A demonstration, rally, or street protest is an action by a group of people campaigning and advocating for a cause. There are countless demonstrations conducted by people in almost every part of the world; which includes marches, rallies, picketing, sit-ins and sometimes even nudity. Some are non-violent demonstrations and some are violent ones; but some may also begin as non-violent demonstrations but turned into violent ones depending on the circumstances.
Among the demonstrations that have been written in the history which has changed the world is the marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the African-American civil rights movements; demanding for rights for the African-American. The march was widely known for Dr. Martin’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The Monday demonstrations in East Germany in 1989 and 1990 whereby peaceful political protests were held against the government of German Democratic Republic. These protests which were held every Monday evening eventually pressured the government and let to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The honourable Mahatma Gandhi is also well known for nonviolent civil disobedience that has led to the Salt March and later the independence of India.
There are also numerous protests by women throughout the world for women’s suffrage; which is the right to vote and to stand for electoral office.
The more recent ones are the Arab Spring, a call for revolution against the government; the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong against the reforms to the electoral system and also the Occupy Wall Street, a protest against social and economic inequality around the world.
In our country, the recent demonstrations have attracted the attention of many in social media and even in international news. I don’t have to elaborate much but most of us knew it is the Bersih rally and also the “Perhimpunan Rakyat Bersatu”. They were recognised by the colour of their t-shirts; Bersih in their yellow colour and “Perhimpunan Rakyat Bersatu” in their red colour. Although each of the rally have their own respective objectives; however, it is somewhat flawed.
In the Bersih rally, the initial objective is to advocate for a clean and transparent elections; but eventually the participants who went to the rally were there to demand for the change of Government, and some to show their dissatisfaction towards national leaders through disrespectful ways. Then came the “Perhimpunan Rakyat Bersatu” to campaign against the Bersih Rally. It doesn’t have a constructive advocacy or demand. If a demonstration to protest against another demonstration can be allowed; does it mean that next month, a green shirt rally can protest against the red shirt; and the following month a purple shirt rally can protest over the green shirt then? It just goes on and never ends.
Malaysians must understand that although demonstrations are one of the ways to advocate for an issue, it must not be the first choice of ways to be used. They must understand why certain people have chosen to protest through demonstrations; it might be because that is their last choice to do so. Gandhi never chose to conduct the civil disobedience movement straightaway to demand for the independence of India. His group of movement went through numerous negotiations and discussions before deciding on their last drastic move.
Demonstrations affect the livelihood of the nearby community, create fear in certain people and tarnish the image of the country. At the first place, have those protestors used all types of ways to demand for what they are fighting for? Have they met up with their Member of Parliament to raise the issues? Have they attend public dialogues and discussions to provide feedback on their concerns? Have they written emails or letters to the respective ministry or the Government relating to their problems? Do they actually read, do some research and listen from all sides to understand more about the current issues? These are all part of a political process that can be done without creating negativity. I believe there are moderate Malaysians who go through the proper channels in airing their views to the right person. However, we must create awareness to those who are unaware of the options; the options to deal with public matters without creating negativity.
Both participants of the Bersih and “Perhimpunan Rakyat Bersatu” may have shown their power through the rallies. But even with their great power and ability to mobilize supporters, it doesn’t always mean it is the right thing to do. As the former actor, Christopher Reeve who has acted as Superman said, “What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely.”
This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 25th September 2015.