The closing statement of Yanuar Nugroho’s opinion piece, “Declaring resistance against the arbitrary rule of political authorities in this election may be our last defense in fighting for democracy” (Kompas 31/1/2024), is a strong call. This article intends to continue that anger. The question is, can resistance be carried out, and who will lead it?
Most people are already tired of struggling to make ends meet because their wages cannot keep up with household expenses. They are busy with odd jobs fighting their poverty. The people’s concerns come from the physical threats they face in dealing with tomorrow, not the intellectual vision of the next 5-10 years. Intellectuals and the people have not yet become united in fighting for a long-lasting democracy.
Some Indonesian intellectuals do resist, but their methods mainly involve writing statements and organizing small-scale seminars. Intellectuals are not influencers with millions of followers, so their resistance functions more as solace in small echo chambers filled with other intellectuals. Meanwhile, the “common people” are fragmented and disconnected from the intellectuals.
Towards universal resistance
Meanwhile, what Yanuar Nugroho means is a call for a grand universal resistance. In this case, the “we” referred to must be as large as the Indonesian people. In the collection of manuscripts “Prison Notebooks,” Antonio Gramsci reflected as an activist, stating: “Every person is a philosopher, intellectual, and legislator” (Hoare & Smith, 1971). The meaning is that a person’s capacity as an intellectual can be formed in their workplace as long as it is organized. Intellectuality is not characterized by complex thoughts but by clear essential thoughts that everyone, through diverse social organizations and movements, can follow. In this condition, the organized people become both fighters and thinkers who possess civil intelligence and strong bargaining power against the authorities as part of a resilient civil society.
The state seems to understand this threat, so the people must be domesticated and isolated from social movements from an early age. National consciousness materials in the school curriculum, starting from elementary school, are designed to direct citizens towards national discipline and obedience without questioning.
The concept of rights is always accompanied by obligations, seemingly neutralizing each other. In the workplace, the formation of unions is always hindered. On many occasions, people are intimidated and not allowed to discuss sensitive topics related to ethnicity, religion, race, and intergroup relations (known as SARA in Indonesian), as if differences are always ready to explode and people are not allowed to talk about them. On the other hand, the state has successfully created an appearance of politeness as the highest achievement in national life compared to anything else. The variety of comments on social media about presidential and vice-presidential debates does not touch upon the content of programs and arguments. Still, it focuses on the body language and politeness of the candidates. The consequence is mass blindness. There is no significant resistance when six pieces of hundred-thousand rupiah bills from their own tax money are packaged as “social aid” gifts before the elections.
Culture is activated values
Culture is born from the relations of various values agreed upon as things deemed good according to collective morals. At the same time, these values are continuously created due to our actions. The problem is that culture does not stand in space or float in the air waiting to be interpreted. Culture is activated values for specific purposes, including manipulative purposes. When a crude action, such as violating rules and morals, is wrapped in polite and sacred actions, an ambiguous situation arises to understand the values created from that contradiction. The creation of value ambiguity is continuously being done in the current presidential election atmosphere to build a new culture in the future that is anti-democratic and controlled by the cloak of national politeness hegemony.
The function of organic intellectuals to directly open the people’s eyes to the power games of the ruling class is urgent. The intellectual work that needs to be done is to shed light on the people that democratic values are inherent in our constitutional values. Therefore, the task of intellectuals is to translate it into simple language that the state should not act against rules, human rights, cultural rights, socio-economic rights, the right to freedom of speech, and the right to thrive and be happy.
Indonesia still has good people on the front lines. They are militant activists who face the risk of being arrested and detained by the authorities because of their voices. Meanwhile, professors and teachers have not fulfilled these organic functions to the maximum. The problem is that Indonesian lecturers do not have the liberal luxury like Foucault and Sartre to go to the streets not as professors but as activists. Campus life is already designed to be packed with administrative matters that are exaggerated to prevent them from leaving campus. But until when?
In the face of our democracy crisis, we need not just an intellectual public providing knowledge for the public’s benefit through research alone. It goes far beyond that. We need intellectual activists who remind citizens of their rights and obligations to fight against injustice and oppression. Intellectual activists are not content with staying in the classroom and teaching because their souls are constantly disturbed. They engage in performative actions by directly involving the people, creating social relationships with them, experiencing their suffering, discussing it, and then translating the essence of oppression into easily understandable language. Let us become these activists and work together for a better future.
To sow the seeds of resistance, the boundaries between science, art, and activism must become fluid. Artists, scientists, workers, and individuals across different identities should come together as citizens with equal rights to fight for our shared Indonesia. Haven’t we already been doing this? Yes, but the impact has been limited because intellectuals only “come down from the mountain” when there is danger. They should not return to the solitude of the mountain when the storm subsides. Who else will protect the people?
Iwan Meulia Pirous Ph.D. candidate in Fine Arts and Design, Bandung Institute of Technology
Researcher for the Indonesian Anthropology Study Forum
Article in Indonesian: https://t.co/uRFj0q7M35 (Kompas Newspaper).