Why ral­lies mat­ter

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

protests, and in fact puts the onus on the po­lice to re­di­rect any counter-ral­lies if they ex­pect clashes to take place. Peace­ful as­sem­bly is es­sen­tial to a func­tion­ing democ­racy, and hence why it is widely en­shrined in lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional law and con­ven­tions as fun­da­men­tal free­doms. This is not some Western-based no­tion alone but stems from the hu­man ne­ces­sity for peo­ple to co­op­er­ate and col­lab­o­rate to pur­sue their in­ter­ests. Vi­brant as­sem­bly is a cru­cial el­e­ment of a fair and just so­ci­ety.

Third, ral­lies are an ef­fi­cient way of bring­ing strangers to­gether who would oth­er­wise have no way of guess­ing the vol­ume of peo­ple be­liev­ing in a com­mon cause, es­pe­cially im­por­tant in a time when ac­tivism is largely lim­ited to read­ing and shar­ing news from an elec­tronic de­vice. There is great value in shar­ing a phys­i­cal space and mov­ing in or away from the same di­rec­tion to­gether.

These are col­lec­tive vis­ceral ex­pe­ri­ences that spur peo­ple on to, very sim­ply, be mo­ti­vated to do more.

His­to­rian Eric Hob­s­bawm in fact wrote rather cheek­ily that “next to sex, the ac­tiv­ity com­bin­ing bod­ily ex­pe­ri­ence and in­tense emo­tion to the high­est de­gree is the par­tic­i­pa­tion in a mass demon­stra­tion at a time of great pub­lic ex­al­ta­tion … it is by its na­ture col­lec­tive … through which the merger of the in­di­vid­ual in the mass, which is the essence of the col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, finds ex­pres­sion”.

But one might claim these to be merely self-in­dul­gent ex­pe­ri­ences, be­cause no ac­tual pol­icy change can take place as a re­sult of ral­ly­ing.

Much bet­ter to work from the in­side through ex­ist­ing sys­tems, it is said. It is per­fectly valid to work from within the sys­tem, and those who do so should con­tinue per­se­ver­ing.

How­ever, the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple do not work within gov­ern­ment and they have no ac­cess to the cor­ri­dors of power.

I would in fact ar­gue that the past few Ber­sih ral­lies were ac­tu­ally able to demon­strate sig­nif­i­cant mile­stones, which would not have been pos­si­ble with­out the thou­sands on the streets and sub­se­quent pres­sure to act.

Re­call that it was only af­ter the Ber­sih rally in 2011 (Ber­sih 2) that the gov­ern­ment formed a Par­lia­men­tary Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Elec­toral Re­form, which con­ducted pub­lic hear­ings in six states and pre­sented a re­port to Par­lia­ment the fol­low­ing year in 2012.

Al­though most of the 22 rec­om­men­da­tions have not been im­ple­mented, one was: the pro­posal to al­low Malaysians re­sid­ing over­seas to vote at Malaysian em­bassies or mis­sions. This is now a re­al­ity. Malaysians liv­ing over­seas no longer have to fly back to ex­er­cise their right to vote.

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion also even­tu­ally im­ple­mented the use of in­deli­ble ink in the last gen­eral elec­tion, which was one of the key de­mands of Ber­sih in 2011, al­though the ink was eas­ily washed off. Fi­nally, in­ter­na­tional as well as lo­cal reg­is­tered Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tions have also been per­mit­ted to ob­serve the elec­tions.

These are small in­cre­men­tal changes, and cer­tainly much more needs to be done – calls for re­form­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion seem to fall on deaf ears.

But this is where civil so­ci­ety learns from each round of so­cial ac­tion. In order to pin­point the most ac­cu­rate pres­sure

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