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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

BERSIH 3.0: Letter from teacher to former student

From a teacher to her former student:

My thoughts after Bersih 3 : what I think Bersih 4 will be about

Hi Sushmita,
When you asked me to share my Bersih 3 experience, I did not feel like writing at all because I had nothing terribly exciting to report. My friend and I were among those who got the message to disperse at about 3 pm, and we were walking past Central Market heading towards Brickfields when we saw the cloud of teargas rolling along the Klang river beside Central Market. We had heard earlier shouts of “Tear gas !” and some muted sounds of explosions in the distance, but mercifully, we were quite a distance from the attacks. It was only later that we heard reports and saw videos carrying stories about the unwarranted aggression and violence inflicted upon our fellow Bersih comrades.

So what is there to tell you? The tables are now turned. The teacher now has to submit a piece to a former student. The teacher who had kept insisting on responses and opinions from docile and clueless undergrads is now required to submit her response to a momentous event, and I find myself searching for something worthwhile to say. I could tell you that Bersih has debunked the myth that Malaysians can never be punctual because I know many of us started out at hours ahead for an event that was to start at 2 pm ! I cannot bring myself to repeat what so many others have already written about – the carnival-like atmosphere, the camaraderie, the sense of being united with fellow Malaysians of all shapes and sizes, ages and ethnicities. I’d felt more of that at my first experience at Bersih 2, when I was with the crowd in front of Menara Maybank and when, with each new surge of a river of supporters from different directions swelling the crowd, I’d felt an inexplicable sense of pride and triumph swelling in me. This time my Bersih 3 experience seems rather tame. We had walked, chanted, sat, and then, without having heard any speech (we were too far from the main action), we were told to disperse. And I returned home without suffering a whiff of teargas this time.

It has taken some time to sort out my thoughts – reeling from a mixture of horror, helpless disbelief and sadness at the brutality inflicted on fellow Malaysians by thugs in police uniforms. Bersih 3 was intended to show the government that we , the rakyat, were firm in our demand that they needed to clean up the electoral roll (among other things) before calling for the next general elections. How it was overturned to end in chaos and brutality simply indicates one thing – that the government has absolutely no intention to attend to our demands. The reason is clear - there is too much at stake for BN , and to entertain our Bersih demands would simply mean political suicide for BN. The cheating and manipulation has been staged so well, why should they bother with us, the rakyat? No, they are going to ride roughshod over us, and teach us a lesson to cow us into submission .

We the rakyat have come this far. We have discovered how strong we are in our determination to save our beloved country from further ruin, and we have discovered, when push comes to shove, how courageous and united we can be.

We shall have Bersih 4, but it may not be a walk, nor a sit-in. We have our creative imagination to make Bersih 4 more powerful and effective . No, no more walking, chanting, or sitting, since, clearly the government is not interested in our message. No, Bersih 4 shall no longer be about drumming up the message again. Bersih 4 shall be about achieving what we want in our own way. Bersih 4 shall be for each individual Malaysian to achieve.

As various voices have exhorted, we need to keep our eye on the ball. What is our goal? To have clean and fair elections. If the BN government is not willing to go clean, we shall have to work hard at making it so ourselves. How shall we counter the cheating, the numbers of instant citizens and phantom voters who will swell the votes for BN? I believe the only peaceful alternative we have is to individually knuckle down to real hard work. No more carnivals, no more strolling or sitting down. No more being dependent on someone else to tell us what to do. If we can’t make the government clean up its act, we need to prevent it from cheating us further. We’ve got to use our own initiative now. Bersih has brought us together into this solidarity, and shown us how strong we really are, now let us do things individually but in solidarity, towards a greater goal: to save Malaysia. One important way is by volunteering to become polling agents – get ourselves trained for the job. Another equally important way is to go around and convince fence-sitters that it’s time to change. We have to do what does not come easy to us – for the sake of saving our country!

To me this will be Bersih 4 – the quiet, non-violent, but powerful and aggressively industrious individual effort, consolidating and energizing into a tsunami-like movement to crash the old, the corrupt, the tyrannical. We need to do this if we want to build a new Malaysia. And pray. Pray hard. God will surely help us if we really try hard to help ourselves.

Will the new government be better? We have to take a chance. An informed chance. But we will be wiser in dealing with the new administration. Bersih has taught us well.


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