26 December 2007

The Right to Protest

Some would have us believe that there is no right to protest when that protest negatively impacts on others or the economy and sites an example of 25 farmers holding up traffic, preventing people from getting to the office on time, preventing deliveries, and a hole range of other negative impacts. The author of this editorial piece then goes on to say that all people have a right to protest but protests must be democratic and be made through democratic channels like the courts and the media, which is equated to using your right properly.

I would agree that it is difficult to calculate the economic costs of protesting and particularly the protests that have racked Indonesia since the fall of the dictatorial regime of the former President Soeharto. But rather than blame the protesters it might be prudent to look at why after ten years of "reformasi" protesting and street demonstrations are still the method of choice to voice one's grievances. The courts have not been providing equal justice and news media is often guilty of pandering to interest groups and businesses.

If protesters believed that they would get either a fair hearing in court or equal play in the media then perhaps the demonstrations that so pointedly grate on the author of the editorial piece then he might have a valid point, but the less fortunate and poor do not have the same opportunities and access and to suggest that in Indonesia's democracy they do is profoundly misrepresenting the truth of practice.

But this debate is more along the lines of the community against the individual. Simply, what is of the greater immediate good of the community outweighs the needs and rights of the individual. I was surprised that the piece did not degenerate into an Eastern values system being undermined by the misguided democratic ideals of the West.

The author goes on to state that in most other more developed countries the courts and media are the proper channels for airing grievances. This is to suggest that more democratically developed nations than Indonesia do not have any protests or street demonstrations and this too is simply not the case.

In most cases in Indonesia protesters and demonstrators must obtain a permit from the police to hold a demonstration that will impede a public thoroughfare, and most do! Holding a demonstration or a protest is hardly taking the law into your own hands. yet, to suggest that the most appropriate means to air your grievances is by writing and publishing your point of view in the mass media seems to suggest that the mass media dictates public policy.

So, hypothetically the 25 farmers need not have protested but rather written to a publication such as Suara Pembaruan or Globe Asia and the government would have then taken note of the farmer's grievances and altered public policy on agrarian reform. This is not a criticism of the articles or news printed in either of these publications but rather a question as to whether the publishing of a grievance in a newspaper or business oriented magazine will garner the attention of the government and inspire them into action to rectify the farmer's grievances.

To take this argument to its logical extension. A group of laborers unhappy with their mass retrenchment decide to exercise their right to voice their grievance. They enter into bipartite and tripartite negotiations, but to no avail. They take their grievance to Court get satisfaction but the Company threatens to tie the case up in litigation and does so. They appeal to a higher Court and get satisfaction but the Company still refuses to abide by the earlier decision just affirmed. Ultimately, they have not received satisfaction or more aptly in this case justice. So, they write a letter to a newspaper and have their grievance recorded in the pages of that newspaper.

The question is; will this inspire the Company to do the right thing? It does not. Now what? The courts and the media have failed them in this perfect little democratic model. They protest, they demonstrate, and they make it know to all through the inconvenience of a traffic jam and delayed deliveries that democracy is not working for them.

These labourers are not taking the law into their own hands but rather they are fighting for an equal future, their rights to participate in a democracy, and their right to be heard. Sorry, for the inconvenience but it is a right worth fighting for!

Oh, to live in such a perfect democratic world.

Readers (if I have any)...Feel free to comment on this one and to criticize (constructively of course) if I am missing the point of the editorial piece (I will try and scan it and upload it in my Blog within the bounds of copyright of course) or my musing a just too left of mainstream. I guess having just watched the 'Bastard Boys' on Australia Network, I am missing my union and labor roots!

The editorial to which I refer is in the January 2008 edition of Globe Asia and is entitled "Outlook" (page 12). Unfortunately, buying the magazine which I did does not get you access to the online version so I cannot link the article for your viewing pleasure.

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