The rally for free and fair elections in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, over a week ago was a rainy affair, to look at the pictures. This overall greyness (compounded by the water cannon sprays) highlighted the colour values of the event: the red helmets of the riot police, the reflective yellow of police raincoats, the dark blues of other police uniforms, but most of all the massed yellow (kuning) of the thousands of protestors involved. The organisers, a coalition NGOs calling themselves BERSIH (clean) are calling for Malaysians to maintain an ongoing show of solidarity by wearing something yellow every Saturday. Having yellow, which in Malaysia is the colour of royalty, resonates with what the November 10 rally was trying to achieve: to submit a petition to the king about election processes.
[image: “A protestor tries to take cover as police fire water cannon during a rally in Kuala Lumpur, November 10, 2007.” © Shaiful Rizal / REUTERS 2007]
Malaysia has got a particularly active political blogging culture (as it happens, there’s a lot of activity on WordPress, with the excellent Elizabeth Wong being just one example), and a lot of the more interesting media from Malaysia, like Malaysiakini and MalaysiaToday, exists on the internet. So it was no surprise that a lot of sites from Malaysia were disrupted by government jammers in the period after the event. I wonder how the outside-hosted sites fared: were Malaysians able to access them easily, or contribute to them? I’d be interested to find out. In any case, it’s clear that overseas hosts are important, not just to have sites that are more difficult to shut down, but also as an indication of the international nature of dissent and political solidarity.
Here’s one example of what I mean. The photo above was taken by Shaiful Rizal, a Malaysian photographer who’s placed more protest photos on his Flickr site. You can also find on Flickr a group called Gelombang Kuning (yellow wave). A Flickr group is a collection of photos from any number of members around a particular theme. This group has been started by the BERSIH coalition but it has photos from a variety of photographers, including these of some supporters in London:
[images: “bersih in london” © Nik Hussein 2007, from idlethink at flickr]
Aside from the background architecture and distinct lack of police intimidation, the faces, colours and even T-shirts match those of the Malaysia-based protesters. The participants mostly look young, so they are probably students, and there’s a fair mix of genders and races. In a lot of ways it’s a real-life (if optimistic) riposte to the impossibly perfect views of ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ that the Tourism Malaysia folks give us. The photos were taken on the same day as the KL rally. A place like Flickr is a chance for the BERSIH coalition to get its photos on the web easily and for outsiders to see what’s going on. But it’s also an opportunity for overseas Malaysians to participate in this process (although this is not always unproblematic). In other words, places like Flickr are a chance not just to see democracy, but to do it as well.