first aid. My shoes and jacket was taken off. Massages given, and lots of empathy. 

I was so astounded and overwhelmed with the compassion and kindness of Malaysians, looking past race and religion. No one cared. All were just so ready to help me and do all they could for me. I was so touched. For once, I was so happy to know what it's like to live in a truly colourblind 1Malaysia. One that Moral books and Moral lessons could never show you how and prepare you for in the event of when it doeshappen- you're just knocked off with amazement.

But it wasn't long before the cries of the police coming were heard. "CEPAT! CEPAT! POLIS DAH DATANG!!!"

Oh no! We all rushed up the slope and I couldn't run much. Entirely deserted,  paramedics, friend and I sought refuge at a nearby shed. No one else was around.

Soon the police arrived. " GO!!! LEAVE!! OR I WILL ARRESTS ALL OF YOU! SKARANG!!!" the leader shouted. I started to get very terrified as I was still having trouble breathing and was gasping and heaving for air. I thought the police would understand but he did not. The paramedics pleaded for me. "Tolong! Tolonglah! Dia sakit!" "Skarang sakitlah! TAPI TADI TAK SAKIT! PERGI SKARANG! KALAU TAK SAYA AKAN ARREST YOU.... NOW!!!!" 

I just started to cry. Here I was, needing the basic thing I needed to live, to breathe. And the police head had no compassion to give me that. Was this what my countrymen was capable of? Cruel heartlessness? 

As I started to cry silently and heaved and gasped for air, the other police officers' faces completely dropped and looked at me worriedly. Finally, after the paramedics stated that they were medics, only did the police head's demeanour entirely change. "Oh...kenapa tak cakap lebih kuat!!! SORRY!!!" 

Wow. If I wasn't with the paramedics, I would have been arrested. While gasping for air.

The police left us. But another group of police came. A Malay pakcik said that we had better run because this group may not give us a chance. So we did.

We ran across the field in the rain and passed an office building. The security officer there hinted to us (I was the only Chinese within a group of Malays) to go ambil doa at the surau. So I told my new Malay friends that perhaps I could also tudung and doa kepada tuhan saya in the surau. I was too traumatized by the police and tear gas, I didn't think I could take another beating.

So I hid there with a borrowed selendang as a tudung until the coast was clear and took my time to recover from my breathing difficulties.

When the paramedics left the surau after their doa, I thanked them for their sweet kindness towards me and made them remember to add me on facebook.

"Kita jumpa pergi minum teh sama-sama kat Bangi, ya!"


My friends and I managed to meet up again in the hotel a few hours later. We exchanged stories. Some ran to Tung Shin hospital where tear gas were fired into and police charged inside to arrest even people sitting in the hospital. 

Another friend was at KL Sentral and told us how the police double trapped them at the escalator. Firing one tear gas above and as the people scarmbled to rush down the escalator, below, another FRU appeared to fire another tear gas there. Trapping the people from both sides. Where children were in the midst.

Another friend told us how they sought refuged in a church. And how a female white tourist came in, wailing, entirely traumatised by her experience of the tear gas. 

We couldn't believe the stories we heard.


I wished I didn't. I wish I didn't hide in that surau even after I had recovered. Terrified. My voice successfully quelled by the authorities that wanted it so.

I wish I charged out right again and joined the other protesters all the way to KLCC. 

I wished I wore yellow. And wasn't intimidated to wear it proud.

But I know I did the little that I could. I took my stand on 709. 

And I know I am no longer afraid the next time I am called to. Because after you've experienced it once, you fear less. 

Of the tear gas, the arrests, the intimidation. 

Because the amazing unity and energy of your other Malaysian comrades who fight on with you, strangers that nothing but share the same land you were born in come in loving sweep, carries you on.

I realised at the rally that you just cannot sit quietly comfortably when you see other malaysians fight for your rights and your future. People from all races, religion. Age. Old malay neneks and datuks. Chinese aunties. Old indian uncles. Young uni students. All suffereing, risking as others sit comfortably at home. 

It reminded me of what I wrote only a few days earlier:

We need to fight for a change and throughout history, fighting for change has never been cheap. In history, a whirlwind of change swept at the tipping point when the people could no longer be brutalized into fear and compliance by those who control them and crack down harshly on them. When the MASSES SPOKE OUT! There is power in the people and power in the masses!

 Malaysians, 709 is not the end. We need to fear less. And fight more!

People must rise up!

Malaysians, the time to rise up is now!

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