- People’s thoughts on the peaceful protest
Since the initiation of what is now referred to as “GotaGoGama” in Galle Face, many protesters have taken to occupying the area 24 hours a day, over the last few days. While many are seen on the roads, holding boards and screaming for their rights, some have taken to protesting more creatively.
Of course, like many good things, this too was met with backlash and some people began claiming that the protests have turned into somewhat of a carnival – essentially a party to go and have fun at.
We must question, since when does a “carnival” or a “festival” mean an expression of dissent against the people in power in a country? Certainly, at a carnival, one wouldn’t find citizens on the street as their last resort, screaming and begging for answers to a crisis and access to basic necessities.
It has thus come to an unfortunate point during this crucial moment, that some individuals have come to believe that the large gatherings at Galle Face and other protests have become a place of fun. One has to wonder how much “fun” citizens must be having while they are all crying out for their rights and a stable future.
Brunch approached a few protesters at “GotaGoGama” at Galle Face Green to see what their opinion is on those that wish to twist the narrative.
There is no ‘right way’ to protest
We caught up with Buwanaka Perera – one of the main organisers that help co-ordinate food, water and other necessities at Galle Face.
“It is not up to anyone to dictate how we protest,” he stated, while he was waiting for a delivery of water that he could then distribute to the parched voices that had been screaming for justice and accountability all day.
“Sri Lankans have been oppressed for so many years – we’ve been under monarchies, we’ve been under empires, we’ve been under executive presidencies – people are still learning how to express themselves and let out their frustrations,” he said, gesturing at the various means of protest taking place around us.
“Some want to get on the street and shout, some find singing songs about corrupt politicians and patriotic songs a way to show dissent. We cannot tell them that it is wrong and that they should be holding a board and screaming,” he told us.
Perera had been at “GotaGoGama” consecutively since the first protest at Galle Face, and shared that during his time, he observed that the way people protest is so diverse, that people who thought violence was the only way are now discovering new ways to show their anger and frustration.
“We are seeing puppet shows, art, paintings, public forums, street dramas, musical performances,” he informed us, adding that as diverse as it is, all these artistic media revolve around the cause. “We must kick the Rajapaksas out and that is our priority.”
We met Piyath Nikeshala near the library at “GotaGoGama”, who highlighted that this movement is not a carnival; but affirmed that people cannot scream 24 hours a day.
“We need to find creative ways to protest; here at Gota Go Gama, we even did a traditional healing ceremony. Even if you are singing, sing songs relating to the current times and our struggle; there is no point in singing bus music,” he expressed, adding if that is what you’re there for, then it’s better to stay at home and enjoy.
He asked everyone at the protest to refrain from giving government-favouring media the opportunity to point at the movement and claim it to be a festival, warning: “They are waiting for us to slip up. Do not give it to them.”
Another citizen who frequents “GotaGoGama”, Jehan Aloysius, also noted that it’s unfortunate that some still believe that all protests need to be violent. In his opinion, civilised society need not resort to conflict, since they now have access to new media and technology.
“Protestors have used creative methods of making a statement and supporting their cause. People protest when keeping silent is an impossibility. Their voice may be articulated through art, music, performances, and creativity,” he observed, adding that this is a peaceful and positive way to grapple with a disastrous situation.
Tinaz Amit, another citizen that has been attending protests even before the ones at Galle Face and Independence Square began, also highlighted that people protest in different ways, saying: “There are no guidelines; it’s not said anywhere that you have to be changing slogans or walking, or be aggressive in what you’re saying.”
False narratives damage the cause
While some with an agenda could deem the people’s show of dissent to be a “festival” in order to undermine the cause, some may be uninformed and genuinely believe that these artistic displays of resistance are not the way to go about change. We asked Perera if this claim of it being a “festive place to be” is damaging their cause and goals.
“It is damaging our cause, because what we’re fighting here is oppression and what we’re doing by criticising someone’s way of protesting is oppressing that individual,” he pointed out, questioning how people could claim to be better than the people in power they are attempting to overthrow if they don’t respect everyone’s right to protest.
Perera also urged individuals who are at “GotaGoGama” that are using this pretext – which he added, is a very small minority – need to get their act together and realise that they are not staying true to the cause that many have gathered there for. He agreed that people are singing, clapping, and having fun, but pointed out that they are singing songs of freedom, anarchy, and revolution.
“Use the space that you are occupying here to send a message – not just to be a waste of space,” he requested.
Adding to this, Amit shared that perhaps the reason why people are calling this a “carnival” is because you get many people coming just to see what it’s all about.
“Something like this has never happened in Sri Lanka before – we’ve only seen the way trade unions and the like protest – nothing like this sense of community that is found at Galle Face,” she observed, adding that of course, people will be coming in just to see what it’s like, they’ll be moving around, and taking pictures in awe.
She noted that there is nothing wrong with this, but advised those that come to observe to actively get involved and educate themselves on the cause and what is being fought for.
“Even if someone with no political awareness attends the protest here, I’m sure they will leave more educated than before,” she said.
Staying true to the resistance
During our conversation with Nikeshala, he also stressed the importance of maintaining certain decorum. Sending out a message to those born after the year 2000, he stated: “Most of you are still living with your parents’ money, under your parents’ roof. You do not truly understand this terrible struggle – we don’t have medicine, fuel, gas, milk powder, food, we have nothing left!”
Voice cracking, he lamented: “We are here today because we have nothing left and nowhere to go. We are fighting for our lives and you – our children’s lives.”
He urged the youth to stop driving around the protest, honking and wasting what little fuel the country has left, adding that these races also waste tyres amidst a shortage of spare parts for vehicles. He also requested people to refrain from setting up speakers and listening to irrelevant music, adding that several elders share his sentiments and have requested the same, to little avail.
Aloysius also sees it as a method of coping by celebrating unity, community, and strength in the face of adversity, as all join as one.
“To me that’s the ‘power of one’ – the power of the people,” he told us, adding that those who cannot comprehend this fact need to educate themselves and focus on the positive outcomes, rather than judging and belittling the efforts of those attempting to, perhaps even for the first time, claim agency of their future.
Nikeshala was at the protest that took place in Mirihana – he told us he was one of the first few that had enough and decided to get on the road that day. He begged: “Do not dilute what we started on that fateful day; do not disrespect those who were injured for the country’s livelihood that day. We have come so far, let us finish the job.”
To Nikeshala, this protest is a God-given opportunity to change the stench of corruption on our island, as he charged: “We have the corrupt politicians stuck inside their house, we have them pushed against their walls. The time for change is now, and if we are unable to do so, then God bless us all.”