People’s protests today occupy the public space as the people clamour to create and occupy democratic space. This receives public attention and worries the oppressor.
Today’s protests demand change. The sovereignty of the people has been brazenly ursurped by callous and arrogant legislators. They must go if the people are to breathe as lawful citizens once again.
Something breathtaking is happening at Galle Face; a popular, breezy green has been turned into a vibrant, gusty arena. All who value freedom are welcome, and they come – all except those who have contaminated every nook and corner of our lives. As the protest grows, space for those who were everywhere, shrinks.
The protest space gathers people who have never before stood in protests. They come to learn that governance, both bad and good, is their business. The energy of the protest space is infectious. Those afraid to raise a voice or pick up a pen are being set free. They return to discover themselves in their diversity, in the security of each other and in the resounding cries for rights and protection against representatives turned tormentors. The protest space is more than crowds and noise; it changes fear into freedom, silence into resistance and indifference into an yearning for truth and justice.
Chants at the protest space announce togetherness. Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher, together in the struggle, are equally part of one nation. The force with which the words are proclaimed dares anyone to divide the gathering. Could this be a tipping point; the fruit of decades of tireless persuasion, teaching and example of parents, teachers and mentors?
Secterian protests have no place in any space that celebrates our common humanity. They serve the interests of their own community and pull back on the momentum of becoming one people. Even those who think they enter as Sri Lankans are challenged to look deep into the dregs of a secterain tendency within. Such is the dynamic of the protest space.
As more enter the space, other grievances are roused. Material things are not the only commodities that have been stolen. The living protest space cannot forget loved ones have been stolen; the dignity of religious and ethnic communities has been stolen; community trust has been stolen; educational opprtunities and the future of our children have been stolen; our health security has been stolen; our lands and strategic locations have been stolen; stable conditions and facilities to fish and farm and feed the people have been stolen; the careers of gifted artistes and sports persons have been stolen; the life giving dividends of agrarian, scientific and medical research have been stolen; and the image and reputation of the country has been stolen. For decades, all that was serviced was the self interest of those set aside to protect and care for all within our borders.
The protest space rightly demands that legislators and officials who have siphoned off public funds and dispersed national asssets be tried. But those who have robbed citizens of their lives, equal rights and facilities and a dignified quality of life and a future are also to be held accountable.
While less tangible abuses are more difficult to assess, dealing with them is essential for nation building. An economy can be restored in years but it will take generations to heal scarred memories, rebuild community trust and respect and bring citizens’ fulfilment.
Young protestors make sacrifices and pay a price. Camping at the Gota Go Gama through sun and rain deprives them of an income and postpones personal dreams. Whatever the outcome, history will recognise these young visionaries who dared to imagine the protest space and make it real.
In tomorrow’s public interest
New lessons are being learnt in the protest space. Citizens are not spectators. They are to be constantly vigilant of the machinations of shrewd legislators. Under public surveillance, the guilty become desperate. Piles of ill gotten wealth and transactions have to be protected. Under pressure, they seemingly make democratic concessions but really play for time. They hunger and thirst after strategies to remain somehow in their domain of power, greed, manipulation and cover up.
Wasted legislators cannot heal or serve a badly wounded nation. Years of breathing in corruption and arrogance robs people of integrity. When the mind is obsessed with deceit and greed for power and wealth, public interest, fair play and social justice simply evaporate. Those who have repeatedly ridiculed a modest, trusting and generous people can never again hope to be endowed with civic responsibility. The call to governance demands a far more decent type of human being.
The protest space has potentially crafted a long overdue shift in the political culture of the nation. Legislators will be held accountable throughout their political careers and not only at election time. People will demand regular reviews of legislator performance and constitutions will provide for ways of recalling corrupt and incompetent legislators and officials.
The right for journalists to investigate and report independently will be appreciated and protected more than before. As key professionals in the nation’s aspiration for truth and justice, all sectors of the media will have to be trained and formed to operate impartially in complex and tense societies and deal with the guile of the powerful.
The right and duty of government servants and those who maintain law and order to refrain from carrying out unlawful instructions and orders will receive more attention. Government servants and police personnel are citizens and their designation or uniform cannot deprive them of their civic rights or shield them from their duty to act within the law.
Since craving for wealth and power (tanha in our Buddhist tradition) is the cause of our multiple crises, laws that regulate unlimited income and ownership of property will be necessary. Life styles of simplicity, contentment and voluntary non-attachment to material things must complement these laws. Together laws, outlooks and life styles have potential to transform us into a generous nation, full of rich, life giving values and goodwill.
With peace and blessings to all.