Revolutions are literally, blooming. The Tunisian Jasmine revolution propelled this flower to the status of 'nefarious change agent', its very name perceived to have such 'destabilizing potency' in China that the NYTimes reports it is blocked from text messages and a summer festival named after it, cancelled. The flower and plant itself can no longer be sold, purchased, worn, or talked about. Something similar went on here in Malaysia a few weeks ago, dubbed the Hibiscus Revolution referring to the national flower of this country but the origins of its momentum lies similarly in the outlawing of a color that a garden would struggle to be without - yellow.
When supporters promoting the Bersih Rally for Clean and Fair Elections the week before it was planned started to get arrested for wearing its definitive yellow t shirts, an action Amnesty International quite accurately described as absurd, and the Malaysian Bar called unlawful and unconstitutional, the government's Kafkaesque and heavy handed response started to raise the concern and ire of the rational populace. Although all this aversive activity accomplished it's intent of instilling fear, it also miraculously had the opposite effect, it actually steeled the resolve of more people to attend and revolutionary talk flourished exponentially online. The internet is proving to be a fertile medium for unrestrained public conversation.
On the day itself, frightened to wear or carry any evidence of this contraband color in case of arrest, some protesters ingeniously walked into local florists and bought yellow flowers to carry. Some carried flowers to show their intent to rally peacefully only to be subjected to a brutal show of force by the police. On the day after, the government controlled media published the most shocking lies, for every one of which there was contrary evidence on twitpic or youtube to irrefutably deny. Only 6,000 attended they said, the pictures of 50,000 strong told a different story. The police, claimed, no excessive force was used but video of events showed different. The internet is also proving to be a fertile medium for truth.
As someone who has lived in functioning western democracies all my adult life, where somebody is protesting about something it seems on a weekly basis, witnessing and living this kind of overt repression is new and shocking. There's also a certain sadness to see the learned helplessness of many who have only known this kind of governance for the last fifty years remain quiet, too scared to speak or sadder still, actually believe that somehow this abusive behavior is for their own good. Then there's the admiration and gratitude for those that spoke up at great personal cost, especially in the case of Baharuddin Ahmad, who lost his life in doing so.
It wasn't the din of the protestors on that day that has resonated the most, it is their transformative stories of unity and solidarity, not only surprising the participants themselves, but inspiring those that lived vicariously through them. I was moved to tears to learn of Muslims offered and accepting refuge to pray in a Hindu temple, and of simple acts of kindess like the offer of a hand to escape the tear gas or some food or water that crossed racial and religious lines. Here is where a revolution truly bloomed as these human stories of goodwill flowered in the hearts of good people accustomed to divisive politics. In the new short prose of twitter, testimony after testimony, of shared experience began to thread together like a beautiful garland and compose a powerful message of unity and hope.
Coincidentally, well before all of this I had been planning to put more yellow into the garden. The large New Zealand Flax, with its striking yellow variegated leaves has been insisting that it needs more companions. I recently bought and planted a yellow flowered Mussaenda glabra and a variegated Ginger with striking yellow brushstrokes on its leaves. Already in the garden the yellow edged Sanseverias are harmonizing with the fruit of the fan palms that have turned a rich yellow on their way from green to orange. A Turmeric plant sends the color underground into the earth and soon I will plant the Hoya to send its yellow tinged flowers scrambling upwards. More yellow will soon follow and the garden will be rife with subversion and a daily reminder of what must happen next - that what was planted on July 9, 2011 by the bravest of us must be tended, nurtured, propagated and brought to fruition by the rest of us.