Aunty Bersih: I’ll walk again

she calls upon Malaysians to speak up and fight against injustice.

PETALING JAYA: She became an instant celebrity when a photograph of her – a lone figure in yellow, soaked in rain and chemical-laced water, walking in front of a row of riot police – pulled at the heartstrings of the Malaysian public.
At first, retired English teacher Annie Ooi Siew Lan, 65, was a reluctant hero of the July 9 Bersih rally. She felt too ordinary to deserve the epithets “Aunty Bersih” and “Malaysian Lady of Liberty”.
But, although she still prefers to be called just “Anne”, she has since found her voice and is beginning to accept that she has an important role to play in improving democracy in Malaysia.
“I’m not a celebrity like Tiger Woods,” she said. “Am I a Bersih hero? I don’t think so. But I know now I have things to do. I have to speak up. I have to be the voice to speak for so many who cannot speak, who do not know the situation.”
She said she would always stand up for the “underdogs”, those who, like her, are bullied by the power of the state.
In a live interview with FMT Raw yesterday, Anne spoke passionately about being spurred to speak up for others.
Often grimacing and frowning whenever she mentioned the things the government does that she did not like, Anne said she was ready to walk again, especially after reading about the Peaceful Assembly Bill.
“Now you tell me, ‘Don’t assemble.’ I’m going to assemble. If they say don’t gather, I’ll gather,” she said.
“Now with the new bill, you don’t need a permit. So what? The police can arrest anyone. They can do a lot of things if the bill is passed.”
Najib should admit his mistakes
Anne said she was ready to gather a group of like-minded people soon and see what the police would do to deny them their right to assemble peacefully.
Asked if she had hoped for a better law for freedom of assembly, she said: “Hope always runs strong in every human heart. We hope until hope dies itself. I also always hope that Najib would understand the mistakes and just admit it lah. It’s to his interest.
“I do not know much about law, but hope was there that it would come out right. But no, it was ‘tipu’ (cheating) again, nothing was right. Nothing was good about it.”
She also said it was not right for the new bill to prohibit children below 15 from participating in public protests.
“Children will be everywhere the parents are. The parents don’t want them to put their children elsewhere, when they are doing something good. They want their children to learn too.”
Anne said her hobby was “pulling grass”, singing, and dancing.
But the feisty grandmother has also worked for the welfare of the poor as well as refugees. “If I was a politician, if I could walk with beggars every day, I would do it,” she said.
However, she dismissed any possibility of her being in active politics because that would mean associating with greedy, unintelligent people who did not care about the rakyat. “I’m not going to be among that group. Thank you.”

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW:
How did you find out that your picture was online?
My daughter has all these gadgets. When she first saw it, she was very loud. She was looking at the numbers (of fans on a Facebook page). “Ma, look. Five thousand!” She was jumping and jumping. This was something new to me. My reaction was that I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe there were so many pictures. I really wanted to see more photos. But seeing those made the tears come, the anger come, all over again.
That day, from 11am, we didn’t know each other. We were still unaware, not looking at each other, like strangers to each other. But when the sound “Hidup hidup rakyat” came out, ooh, that magic thrilling feeling. Everyone caught it there that day. Of being one. So exhilirating. So indescribable. We were feeling so good standing with each other.
I know I’m not finished yet. Am I a Bersih hero? I don’t think so. But I know now I have things to do.
Right after Bersih, a lot of people wanted to interview you. You shunned the media. You shunned the publicity. But now here you are on a live interview with an online news portal. So what has changed?
What has changed? It was Occupy. (The Occupy movement is an international protest movement against economic and social inequality. An Occupy gathering was held in Kuala Lumpur last July). That’s one part. Seksualiti Merdeka. There are so many things.
Bersih has created so much fear. Bersih and Occupy have allowed people to gather inspiration from each other, to meet, and to talk and get out and stand up.
What were you hoping when the Peaceful Assembly Bill was tabled?
Hope always runs strong in every human heart. We hope until hope dies itself. I also always hope that Najib would understand the mistakes and just admit it lah. It’s to his interest.
What about the clause that children below the age of 15 cannot participate?
Children will be everywhere the parents are, especially if the family is close knit and want to do everything together. The parents don’t want to put their children elsewhere when they are doing something good. They want their children to learn too.
Is there nothing in this bill you find positive?
Nothing. It is urgh! Lawyers can give you good words. Wise people can give you good words. I can just say, “Urgh.” It is not for me.
Certain quarters have also said that the restrictions is a small price to pay for public order and security, and these restrictions can be lifted after 50 years, when society is more mature. What do you think of that? Society is never ever mature. A group of people may be mature. Society has different layers.
Will we be mature in 50 years? With these laws they are trying to impose? With all these restrictions?
Tell us more about your plea to the King?
The people are very angry. Your people are very angry. The people who know the wrongdoings, who know what has been going on, the scandals, the figures, the money that has been taken off. We are very angry.
The poor are not being attended to. There are injustices that are going on.
We ask the King now to step in, if you do not want us to step on the road again.
You’re prepared to walk again?
You must come out and walk. If just Twitter and Facebook, and you have a big group, and you do not appear in yellow on a Saturday, what exactly are you doing? Im going again,with permission from my daughter. With this bill coming out, I am going out on Saturday at KLCC. I’ve been invited and would very much love to be there.

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