The enthusiastic participants of the vigil refused to go home after the “official” proceedings ended. Instead, many of them walked up to the pavement and chanted at passing motorists, who honked back loudly in support

Light in the darkness: This was a motivated crowd that included many first-timers

Some 400 people gathered in a spirited anti-ISA protest in Penang tonight. The event was held in an open space in front of the Dewan Sri Pinang facing Light Street and the Penang High Court buidling across the road. Many passing cars honked in support.

In the past, a similar vigil would have drawn perhaps 30-100 people, most of them the usual civil society “suspects”. This time about 400 turned up.

What was remarkable about this event – and it reflects how much Malaysian society has changed – was that there were many “first-timers” in the crowd. And they didn’t even look like activist-types. I met one mother, G, who had brought her daughter, a private college student, along for the vigil. “I want her to learn about larger issues,” said the mother.

I also ran into a group of three women, Cheryl and her two first-timer friends. And courageous blogger Daniel, who is battling cancer, and his partner.

Says blog-reader Romerz:

I was most amazed by the mix of the crowd. Halfway through the event, two Malay men, in their sarongs and skull caps, made their way in front of me and joined in.

They must have just come from breaking puasa and evening prayers to lend support to a noble COMMON cause.

The movement for change is strong on the ground and it cuts across all races and religions.

This is one of the rare occasions when I’m proud to be Malaysian and proud of my Malaysian brothers and sisters.

So these really were ordinary Malaysians – not the regular activist-types. But their enthusiasm matched or even surpassed that of the activists.

Penang Deputy Chief Minister P Ramasamy addressing the crowd

A small group of vocal Hindraf supporters constantly reminded the crowd of the plight of the five detained Hindraf leaders, which Penang Deputy Chief Minister P Ramasamy acknowledged in his address, much to their satisfaction.

The event was organised by Suaram with the participation of representatives from Aliran, Pekerja Tanjung, the Penang state government, the DAP, PKR, Parti Sosialis Malaysia, Hindraf, Pas, the Women’s Centre for Change, Penang Watch, the Penang Office for Human Development and the Socio-Economic and Environmental Research Institute (Seri).

Among those present were Suaram Penang coordinator Lau Shu Shi, Aliran president P Ramakrishnan, Aliran member Toh Kin Woon, Penang state exco member Chow Kon Yeow, PKR state assembly member Jason Ong, DAP leader Chong Eng and veteran blogger Lucia Lai.

Says blog reader Sujend:

I was there!!..it was nice too see people from all walks of life were there to support this cause!! :)

Making a surprise appearance was released ISA detainee Tan Hoon Cheng, who expressed her gratitude to all those who had supported her and her family during her recent ordeal. She said she would continue to be true to herself and committed to her work as a journalist.

Led by activists, the crowd chanted “Mansuhkan ISA!“, sang rousing songs, read out declarations while many passing cars honked in support.

The Aliran Singers leading the crowd in a couple of numbers

Next came the Aliran Singers, who led the crowd in adapted renditions of “We shall overcome” and “Lagu Rakyat“.

We shall overcome (3x), some day.

Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe

We shall overcome some day.

We’ll walk hand in hand (3x), some day…

The ISA must must go (3x), today

Justice will prevail (3x), some day…

***

Lagu Rakyat

Bertabah rakyat Malaysia

Kita mesti bersatu

Untuk rakyat dan negara

Kita berganding bahu

Kuasa di tangan rakyat

Jika saling membantu

Membina dunia baru

Yang adil dan bersatu

Chorus:

Kita tidak boleh undur

Tidak berasa ragu

ISA kita hapuskan

Ke hadapan kita maju

The crowd also chanted, “Free Raja Petra! Free Teresa Kok!” to which the Hindraf supporters reminded them,“Bebaskan pemimpin Hindraf!”

The official proceedings ended after hour an hour, and the organisers asked those present to disperse peacefully. But they refused to go home; instead they walked to the pavement by the main-road to carry on the slogan-chanting.

Hardly any uniformed police were present though plain-clothes police were spotted. But generally the police presence was hardly noticed. A couple of uniformed personnel only turned up 45 minutes later, when the crowd showed little inclination of heading home, caught up as they were in the excitement of waving to passing motorists and listening to and watching their contagious response. By then, traffic had slowed to a crawl as some motorists wound down their windows and waved or showed the thumbs-up sign; others blared their horns loudly and continuously.

After more pleadings by one of the organisers to “bersurai” – as the two uniformed cops walked up – the crowd finally “gave him chance” and dispersed without any incident. Penangites had made their voices heard – loudly, emphatically but peacefully – for 45 minutes in the heart of George Town.

More pictures here.

Meanwhile, over in KL, Nathaniel Tan reports on another vigil at Blog House:

Penang did a spectacular attendance of some 400 tonight too; we managed a quarter to half of that or so, but for something decided on about 6 hrs before its start time, I think KL-ites have a lot to be proud of :)

You brave souls defied the rain, and the police stationed outside to gather peacefully in solidarity with all those detained without trial; you bravely kept flames burning to banish the darkness that threatens to surround us all; you came together – from all races, religions, ages, and walks of life – to defend Malaysia in its hour of need.