There is a constitutional coup in Sri Lanka. There is much more about it at Groundviews, but you can start here if you like. Today, we marched in the thousands in the country’s capital and commercial centre, Colombo. This is a response to things I am reading on social media this evening. (EDITS made re. the numbers at the rally, on 01 November.)
I think if we get too lost in a narrative of our choosing about today’s protest, we will have lost an opportunity to do some serious reflection & learning. In that spirit:
- The protest was extremely well-attended — a minimum of approx 13k according to some tech-based analysis (though limited, no doubt) done here based on UNP aerial footage from the protest at around 3 PM (the height); let’s be clear about the demographics. The UNP gathered large numbers of their supporters from various parts of the country, this made up the majority of the crowd gathered there; Colombo citizens + Colombo civil society etc probably around 300-400 at the height of the protest (that figure is my own estimate). But, bottom line, in effect, this was a UNP rally.
- I don’t believe the 10,000 + gathered there were any less or more ‘decent’ or any less or more ‘drunk’ than most party-supporters who show up when their party summons them — I think some were drunk, some were not etc (we can’t know any of this for sure) but it was peaceful.
- All the speeches were in Sinhalese and all the speakers were men (speakers were not only UNP leaders, included others like Champika, Wickramabahu, but mostly UNP leaders. Ranil and Sajith both spoke.)
- Speeches did attempt to frame things more broadly as a fight for freedom and democracy but most ended up in the usual politicking — ‘Ranil is a great leader, MR must go, MS must pay. Only the UNP can save us.’ Basically there was a serious lack of ideological imagination.
- None addressed the COMPLETE failures of leadership and the BLATANT corruption practiced by this govt and the UNP: the inaction on transitional justice, continuing impunity + continuing militarization, continuing structural sexism + racism, failure to deliver a reformed constitution, the socio-economic + environmental injustices that they are responsible for because of their ‘vision for development’ etc.
- We have to be wary of the narrative of ‘one nation’ ‘one people’ ‘the people have spoken’ etc. We were not all there. We are not THE PEOPLE. We were still, all 11,000 + of us, still only some of the people. There are many who were not represented at this protest in Colombo. There are many who the UNP has routinely ignored and those who the UNP has routinely let down. We cannot just assume we speak for everyone. And I don’t mean MR supporters.
- When we say we fight for ‘our constitution’ we should also remember it is deeply flawed and has sustained hegemonies and majoritarian power structures which many of us benefit from; and many of us wanted it reformed. This was one the things they promised us.
- When we say ‘our democracy’ ‘our nation’ etc we should also remember there is no ‘our’ — there are many, many people who continue to be made to feel as though they do not share in this ‘our’, structurally and socially, and many more who wish not to belong to the ‘our’ for the same reason.
- Today I felt strongly that we must all protest and resist but we also that we must all reflect and do some deep introspection of our political moralities, our political methodologies, and well, our politics, because, wow, we are fucked.
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