Let’s Get Involved

A friend said that Malaysians are often too wrapped up in making a living to be involved in activism. He’s too kind. The truth is most of us are selfish; as long as it doesn’t affect us directly we don’t care. I am speaking from experience.

People just aren’t interested when a problem occurs in another area. They feel it’s not their business. There is no social interest, only personal interest. And if truth be told, we are an apathetic lot. We moan and groan about this and that but that’s all we do and when it requires some action we have a hundred reasons why we don’t act. Don’t expect our city or country to change for the better if we don’t change our attitude.

Nothing changes on its own. Enlightenment does not descend on those in power. The social and political ebb and flow move because someone or some group of people acted. Believing that things will change on their own is naïve.

One often cited reason why people don’t get involved is that they feel they won’t make a difference. They feel their criticism, protest or vote makes no difference. People often feel that the status quo is so set, and all the cards are in the hands of the Establishment, that it is pointless to protest. And when the government makes draconian laws to stifle protests, when the mainstream media is in the hands of those in power, this hopelessness is reinforced.

However, history tells a different story. What we take for granted today was hard fought for by those who did not accept the status quo and who were not cowed by the overwhelming odds against them.

The French Revolution is a fine example. When the French people were so fed up with corruption, abuses of power and wastes by the ruling class, they revolted. If you are asked to eat cakes when you can’t even afford bread that is the last straw.

Women’s right to vote was not given to them on a platter. In a male dominated society, in an era when the woman’s place was deemed to be permanently in the kitchen it was not easy to change the mindset of society, besides, many women agreed with the men. Then came the suffragettes, and the rest is history.

Slavery would not have been abolished if not for the brave men and women who dared challenge what was the norm then. The church lent its weight to the cause. The groundswell was so great that politicians took up the cause and eventually slavery was abolished.

Apartheid in South Africa. Imagine the odds against the blacks – the government was run by whites, whose main aim was to preserve whites’ hold on power. They controlled the army and police and every facet of government. Yet despite the overwhelming odds the blacks persevered and won.

Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka are some of the examples where despite the seemingly hopeless situation, the forces for change won.

And even when things are not so bad, like in America today, people are looking for change so that there is a fairer society and where their government represents their interests instead of those of big business. That’s why Bernie Sanders – a socialist, non-establishment politician – has caught the imagination of much of America. Americans are fed up of big business government and politicians who are in the pockets of Wall Street. Whether Sanders wins or not, the mould has been broken.

We are in a similar situation. While we are not yet at the stage of being unable to afford rice, please don’t ask Malaysians to eat kangkong when you dine on caviar; don’t tell us to tighten our belts when our ministers gallivant round the world at our expense. Our politicians should not be paid fat wages when a new graduate cannot make enough to feed himself and his family even if he has a job.

Yes, we have the vote; but is it an equal vote? Surely not when constituencies are gerrymandered to ensure the government stays in power. It cannot be right when the vote in one constituency is worth ten times more than a vote in another constituency.

The only difference between South Africa and us is that in Malaysia there is no social racism. The different races mix freely and there are not “whites only” places. By and large we get on with each other well.

Malaysians across the board are fed up with the endemic corruption, the lack of transparency and accountability and a judiciary that is broken. Increasingly and dangerously, the clerics are dictating the social and religious conventions in our country.

It doesn’t matter what your interest is – the environment, climate change, local government issues, racism, free and fair elections, corruption – get involved.

If we think the rubbish will always be in someone else’s yard and not ours, if we think it’s always someone else who gets taken in for speaking his mind, if you think racism does not affect you and there’s no need for you to act, you are wrong.

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemoller.

the man from TR

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