As the Occupy Dataran protest camp continues through its fifth day and grows in size, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look at the reasons for occupying given by the people who have been part of the action. The quotes here have been taken from posts on Twitter and Facebook over the past few days. Some of them have were originally in English, others have been translated from the Malay by me.
The protest camp began straight after an anti-PTPTN (the Malaysian student loan scheme) protest, so it is not surprising to see that education has been a big issue for discussion. Some arguments for the action specifically reference the abolishment of PTPTN while placing it in the context of government responsibility and/or a human rights discourse:
“We need to understand why students are forced to take out a PTPTN loan. Education is a human right.”
“If there’s no PTPTN, how do the poor pay for their fees? When we say ‘abolish’, what is the alternative? We need to be clear about this.”
“When we say abolish PTPTN, we want to propose to the government that the responsibility of providing education is the responsibility of the government.”
“From an Islamic perspective, education must be given to everybody. Healthcare must be given to everybody”
While other participants have articulated that they do not necessarily want to abolish PTPTN but still support the occupy action for other reasons closely linked to the education system. These reasons include the conditions of the current PTPTN scheme and the current system of preferential treatment for bumiputeras (Malays and non-Muslim indigenous populations):
“In my opinion, those that have already taken out a loan need to pay it back. However, I don’t agree with the administrative fees that costs thousands.”
“I don’t agree with abolishing PTPTN. Before talking about free education, we should first fight for equal access”
“Most non-bumiputeras have no choice but to take PTPTN because affordable public uni not accessible.”
While there does seem to be a lot of focus on education issues, other protestors have articulated their reasons for occupation in more broader concepts of democracy and class struggle:
“A new world that is not capitalist is possible.”
“A message of protest to all governments – including the opposition.”
“We need to open democratic space where all people can discuss and deliberate.”
“#OccupyDataran represents a truly grassroots movement rebelling against every system of representative democracy dominated by an elite class. It is a class struggle.”
“#OccupyDataran represents a truly people based consensus decision making process that we want as an ideal versus the top-down representative democracy we are seeing.”
“#OccupyDataran represents the power of citizen action. To hell with bad governance and the bullshit nonsense we have been seeing.”
“#OccupyDataran represents a rebellion in our system of representative democracy that no longer represents some of us. Its a movement for a better way.”
Why do I #occupydataran when I believe PTPTN should be reformed not abolished as long as free education doesn’t exist?
I #occupydataran in solidarity with students who are unafraid to exercise their right to freedom of expression.
I #occupydataran because there are no democratic public spaces. Reclaiming Dataran Merdeka, the symbolic birthplace of democracy, means reclaiming democracy.
I #occupydataran because it is a platform to imagine a new form of democracy without hierarchies and everyone can participate in decision-making. This is differs greatly to the current system where only leaders at the top are involved in decision-making.
It would seem possible that what differentiates the protestors in regards to the reasons they emphasise for occupying Dataran Merdeka is their background in the movement – that is, whether they came from the regular weekly Occupy Dataran assemblies and actions or if they come from a background of activism in the student movement. This is a distinction that seems to have been brought to the fore earlier today on the #OccupyDataran Facebook page:
Many don’t see that the protest camp at Dataran Merdeka is actually occupied by two different movements: the #OccupyDataran movement (a leaderless, grassroots movement) and the Malaysia Bangkit movement (led by Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM)).
The Malaysia Bangkit movement that consists of students from various universities is occupying the square to demand the abolishment of PTPTN and demand free education.
The #OccupyDataran movement that consists of youth, citizens of KL and students from a variety of backgrounds is occupying the square to reclaim Dataran Merdeka as an open and democratic space for people to gather, discuss and explore the true meaning of democracy beyond the representative system, to redefine democratic participation beyond the ballot box, to imagine a new political culture beyond race, ideology and political affiliation, and also to hang out, spend the night and dream together at Dataran Merdeka.
We do this through the KL People’s Assembly, a platform that is open, egalitarian and democratic, for ordinary people to share ideas, highlight problems, seek alternatives, propose solutions, and make decisions about any issue collectively through consensus and a participatory democratic process that we have been using every night we have occupied Dataran Merdeka.
Two movements exist and co-exist together in the same space, occupying the same square.
I should repeat again that as I’m writing this from Sydney, I’m quite removed from the action and so I am only writing based on my interpretation of fragments gleaned from Twitter, Facebook and conversations with friends. If you’ve been involved and are occupying for reasons that I haven’t covered, feel free to add them in a comment.
To follow what’s going on at Dataran Merdeka as it happens, check out #OccupyDataran’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
‘Dataran Merdeka’ students stay put (Free Malaysia Today)
Occupy Dataran: From ‘Lil Acorns Grow Mighty Oaks (The People’s Parliament blog)