Not too long ago, I had a chat with a family member who currently lives in the United States. She lives in one of the more chaotic areas affected by the unfortunate murder of George Floyd. She expressed her longing to be back home in Indonesia because it is “lonely and violent” where she is.
Though she did not spare too many details on the situation happening around her, those two words immediately made my heart sank. It sank because even though I am currently over 9000 miles apart from her, I feel the same way. Our circumstances may differ but the lasting aftertaste may very well be paralleled.
Let me give you a little context. In Indonesia, social issues currently circulating in the public domain consist of two main topics: the pandemic and all that comes with it, as well as the authority and how they handle their power. Sounds familiar?
A recent speech made by Jacob Frey, the mayor of Minneapolis, made it devastatingly clear that the anger and sadness over the death of George Floyd is a result of over 400 years of unresolved problems in America on racism and injustice. For me this is a scary premonition of what could happen to Indonesia if our problems are left unchecked. It is a painful lesson for us younger countries -- one should never let a problem go on for too long that it reaches a point of no return.
You see, during Indonesia’s Orde Lama and Orde Baru we’ve had a longstanding problem with freedom of speech (specifically in the form of critique towards the government) and freedom of expression. Although it happened a while ago, but the ripple affect it caused to the mentality of the general public lasted for quite some time. After Reformasi came and Indonesia progressively became more and more democratic in its practices, one should assume that the problem is then resolved, right?
Well, sadly, not quite.
In 2020, decades after the past authoritarian regime, there are still countless cases of the public being silenced for expressing their right to their own opinion. Most recent being the death threats some students in Gadjah Mada University received for creating an academic discussion on the dismissal of a president from a constitutional point of view. This proves that despite being a democratic country, people are still being threatened for voicing their opinions. Especially when they are talking about those in power.
In a way, it is almost more unnerving now. Nowadays, those in power are hiding behind seemingly legal procedures to silence those in opposition. Using the law to turn on its own people. This way, if confronted, one can just say, “we are simply following the procedures of law”. As if unaware that there are holes in Indonesia’s current law that can be used in favor of those with more power and resources. This to me is the equivalent of someone saying, “because I said so” in an argument. It leaves no room for resolve, only defeat.
In retrospect, this issue is by no means novel. Just as America have experienced the Baltimore protest in 2015, we too have protested and demanded our right to freedom of expression in the 1998 regime change. But just because it has happened, it is no excuse to be complacent. In this instance, we should do whatever we can to avoid our version of the George Floyd case. In this I mean a horrific follow up chaos that spawned from unresolved problems.
Some may think that the current cases of suppression in freedom of expression may very well be unrelated or unimpactful to their daily lives. But as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. It is your right to feel secure in expressing your opinions, even if it goes against other’s believes. I urge us all to live by Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s famous quote: I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Now, being fortunate enough to have access to global information, don’t we owe it to our country to learn from other’s mistakes as to not go through what they are going through? It would be foolish to let this problem drag on for the next 400 years and have it eventually blown up in our country’s face – rendering it “lonely and violent”. In the face of a possible crisis, prevention is the only option. For by the time it reaches just that, it is already too late.
What does this mean for us? Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo in an interview about whether the three other officers involved in restraining Floyd should be arrested said, “Silence is an action—you’re complicit.”
So, if you are in power, if you are privileged, if you have a voice that others are willing to hear, if you have resources, if you are in the know, do something. Contribute to the resolve in any way, shape, or form of your choosing. Let it be known that you are not just a bystander. Understand that if you choose to do nothing, you are then part of the problem.