Lu Nge Khit describes the events of a youth protest in May 2022, in Yangon.
Yangon, June 3
Lu Nge Khit
I picked up the call from a fellow journalist while I was lying down in my bed. “Brother, we have a strike tomorrow. Let’s go”, he said.
I could not give a prompt answer to him because usually, I would be a very active person to join the strikes but on May 30th, after the flash mob protest by the All Burma Federation of Students Union, the junta soldiers rammed their vehicle into the crowd and arrested the protesters.
Because some students had been arrested through the mobile phone contacts of five other fellow students who were previously detained, suspicions dominated my thoughts as I questioned myself if it was an effort made by the military to entrap more students.
“Some youth protestors had been recently arrested on the day before yesterday. Will it work?”, I asked my friend anxiously, but without a clear conscience.
While most of the members of the flash mob strikes held in Yangon consist of young people from 15-16 age group, it is very shameful for an adult person like me to be overwhelmed with fear.
“It would be a combined strike. It should be fine”. “OK, Let’s go. See you tomorrow”, with the assurance from my friend I replied to him, dropped the phone, and wandered in my thoughts on my bed.
Should the information on the strike rendezvous and the route accidentally reached the arrested students’ mobile phones, there would be potentialities of the junta’s systematic arrests with barricades to exit paths. I could not fall asleep at once when I thought about it.
“Even if I would be arrested, I am just alone. The number of youths from the protest is even greater. I would go down with the ship anyhow”. I felt self-assured and could sleep only when I gave up on my own argument and relaxed.
When the morning broke, I woke up to the sound of the alarm clock, changed clothes and left home for the strike rendezvous. On the way to the meeting point by a randomly rented taxi, my heart grew heavier when I saw military deployments patrolling the roads more intensely than the previous days.
It was due to the frequent sight of the military convoy with two double-cab light trucks and some police trucks stationed at some traffic lights. I assumed that it might just be for other reasons and headed out to the meeting point.
As I alighted from the taxi at the meeting place a military truck drove by. Being well composed, I kept walking. I was relieved to know that the information on the would-be protest was genuine when I saw some familiar faces of youths from previous protests nearby.
After several military trucks drove by, before the protest commenced, a youth from the scout team signalled, “Move to Plan B” as he walked past the place where I was sitting.
If the first priority site is not appropriate to start the protest, the City Flash Mob protesters would always have the second prioritized location. If there are hitches in the security issues the group would be dispersed at once when Plan B is signalled. Thus, the group would shift to a second location.
On our way to the second location, I saw two military double-cab light trucks coming from the opposite direction. Another military truck passed by as soon as we reached the meeting point.
I felt that the situation was not favorable for us when I saw another military truck patrolling from the opposite direction within 3 minutes. The grave concern was obvious on the faces of the scout youths as I observed their condition.
“There wouldn’t be any strike today”, I thought to myself. I presumed the strike was cancelled after seeing the youths gradually disappear from the meeting point of the strike. When I left the place, I found out that the venue for the strike was relocated again.
I was able to laugh only when a young journalist told me, “Move to Plan C, brother”. Most of the protesters would cancel the plan if the second plan did not work out but a shift to Plan C this time was the first experience for me that I regarded the young strikers with high respect.
While walking on the street we laughed at a young journalist’s joke, “Plan C could not be cancelled. We would be in destitute if the dealer takes it all today”.
Most journalists who remained in the country were not earning monthly salaries anymore. They followed the strike news as they were paid for the quantity of the news article. Travel allowances and wages would be provided for the days the strikes took place but if there was a failure to stage a strike on the designated day, they would have to sacrifice the travel allowance. That was why “the dealer takes it all” expression became a joke among the journalists during the no-strike days or when the strikes were cancelled.
However, for the events where the journalist could not be present, there are young demonstrators who, without any allowance, documented the events to convey the message to the public that the young blood had not lacked the urgency, that they were still revolting against the dictators, and that the strikes were still going on.
Therefore, if our joke was to be compared with the deeds of those youths, I admit that it would rather be a shame than a laughingstock.
To continue my story of the strike, I saw the youths from the strike as I reached our third venue for the rendezvous. Then I waited for the moment while hiding amongst the crowd at the bus stop. I presumed that the strike could be commenced since the surrounding situation seemed indifferent and normal.
Within a while some youths took to the streets momentarily, shouting slogans and holding banners that read “Solidarity across the hills to the mainland”.
“Participation of the whole nation, our cause! Our Cause!!!”
“Are we united – students and people? Yes, we are! Yes, we are!!!”
“The hills and the mainland, are we united? Yes, we are! Yes, we are.!!!”
Those loud cries made the moving cars on the road to a halt. Some people on the road clapped their hands in applause when some youth who were readily waiting on each side of the road joined the strike with colorful smoke torches.
Only when I saw the banner that read “Solidarity across the hills and the mainland”, did I come to realize that today was the anniversary of a flash mob strike, an event held in Yangon last year to commemorate the solidarity among the hill tribes and the mainland people.
After shouting slogans, the crowd successfully dispersed and ran into densely populated residential areas to make themselves invisible.
“Run faster, sons”, I could feel that the encouraging words of an elderly woman were filled with inquietude and support for the youth protesters.
The look of the eyes with deep concerns, the looks showing support, yet under the challenge to applaud openly can be felt even by us journalists. It made me realize how the youth protesters who were out to strike at the risk of their lives gained strength and courage.
Because I couldn’t catch a taxi, I entered another alley as I continued walking. I had a doubt when one youth who followed me cried. “Come, brother. Don’t go to that side”. I refused him although I was overly embarrassed to any out-of-the-way suggestion at a time when it was difficult to distinguish who was your friend or enemy.
He called me again, but I had to decline. Despite my rejections, he came near me and said, “The guy behind you is the administrator. Just follow me. I know you. Don’t you recognize me?” At that moment I quickly gave a glance to my back and saw a person who set off hastily on a bicycle with a walkie-talkie device slipped around his waist.
Realizing that the situation was not on our side I followed that person who approached me, still feeling embarrassed. It caused me uneasiness for being skeptical over his gentleman-like appearance, adorned in a crisp white shirt and a green longyi. The attitude of making a suspicious approach to a civilian who offered to help with goodwill was too nasty to bear by oneself.
Exiting the alley where the administrator was present, I found out from our conversation that the person was an old acquaintance whom I had not remembered. Before the junta troops arrived, we departed. While sitting in the taxi on my way back, I regretted leaving him without saying any apologetic words properly.
I would certainly apologize to him for today’s incident the next time I would see him. Under the military dictatorship, there are friends who would be disconnected for crossing a thin red line while various others became close to the bosom.
As I meditated on the cause of the distrust among fellow citizens which was due to the military dictatorship, the outcry of the young student protesters “Eradicate the fascist army! Don’t allow them to control us!” echoed in my ear. I could only hope that the dictatorship is exterminated at the soonest.
Lu Nge Khit is an independent media organization founded by young journalists in Myanmar after the coup in 2021. It was formed to be a bridge between the people of Myanmar, who deserve more accessible access to journalism of the highest standard, and journalists with the passion and skills to pursue the verification and reporting of news needed to meet this fundamental right to information.
This post was translated by Tea Circle’s Translation team.