On October 15, designated Global Action Day, Occupy movements sprung up all over the world (if they weren’t already under way). People gathered and/or marched in countries such as Spain, Italy, Kenya, Nairobi, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, the US and the UK. SEAYSS editors Kirsten Han and Cindi Loo attended Occupy movements in their respective countries, and share their observations of two very different events. In Part 2, Cindi Loo attended 15 October’s #OccupyDataran, and she cannot shake off the experience.
ere’s a confession I would like to make: Prior to covering the October 15 event, I participated in a few of the assemblies. I apologise if there were any biasness in this article.
However, even after attending the assemblies, therein still lies the question: How does a leaderless movement organise an event in conjunction with hundreds of Occupy movements all over the world as appealing as it was to more people who were only exposed to the idea on October 15?
Fear and Liberty, Incorporated
As October 15 was also the day a local financial institution had a cycling event requiring police assistance to conduct road blocks, reaching the destination proved to be a problem. I walked some distance before I actually arrived at Dataran Merdeka.
Nothing was happening yet. There were a few more people waiting at the square, but the field had a carnival-like atmosphere and huge tents filled with children and adults cycling around the field as they pleased.
As more people joined in, the atmosphere turned cheery and performances began. It was strange to see one artist telling another “Let’s do this together, I need my spirit channeled,” as he began spinning and twirling the crystal ball while the other blew the traditional horn. Soon after, a man wore a mask, went to the higher end of the square, took out his umbrella and began uttering words about democracy and capitalism. As I had never seen public space performances as these, I stood transfixed at their movements.
The cycling organisers seemed not to see the crowd as people trickled by, converging at the end of Dataran Merdeka. A free library was set up, somebody brought a ukelele and begin singing local and international songs. Food was shared among participants as the media struggled to interview them, futilely trying to pin down the “organisers”.
Soon, the crowd began to attract unwanted attention. First, the security forces kept stopping by and advising us not to conduct certain activities, then conspicuous men in casual clothing, only recognisable by their shiny leather shoes known as “Special Branch” officers began asking around for information. Some men in uniform started observing the activities.
The real event finally arrived, the actual KL People’s Assembly. The moderator began by explaining the rules of the assembly to the crowd, such as using certain hand signals to agree or block proposals, to ask to speak up or to urge speakers to make haste or repeat their points. The participants looked eager and they followed through. People began making proposals like Members of Parliament, and tensions were running high as more men in uniforms began standing by, wondering whether to take action.
The police, together with council officers, began closing in. Some murmurs were going around that they had already brought their plastic bands, famously used on protesters during the Bersih march that happened in July 9. And finally they told us to disperse.
The moderator, also acting as the negotiator, asked the police to wait because the decision to disperse could only be reached by a consensus of the assembly. Puzzled, the police allowed the moderator to return to the circle, full of some 80 people, to make a general consensus. The assembly then decided to disperse, but remained on the square.
Some were playing games, some head over to the fields and watch a football game. Some formed smaller circles to discuss about the global economy. Others went home.
The assembly tried one more time to converge after the coast was clear, this time with 110 people, as more came later at night. And again, the police immediately swooped in, and the assembly was forced to disperse once more into smaller groups like how it was a few hours ago.
Finally, as the last programme of the agenda, the “Citizen’s School of Democracy” commenced. Another batch of police officers came, with one officer touting a submachine gun. He said he had received orders from the Traffic and Public Orders Division to ask us to disperse and leave the square. However, seeing that the movement was quiet and peaceful, he had decided to let the people leave “whenever you are ready”. Everyone was taken aback by the leniency. They even uttered their thanks to the police as they left and packed their belongings.
I left for home by 1am, shoulders sore from carrying my camera the whole day, tired, emotional from all that’s happened. Meanwhile, on Occupy Dataran’s Twitter account, they tweeted that they had begun another assembly from an unspecified location and would do so until 4am.
By the next day, many have gone on Facebook to expressed their thanks, curiosity, and displeasure about the movement. Some of them uttered accusations on Occupy Dataran for riding the coattails of Occupy Wall Street, the most prominent Occupy movement in the globe.
There is need to first clarify this very important detail that seems to be dogging Occupy Dataran till this very day. Occupy Dataran was not inspired by Occupy Wall Street, nor does it bear any messages relating to anti-capitalism based on the few occasions that I have been there.
Occupy Dataran started their first meet up in July 30 this year following inspirations from Spain’s 15-M Movement that begin in 15 of May this year. While Occupy Dataran strives to establish a public democratic space where participatory and direct democracy becomes possible, Occupy Wall Street becomes the center that denounces corporate greed and corporate governance.
Cowardice, or first steps?
During the KL People’s Assembly, the topic had to be changed to “how to deal with the police” instead of resuming the agendas that had been set up due to pressures from the police and their unwillingness to cooperate with the assembly. Many regarded the disperse of the assembly as an act of “cowardice”, or “submission” to the police’s orders.
For a country of people who often used satire or humour to avoid detection from the authorities to present topics which are actually serious in nature, I’m surprised they could not understand the message embedded in this one and literally treat it as a group who gave up upon the arrival of the police. In some ways, the movement was making a mockery of the police for their illogical enforcement of rules; because it is okay to come to Dataran Merdeka to loiter and hang out, but it is deemed illegal if the space was used to express yourself or discuss various issues.
This group,consisting mainly of youths with no strong political affiliations, would have lay out discussions during the assembly in a formal, matured manner if given a chance, instead of hiding behind hippie laced smiles under the watchful eyes of the police. But at the moment where no hard decisions were laid down, where polarised politics and racial demographics has divided Malaysians, and no guaranteed rights after one is arrested, I still don’t see Occupy Dataran as the unifying factor, nor something participants should get arrested for, yet.
That said, I have participated and assembled, I was involved and included in participatory democracy. I’ve heard my Malaysians speak with intelligence and coherence, and did not use their arguments to mask their emotions. I’ve voted with a conscience and without any judgments. Everyone was given equal rights and they used it equally. I’ve also never seen so many faces, young and old, happily waving their hands in agreement to a proposal before. It was, I believe, a liberating moment for them, that finally, they get to be directly involved in decision making processes.
I knew this is direct democracy in the making for Malaysia. And I can’t turn away from it.
As of writing, other recent developments include the ongoing Occupy Dataran gathering every Saturday night at Dataran Merdeka, while Occupy Penang will begin on October 29.
Were you at Occupy movements in your country (such as Indonesia and the Philippines)? Share your experience with us! Leave a comment, or send in photographs and write-ups to editor[at]seayouthsayso[dot]com.