This is a purely non-political commentary. I am sure that we have heard enough stories about tear gas fired into Anwar's head, his bodyguard's jaw being broken, 1,667 people being arrested, police hosing down the masses with chemical-laced water even into Tung Shin hospital, the blatant lies from the IGP and the cowardice of the Prime Minister only appearing a day later in Kuala Lumpur after everything has died down. This is a more human story, and one which I would take with me for the rest of my life.
The morning of the 9th of July was one filled with nervousness. I was in a small group of five, and we came together by ourselves just as individuals. We were shot countless warnings in the press, on highway signs and on the radio, that the police would check all individuals, that there would be a zero tolerance policy on those attending an illegal rally, and countless roadblocks which had turned KL into a fortress and effectively a ghost town. However, as we got to the Kelana Jaya LRT Station, we saw others parking their car, some with a towel in hand, and others slinging their backpacks over their shoulders. We look at each other and smiled. We looked at each other in the eyes, and instantly we knew. We were not alone.
At 10:30am, there was certainly police presence at the station, but they were nonchalant at best. On the way into KL Sentral, we continued to check updates on Twitter, along with two young Malay ladies in tudungs, who were also keen to know what was going on. The police presence when we reached KL Sentral was certainly heavy, and we certainly felt a little intimidated, but they let us slip right through, as it was clear they had bigger fish to fry.
After a quick lunch at Brickfields, we began the trek down to Stadium Merdeka, where we were told to gather in the first place. We walked past two police road blocks, one at Jalan Tun Sambanthan, and one at the entrance to Jalan Syed Putra. On both occasions we walked straight past the police officers, who looked as though they didn't want to be there either. One officer even half heartedly told some walkers to "Go home" which fell on deaf ears as we walked straight past.
We got to the roundabout by the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall leading up to Jalan Stadium. Obviously, the FRU trucks and riot police were already on standby, with barbed wire stretched right across the front of the building. We started receiving stories of tear gas and arrests at KL Sentral, and tear gas and water cannons opening up in Puduraya. As though on cue, the heavens opened, and the rain poured down apparently washing away a lot of the chemicals. Even today, God was with us.
The crowd steadily built up past 2pm. Our group had already formed, with more and more people coming. Some were smarting from tear gas and soaked by the downpour, but their spirits were high and eyes lit up. Those who had braved everything to get to us, from Puduraya, Menara Maybank, Pasar Seni, and KLCC received applause. Chanting and cheering could be heard and seen from Petaling Street.
Come three in the afternoon, the skies cleared, and the crowd started to swell in size. In all my years as a Malaysian, I have never seen such a diverse crowd of people. People from all walks of life, the young and old, the wealthy and humble, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Malay, Chinese and Indian, we were all there. The crowd continued to swell up with each passing minute. Cheers of "Hidup Rakyat", "Hidup Bersih", "Daulat Tuanku" and "Reformasi" was heard. The crowd, in all diversity, amidst all adversity, had gathered together.
All this while, we had not heard anything of UMNO Youth, Perkasa or the silat masters. The crowd which had developed were united, calm and peaceful. There was one incident where an over-zealous supporter tried to put a Bersih T-shirt on one of the police officers, but after calls for him to relent, and intervention from other supporters, cool heads prevailed.
An FRU truck advance and fired a half-hearted warning shot, but received boos and hoots from the crowd, as the water also hit some of the officers in the front line. Compared to the other gatherings such as Puduraya, this was incredibly peaceful, incredibly sober. Even the police relented by falling back, and the FRU also fell back.
A huge cheer was let out when national poet laureate A Samad Samid arrived. The crowd has grown to at least 10,000 people, lining the entire street. The mix of the crowd was evident for all to see. Standing next to me on my right, was an elderly Malay man, and on my left an Indian gentlemen in his 60s. He told me, "For 50 years I told myself, never to get involved in any kind of demonstration. Yet here I am today. I am completely fed up of how they are treating us." These sentiments were echoed by the some of the other people around, including Malay youth and middle aged Chinese men.
The most memorable part of the afternoon was when the crowd broke into an impromptu rendition of "Negaraku". Everyone was solemn, everyone was respectful, and everyone sang from our hearts. Then it hit me to my core. In that moment, all racial barriers were broken. When we united in one voice, in solidarity, we were all in one voice, and we stood in solidarity, yearning for fair and clean electoral system, as one nation. The elderly Malay gentlemen next to me turn around after we finished singing and gave me a wide toothless grin, and my heart pounded through my chest.
As we walked away from the rally at 4pm, we chatted with other groups of people. In our culture, it is the norm to keep to ourselves. However today it was different. We were brought together for a common cause, and by coming out and being counted, we realise that we are united in a spirit, and the spirit of the people is alive and well.
To quote A Samad Said, he said “I have never seen before all the races from all walks of life, at almost every place. So I consider not just Malays, not just Chinese, but all Malaysians (had joined the rally),” he added. If there is anything that we can take away from those who were in KL on July 9th is that Malaysians will always stand up for the right, no matter if we are beaten, gassed, sprayed, arrested or intimidated.
We are Malaysians, and proud of it. Hidup Rakyat!
DOUGLAS TAN is from Kuala Lumpur and proud to be Malaysian.