The Triumph of Volunteerism at Bersih 4

Posted on September 3, 2015



If bets were taken on the eve of Bersih 4 that it would end the way it did, the momentous success that it is, you would probably be given very long odds that it would be a peaceful rally with the biggest ever crowd in Malaysian history. You’d be a very rich man by now.

Unlike the previous three Bersih rallies, the announcement of Bersih 4 had a mixed reception. There were many naysayers who questioned so many aspects of it, from the timing of it, the call for the Prime Minister’s resignation, the demand for institutional reforms that went beyond free & fair elections and most of all, the call for a 34-hours protest.

The build-up was slow and many began to doubt if Bersih 4 would succeed in drawing in the crowd, given the astounding success of past rallies with the last one recording over 250,000 participants. Despite the violent actions of the police on the protestors, the huge turnout for Bersih 3 was a tough act to follow.

At the end of the 34-hour protest, it is estimated that over half a million Malaysians turned up for Bersih 4 over the two days in Kuala Lumpur. HIstory was made. The people defied the threats, intimidations, the ridiculous ban on yellow t-shirts with the words Bersih 4 at the eleventh hour. They came out in record numbers to register their protest against Najib Razak and call for reforms to the system that allowed rampant corruption at the highest level of government.

The triumph of Bersih 4 does not belong to the organising committee led by Maria Chin Abdullah alone. It is the triumph of the people. To successfully organise such a mammoth protest under the most hostile environment of a Government bend on thwarting you does not only take careful planning but it requires execution by an army of dedicated volunteers.

From the very start, the security and safety of the protestors is paramount in the minds of Bersih. This concern is accentuated by the fact that unlike previous rallies, we would not have the able service of PAS’ Unit Amal who have chosen to sit this one out.

But rising to the challenge are the security teams of supporting political parties and members of the public. Altogether 1,700 volunteers were enlisted to provide crowd and traffic control, leading the protesters safely through the streets of KL and staying alert for trouble-makers. This time round the police showed restraint in not attacking the protesters but also did minimally to facilitate the rally in terms of traffic and crowd control. It was left to these men and women security volunteers to keep us safe and we owe them our sincere gratitude.

P_20150829_181814To ensure that the nine mobile stage on pickup trucks were well-equipped and in place was the task of the logistic sub-committee. They had to also hire porta toilets and place them strategically so that they would not be seized by DBKL. Due to this concern, these toilets were placed further away from where we would have liked them to be.

But the biggest challenge for the logistic team was to ensure that a Bersih rally would not end up dirtying the city. For the first-time, they turned Bersih 4 into a “green” rally by organising the separation of waste in different coloured plastic bags for plastics, aluminium and others. Waste disposal trucks took away these sorted out waste for recycling throughout the 34 hours. To manage these tasks, over 1,300 volunteers were recruited, most of them on the day when the protest started.

How to keep the protesters engaged during the 34 hours was the task of the programming sub-committee. They scheduled emcees, speakers and entertainers for the mobile stages scattered along Jalan Tun Perak, Jalan TAR, Jalan Raja Laut and the main stage near Dataran Merdeka. All these people were of course, volunteers, all grateful to be given the opportunity to play a role at Bersih 4.

Bersih 4 was a space created for the various groups of non-governmental organisations as well as individuals to showcase their causes and creativity. Street corners and pavements were turned into exhibition areas to recruit and educate the public. Protesters designed placards and dressed up to express their anger at Najib and 1MDB. This added to the festivity of the protest. I know this sounds like an oxymoronic term, but like Emmanuel Joseph wrote, it was a happy display of unhappiness.P_20150830_125009

At Bersih 4, the people have shown that if given the opportunity, they can rise to the occasion and organise themselves to have a peaceful assembly. The Malaysians who came out on the 29th and 30th of August, 2015, and volunteered themselves has done more than the selfless act of serving others. They have demonstrated that they are prepared to take ownership of the problems before them instead of leaving it to others to solve it.

Bersih’s strength is and always will be the people. People who are selfless, sacrificial and sensible. Our salute to them, the volunteers at Bersih 4.

*Published on my weekly column at The Malaysian Insider

Posted in: Uncategorized