Pic by Nindy Silvie

Ok, granted – Occupy Banda Aceh doesn’t sound as sexy as Occupy Wall Street, or Occupy the many better known metropolis around the globe in which the OWS phenomenon has set foot. Nonetheless, out they were, a small group of committed Acehnese, concerned about the state of the environment and the adverse effect mining is having on their lives, braving the scorching midday sun.

Their brazen audacity, which led them to the governor’s office to demonstrate and spray slogans on the walls of the palace, attracted enough of the local journos, but failed to make a big splash into the next morning papers (Serambi News p.15); such is the fate of news when it’s left at the hands of mainstream media that seems to be attracted only by fracas and disturbance.

Need proof of that? Check out which of the thousands of Occupy demonstrations around the world have been covered in depth by the media – New York, Rome, Melbourne and the few others that pitted one human against the other, used unnecessary force, turned civil disobedience into unlawful vandalism and failed to pick up on what is fuelling the discontent that brings people in the streets to demonstrate.

In fact, as far as media commentary and analysis goes, the whole OWS thing has attracted quite a lot of ridicule and contempt for being naive, not focused on specific issues or even not being hierarchically structured around its organisation and activities – clearly, here someone is not connecting the dots.

It may well be that many of the people who have adhered to OWS movement reject the whole idea of hierarchical political structures; it may well be that concentrating on the basics of economic and social inequalities is a good enough reason to ignite solidarity, empathy and affiliation; it may well be that there is a renaissance of the way people want to do politics, outside the party room and the machinations of the men in suits; it may well be that people are choosing not to wait or rely entirely on the ballot box to have a say. It just may well be, who knows?

In any case, here in Banda Aceh the demonstration was very well focused on particular local issues. According to one demonstrator, under the now well recognised slogan ‘we are the 99%’, the OWS movement served as an inspiration to students and political activists to raise issues that are close to home; related somewhat to global issues, but pertaining to their day to day life.

The main focus of the protest was to raise the concern that, according to the demonstration’s organisers, the handling and issuing of mining licenses in Aceh is unconstitutional. That is, the Indonesian Constitution, in Article 33, mandates that all of the natural resources be controlled by the state, and benefits from the natural resources be distributed for the welfare of the people of Indonesia. Instead, mining profits are being syphoned overseas by multi-national companies. Moreover, the mining activities that are currently taking place in Aceh Selatan, Nagan Raya and other parts of the Province are wrecking havoc to the environment, polluting waters and displacing people.

Indonesians are not strangers to demonstrating on local issues; cast your mind back to 1998 when the people took to the street to turf out a 32 year long dictatorship, however, the global issues behind the OWS movement have not captured the imagination of the masses in Indonesia, the few demonstrations organised under the OWS banner have been poorly attended, but vocal and colourful as any other elsewhere, nonetheless.

In Banda Aceh the demonstration did not have the frivolities and theatrics seen elsewhere, in fact the tone was serious and determined. In true Acehnese form, the march was more a ride than a walk; it is too hot to walk in the middle of the day. Demonstrators rode their motorcycles with their banners and flags from the centre of town to Taman Ratu Sri Safiatuddin, a short walk away from Kantor Gubernur, walked to the front gate of the governor’s office, which was duly shut and secured by law enforces, delivered passionate speeches and decorated the outside of the building with slogans in aerosol paint. The police looked on, secured the street and allowed the peaceful demonstration to take its course.

The demonstrators dispersed quietly an hour later, but something tells me that we haven’t heard the last on this issue, especially as the local elections draw nearer.