It was the famous British poet and hymn writer, William Cowper (1731–1800), who composed “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” The Selangor Police seemingly moves in a mysterious way too, judging from their conspicuous absence at the candlelight vigil at the Petaling Jaya Civic Centre last evening.
The boys in blue have a wry sense of humour indeed. They actually approved an application for the candlelight vigil on condition that that no candles be lit, no political speeches, protestors cannot wear T-shirts with the words “No to ISA” and a few other minor housekeeping rules. Don’t be silly, no one followed the rules. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a candlelight vigil.
This is a far cry from the previous week where they came in a convoy of seven trucks including a water cannon and whacked the daylights of those in their way, cracked a skull or two, and arrested two dozens protestors including lawmakers. The highhanded action was justified on account that it was an illegal assembly just like the previous ones to protest the use of the Internal Security Act following the arrests of a journalist, a blogger and a lawmaker under the draconian law.
This was already the sixth consecutive weekly gathering. It is understandable if the uninitiated has no clue what the protest is about. But who cares? It’s directed against an increasingly unpopular government. It’s a continuing angst since the 8 March popular uprising at the general elections to punish the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition for its arrogance and corruption, among other things.
The BN lost five state governments, the Federal Territory and its all-important two thirds majority in parliament. Did it learn any lessons? No, of course, that’s why these people are holding candlelight vigils here and elsewhere week after week although numbering only about 100 to 300.
The BN may be tempted to view this simply like an irritating mosquito buzzing around its ear. Make no mistakes about this. It has all the signs of becoming a popular movement. The sledgehammer approach by the authorities to silence them only serves to feed the need for it.
This much was evident last night. Parents continue to bring their young children despite being baton-charged at by the armed special forces last week. Perhaps soon the protests will die down as it always did. Perhaps not.
A mass movement is simply defined as a group of people with a common ideology who comes together to achieve certain general goals. In this case, the ideology is simply civil liberty and the common goal is to open up more space in the public square.
At one of the vigils, two street buskers were invited to get the crowd singing. But unlike the Philippines or Indonesia, we don’t have the culture of street protests. They tried very hard first in Malay and then in some lesser known protest songs in English. However, when they got to singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, it was the cue for the crowd to get into the thick of things.
Dylan’s song was released in 1963, the same year Baptish clergyman Martin Luther King Jr led the march on Washington, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. This song went on to become the anthem of the American civil rights movement. Its popularity and timelessness can perhaps be attributed to the fact that it does not refer specifically to any particular political event. Many of those who sang the song at the candlelight vigil that Sunday evening weren’t even born but it was this song, this speech, that led to the first Black man to the White House four decades later.
Then John Lennon’s “Imagine” was sung next and again it struck a chord.
“You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”
Yes, many of those who sang it that night weren’t born yet but they heard it on “American Idol” and being a dreamer is obviously an interesting proposition.
Yes, God still moves in a mysterious way. A song, a speech, a candle, a dream. Bring your candle next Sunday.