Location: Times Square, New York City, USA
Time: 28 Apr, 11am -4UTC
Number of participants: 250+
Arriving at Times Square, I was greeted by the chilly temperature and the bustling of pedestrians and tourists that flocked the streets. Checking the time on my phone, which was fifteen minutes to eleven, I headed to Duffy Square where the Bersih 3.0 New York City rally was scheduled to begin at 11 am. Arriving in the middle of the square, I was looking around for people dressed in yellow but they were nowhere to be found. Perhaps participants were hiding their yellow clothes underneath their jackets or they were following the good ole “Malaysian time”. I took out my Malaysian flag, tied it to a pole and raised it to the tune of the blowing wind, lifting the Jalur Gemilang proudly in the sky. Moments later, people started walking towards the flying flag and asked “Is there where Bersih 3.0 NYC is happening?” Nodding, I said “Yes indeed, in conjunction with 70 plus countries worldwide and in Kuala Lumpur”.
Despite the chilly temperature that Saturday morning of April 28, 2012 averaging around 13 degrees Celsius, Bersih 3.0 NYC attracted close to 250 people. The number of participants does not account for those who were observing from afar because of the fear to be seen or photographed by the Special Branch that was present that day (reference in the photo – the man in NYPD hoodie). Many Malaysian students and civil servants were warned to not participate in the non-political Bersih movement prior to the day of the rally. As the crowd slowly grows, our presence was felt by the tourists who would curiously ask “What is happening here?” In addition, one of the park officers came to inquire if we had the proper approvals to gather and protest in Times Square. After producing the permit and clarifying with the officer, our rally was good to go.
The rally began with an ice breaker where participants were asked of their origin. One by one, Malaysian states were called out – “Sarawak! Selangor! KL! Penang! Melaka! Johor!” We had participants representing almost all of the thirteen states of Malaysia including the Federal Territory. Expecting names of American states to be shouted, I was reminded by the participants of how much we are connected to our roots when Malaysian states where shouted out instead. Participants at the Bersih 3.0 NYC came from different walks of life. Just like the crowd in Malaysia, the participants truly represented a diverse crowd – we had thamby and tangachi (Tamil for little boys and girls), Makcik and Pakcik (Malay for aunty and uncle), leng chai and leng lui (Chinese for young men and women) – a “rojak” of people, truly representing the Malaysia we know and is. We even had parents who brought their kids. It was touching to see baby strollers at the rally. Not only that, we had participants who brought their pets and the pets became the unofficial Bersih 3.0 NYC mascots. At the rally, a little girl wanted to keep the Malaysian flag that I brought to the rally. Feeling a rush of joy and warmth, I gladly gave the flag to her. Flyers explaining the cause of Bersih 3.0 were handed out to participants and passerby. There were also stickers and Guy Fawke (V for vendetta) masks that were handed out.
After the ice breaker, Syaheedah and I gave our speeches to a crowd that was excited and ready to be the agent of change for a better Malaysia. The message of our speeches were focused on reforming and cleaning up the electoral system, how we can encourage people to vote and what can we do to stop brain drain. We ended the speech with the singing of Negaraku, the Malaysian National Anthem. The participants signed a memorandum that will be handed to the Malaysian embassy demanding electoral reforms for cleaner and fairer election and allowing overseas voting for all Malaysians.
We then proceeded to the steps at Times Square for our photo sessions. The crowd was holding the banner that says “Malaysians in NYC for free and fair elections”. During the photo session, participants spontaneously broke into singing sessions where songs such as “Chan Mali Chan”, “Rasa Sayang”, “Burung Kakak Tua”, “Stand by me” and “Negaraku” were sung. There were also participants who were recording videos of the rally and interviewing the participants. People were getting to know one another and sharing their personal stories. The atmosphere of Bersih 3.0 NYC was more festive and relaxed in comparison with what our brethrens and sisters in Bersih 3.0 Kuala Lumpur had to encounter when they were facing the tear gas and water cannon of the Malaysian Police.
People started dispersing around 2 pm and Bersih 3.0 NYC rally ended shortly after. There were some of the participants who went to Nyonya Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown to satisfy their craving for Malaysian food.