Taking to the streets with our voices

  • Living
  • Sunday, 13 Sep 2015

Bersih 4 at Pasar Seni - at around noon crowds began to build up at Dataran Medeka ...Sam Tham/Star

I am just an ordinary Malaysian. I have a good family, earn a comfortable income, live a pretty mundane life. I’m a manga and anime geek, and can go for hours on a marathon. I’d like to start a family one day and wish I can afford to buy a house. Just an ordinary, average Malaysian, with ordinary, average woes.

But what makes me a little bit extraordinary is that I care about what is happening to Malaysia.

And there’s nothing I can do about it. Not as a single ordinary Malaysian. But I can perhaps do something with thousands of others. Sometimes I feel as hopeless as anyone does. I feel tired, beaten and dumbfounded. But I don’t want to not do anything.

These irresponsible leaders will continue to restrict our freedom and prosecute us selectively. They will continue to do all this and win every time.

Every time, we need to just show up. And I showed up.

They say that street demonstrations are not in our culture. Perhaps they have forgotten that demonstrations and rallies were very much part of winning our independence. Our history was rich with civil and political protests, but perhaps the scars of 1969 mellowed our dissenting voice and we forgot.

There is nothing wrong with dissent; in fact, dissent is a part of democracy. Marcus Van Geyzel wrote the following note in his Facebook: “One of the saddest reasons given is from those who think that street demonstrations are undemocratic, and that we should all wait for the next elections to ‘protest’ via our vote.

That’s so sad. It’s sad that people genuinely believe that democracy only happens every five (or so) years. It’s sad that the rakyat think that they need permission from the government or the police to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The basic structure of our institutions are so broken and flawed that some people don’t ever wonder why the government institutions are acting as if their duty is to protect the interests of those in power, instead of serving the people.”

We all have different reasons, agendas, ideologies and values. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it should be celebrated.

We shouldn’t all fit into one mould – that goes without saying. Sure, not everyone was happy we went down to the streets. Not everyone agrees with street demonstrations. They will question the purpose and means. They will criticise that it’s not the people’s movement, that it has been hijacked by the opposition parties. They will ask about the outcome it hopes to achieve. There had been three, yet nothing has changed. So why do we need to risk our safety, our comfort?

And I will say to them that their thinking is fair. Street demonstrations are not always successful – it rarely is. It doesn’t hope to topple a government or change a policy just by having one or two rallies. But it aims to show the mass of unhappiness, grievances and disapproval. It aims to bring Malaysians out of the comfort of their house and into the streets. It aims to turn on that political switch; that awareness and consciousness.

Mohan Ambikaipaker, assistant professor in Tulane University, New Orleans, wrote, “The political culture of the rakyat is not simply the means towards a specific end, for example, the overthrow of one set of corrupt leaders to be replaced by another set of elitist leaders. It is also not equivalent to regime change and the emergence of a two-party system, such as those seen in the West.

“By defying a corrupt government through civil disobedience, the rakyat has evolved even further in realising that they should only give consent to be governed when a government truly represents their interests and actively acts on their well-being,” added the Malaysian based in the United States.

Often, people who attend rallies and street demonstrations go back to their daily lives.

But at least I know that switch has been turned on, and will continue to light on.

Sharyn Shufiyan believes that cultures adorn a society, much like Tapestry on a piece of cloth. She puts on an anthropological hat to discuss Malaysia’s cultures, subcultures and society(ies).

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