Anil Netto reports from the scene of the Youth Strike for Climate solidarity gathering in Penang.
Several dozen youths and activists gathered in Penang for a spirited 100-minute protest gathering in solidarity with the global Youth Strike for Climate protest.
The protest began at 5.10pm along busy Sungai Dua Road just outside the USM gate. Among the diverse crowd were youths, university students, a few lecturers, environmentalists, bicycle enthusiasts, veteran activists, international visitors to Penang – and even a barefooted poet.
Motorists and bus drivers honked in support, energising the crowd who had started off rather quietly.
But minutes later, Amalen the “artivist” led the crowd with chants:
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
That got the group of 50 going. They roared, “Selamatkan dunia! Selamatkan Alam!” as they waved their placards carrying messages such as “Banjir = Climate Strike”, “Make Earth cool again” and “Swap your motorbike for a bicycle”.
The gathering was held to demand policies to move the country to a low-carbon economy and to create sustainable mobility. They also wanted Penang to be transformed into a “sponge city” to better absorb rainfall. More sustainable land-use and environmental accountability were the other demands.
Two traffic cops stood on the road divider facing the crowd to make sure traffic was not disrupted. Two other regular police personnel near the curb helped to ensure the protesters’ safety by keeping them to the roadside while they guided peak-hour traffic. The police looked more relaxed in the new Malaysia, unlike the somewhat tense scenes at previous protests.
Inside the campus grounds, USM security personnel and a couple of other police personnel looked on bemused. But they didn’t seem too concerned as the protesters were just outside the university perimeter on the pavement by the road.
As the clocked ticked, the crowd warmed and grew bolder. From general chants like “Save the earth!”, fresh cries of “Hentikan penambakan! (Stop the reclamation) rang out – a direct hit at the state government’s plans for a staggering 7,700 acres of land reclamation in the state until 2030, including 4,500 acres for the three artificial islands to be reclaimed off the southern coast of Penang Island.
Then on the road divider, a stocky barefooted poet, Hamzah Yazd, read out a poem “Sekitar Alam” by Abdullah Jones. In the middle of the traffic snarl, Hamzah recited verses, laced with sarcasm, blaming the creatures of the earth, sea and air whose discharge has created the environmental pollution and degradation we are confronted with.
Perhaps, he bellowed, when we snare these creatures and place them in bird-cages, aquariums and the national zoo, “mungkin barangkali bolehjadi agaknya-lah selepas itu alam akan bertambah mesra dan mula mahu bersahabat dengan kita”.
Looking at the Lumut-based Hamzah, with flowing hair and beard, crying out in the middle of four lanes of traffic, I turned to another activist and said, “Looks like we have found our next Pak Samad Said”. Sasterawan di jalanraya. He would be a worthy successor indeed.
Also among the crowd were representatives from Penang Forum, Aliran and the Socialist Party of Malaysia. Many of the protesters exchanged contacts and expressed determination to keep up the struggle to save the planet, the suffering in Johor from the chemical waste very much on their minds too.
This was the second gathering in Penang today. In a different way, Penang leads the rest of Malaysia – in terms of environmental awareness, that is. That heightened level of awareness will be desperately needed to respond to the environmentally disastrous reclamation and mega transport projects the Penang state government is bent on pursuing.