Malaysians get creative for Bersih 4 with ‘yellow’ trees, ‘Les Misérables’ revolutionary song (VIDEO)

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 ― Ordinary Malaysians are finding creative platforms to support the Bersih 4 rally, from tying yellow ribbons around trees to leading the singing of a Malaysian version of the song “Do You Hear The People Sing”, a revolutionary call for rebellion, from the musical adaptation of the French novel “Les Misérables”.

Inspired by the cause of polls reform group Bersih 2.0 that is organising the overnight demonstration this weekend in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, and Kuching in Sarawak, Malaysians from all walks of life are mooting new ideas to spread the message beyond the usual placard-brandishing and marching at a protest.

Three Malaysians in Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur tell Malay Mail Online about their art installations, a singing group and a yellow car with a “Bersih 4” sticker in the run-up to the Bersih 4 rally that aims to press for institutional reforms, and to demand Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s resignation over the government’s handling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversy.

Eleanor Goroh, 33, beads artist

Sabahan Eleanor Goroh said she wanted to choose a softer approach, without compromising its visual impact, to send a message that Bersih was not about masses of people shouting angry slogans of hate.

Initiating a project called “Yellow Trees,” Goroh adorned trees with yellow ribbons as a show of solidarity and to build a different common interest platform for Sabahans who wanted to be part of the Bersih movement, whose official colour is bright yellow.

Beads artist Eleanor Goroh came up with ‘Yellow Trees’ as she wanted a different platform for people to show their solidarity for Bersih 4.0. ― Picture by Julia Chan
Beads artist Eleanor Goroh came up with ‘Yellow Trees’ as she wanted a different platform for people to show their solidarity for Bersih 4.0. ― Picture by Julia Chan

“There’s a lot of provoking and politicking leading up to the Bersih rally. Some people are getting very angry and some people are afraid to be associated with any political movement,” Goroh told Malay Mail Online.

“This project was to give an opportunity for everybody to show their solidarity for the cause of a fair and transparent government, but who may have differing ideologies and geographical constraints,” the 33-year-old activist added.

She said her “Yellow Trees” project will go on even after the Bersih 4 rally, noting that not everyone will be able to turn up at the two-day rally this weekend.

Goroh first put cloth ribbons on a tree in a Kota Kinabalu park on August 1, which she said garnered a lot of attention from bystanders.

“I don’t know if they immediately associated my art with Bersih, but some people smiled at me. Others took photos of me and some honked their horns. It was quite nice to know people got the message I was trying to convey,” she said.                                                

Since then, Bersih Sabah rally organisers launched their own “Yellow Tree” campaign too and decorated some 20 trees in Donggongon, Penampang, with yellow ribbons.

Goroh said she and some friends in her art group have decorated several trees all over Sabah, which would last for a couple of days before the local authorities removed the yellow ribbons.

In previous Bersih rallies, she was part of an art group that put up yellow flags all over town in another project dubbed “Happyland.” Goroh said the flags, however, were shortly removed by the authorities within 12 hours.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, 38, social activist

Rally regular Azrul Mohd Khalib said he has put together a group of about 20 volunteers to lead rally-goers in singing a Malaysian version of the song “Do You Hear The People Sing” in English and Malay.

The song from the “Les Misérables” musical features lyrics like “It is the music of a people, who will not be slaves again!”.

The singing group led by Azrul Mohd Khalib (sixth left, in yellow) plans to lead the singing of the Malaysian version of Les Miserables' 'Do You Hear The People Sing' at the Bersih 4 rally.
The singing group led by Azrul Mohd Khalib (sixth left, in yellow) plans to lead the singing of the Malaysian version of Les Miserables' 'Do You Hear The People Sing' at the Bersih 4 rally.

“What happens at these rallies is that there is a lot of singing, to help amp up the crowd and create atmosphere and buzz. They are mostly spontaneous and quite disorganised so we thought we could contribute in this regard,” Azrul, who is based in Kuala Lumpur, told Malay Mail Online.

UK paper The Telegraph reported last September that a Cantonese version of “Do You Hear The People Sing” was the anthem for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year, dubbed the Umbrella Revolution. The song has also reportedly been used in other protests around the world, including a 2013 demonstration in Istanbul against Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The “Les Misérables” novel by Victor Hugo and musical tell how French protesters rose up against King Louis Philippe I, featuring the 1832 June Rebellion where hundreds were killed in the clash between demonstrators and soldiers.  

Azrul, who is also head of the Malaysians for Malaysia group, said the volunteers comprise musicians, amateur singers, karaoke enthusiasts, and regular Malaysians, who will also practise other songs in their repertoire like popular Malaysian patriotic songs.

“We are ironing out the details soon – which popular Malaysian patriotic songs are to be included in our line-up, lyrics to be printed on small bits of paper for the public to sing along to...we will be talking about this soon.

“We are also working with the secretariat to find out what kind of sound system we will be using and how to publish it on a global platform for other Bersih gatherings the world over,” he said, adding that they may be moving from the back of a truck or positioned near a stage.

The 38-year-old activist said a video of people singing may be more galvanising and interesting compared to still photos of people holding up placards and banners.

“We are hoping that our contribution will be able to add to the atmosphere on the day, as well as inspire the groups of people everywhere gathering for the same cause,” Azrul said.

Andrew Ling, 57, businessman and political activist

Sabahan Bersih supporter Andrew Ling said he will be supporting the electoral watchdog’s latest rally by literally “driving” the message around town.

Mini Austin owner and activist Andrew Ling decided to put on Bersih 4's logo on his car as a show of support for the rally. ― Picture courtesy of Andrew Ling
Mini Austin owner and activist Andrew Ling decided to put on Bersih 4's logo on his car as a show of support for the rally. ― Picture courtesy of Andrew Ling

The 57-year-old entrepreneur and political activist stuck the Bersih 4 logo onto his yellow Austin Mini that he said has garnered attention all over Keningau, the interior district of Sabah where he lives.

“Everywhere I go, people are taking photos of it. Sometimes, I park my car and leave it for dinner while people are taking photos. I come back several hours later, and there are still people taking photos of it,” Ling told Malay Mail Online.

Ling said he supports the Bersih cause, but not political parties, and that he wants to see a corrupt-free government.

“I wanted to show my support from here so I started campaigning. When I saw a Bersih Volkswagen in West Malaysia being vandalised earlier this week, I immediately got the logos put on. I am not afraid of what will happen,” he said.

“We always have to be prepared for any eventuality when standing up like this. If someone damages one car, many more will rise,” the businessman added.

Ling, a car enthusiast, said he bought the car several years ago out of interest and had it repainted in Bersih’s canary yellow colour in the run-up to the Bersih 4 rally.

Ling said, however, that he does not plan to make the two-hour drive to Kota Kinabalu for the Bersih 4 rally, but that he will be throwing his support behind it in Keningau instead.