Sunday, November 29, 2009

We Shall Overco-o-ome

The wheels seem to have well and truly fallen off the Indonesian democracy wagon of late since the various Machiavellian machinations of the KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) saga have come to light. The president has depressingly resisted standing full square behind the KPK and its anti-sleaze drive, which was seemingly the main reason that people voted for him in droves earlier this year. And so the country's anti-corruption efforts, after gaining some traction over the past few years, look set to hit the buffers.

Thankfully though, there are those willing to take to the streets in an attempt to once again put the venal, money grubbing elites on the back foot. I read recently that a group of students had pitched their tents outside the KPK's office in a show of support, demonstrating that campus activism is still alive and kicking here. Then it occurred to me: I have a tent and enjoy the occasional camping trip in the wilds of West Java, why don't I pack up my troubles in my old sleeping bag and head down to the KPK building for an evening enjoying the natural splendor of Jl. Rasuna Said?

Long-term, tent-based protests have quite a history in my country (the UK). During the 1980s, the Women's Peace Camp at Greenham Common was established to protest the nuclear weapons sited there and remained for years. More recently, in 2001, anti-Iraq war activist Brian Haw pitched his tent in Parliament Square in London and has remained there ever since. There is also now a permanent Camp for Climate Action which has been set up outside the perimeter fence of London's Heathrow airport.

There would seem to be something about camping that political activists find particularly enticing. It's the old slogan, "We shall not be moved," manifested in even more concrete terms I guess: “We shall not be moved and further more we’ll be cooking up baked beans over small gas stoves here in a couple more hours if you fancy a quick bite."

And so it was that I turned up unannounced at the KPK office last Monday evening and found a spare bit of the miniscule grass verge at the front on which to pitch my tent. The various undergraduates who were sitting outside the front of their tents, strumming guitars without their full quota of strings and passing the night away merrily told me that they came from many far-flung universities, including institutions in Aceh and Makassar, whilst others were from more local Islamic universities such as UNISMA in Bekasi. All however, are members of the LMND (Liga Mahasiswa National untuk Democracy - the National Student League for Democracy). They informed me that they planned to remain under canvas for a hundred days, well into next February.

I learned that the police leave them well alone and that the KPK staff has even run an extension cable out of the front of the building to allow them to recharge their mobile phones and run a TV on which they can watch SBY equivocate and prevaricate every evening. In fact, what with Facebook and social networking, Indonesian campus activism is extremely well coordinated these days.

Alas however, being from Muslim strongholds such as Aceh and Makassar, they didn't have any booze on them with which to make my evening under canvas on Jl. Rasuna Said more bearable. I did ask one of the Acehnese students what he thought about recent moves towards full on sharia law in his home province. He told me that if the people wanted it then it was democracy and fine. I didn't push him although I reckon you could drive a Metro Mini bus through the holes in this specious argument.

After a good chat, I eventually turned in for the night and tried to contend with the heavy goods vehicles roaring past my ear every two seconds. Some of the students were still awake however and sloped off down the road in order to spray paint political slogans on some of Kuningan's abandoned monorail pillars, might as well put them to some use ay?

Inside my tent, running dog mosquitoes were out in force while outside a counter revolutionary cat was continually trying to gain entry. Perhaps I should have taken the camping test first to see if I qualified for the KPK experience, namely take a camping torch and shine into one ear, if a beam emerges from the other ear, you're good to go.

In fact it was the most unpleasant night under canvas that I think I've ever spent. Call me a yellow belly but, unable to sleep, I packed my things at around 4:30 a.m., before the rush hour, and shuffled off home to the comfort of my boudoir. I have to take my hat off to the obdurate, guitar strumming defenders of democracy down in Kuningan. It's going to be a long haul until February with plenty of rain to contend with. If you’re passing the KPK building then maybe you'd like to consider dropping them off a few groceries (minus Bintangs and condoms of course). Stand firm comrades!