Strategies for Student Activists

Tips from a seasoned student activist on how to not to get caught in Bolehland.

Before I proceed, I must provide a disclaimer: The duty of a student is above all to your studies and to the expectations of your family, NOT politicking. Said activism is only reserved to after your obligations to your studies are met. Prioritise your assignments, tests, exams, etc.

At the end of the term of your undergraduate studies, you will acquire a certificate that states that you qualify for the next stage of your growth into adulthood – joining the workforce. This said, for anyone to see their child expelled from a degree/diploma is every parents’ nightmare. Hence, the reason for this article is written.

This article is about “how to still be an activist and NOT get caught.” This advice is dispensed in 3 portions; (i) to advocate, (ii) to write, and (iii) while demonstrating.

Get creative - can't swim? ride a frog

Get creative - can't swim? ride a frog

Advocate

1. KEEP YOUR HEAD LOW. Never organise a full fledged rally. If you do, make sure it’s a flash mob affair where no head or tail of the dragon may be recognisable. It is the practise of the Malaysian police to identify the head, target him/her, and arrest the head.

In theory, this is meant to cull the crowd and spread fear. In truth, police are dipshit scared of you. For all their fierce expressions and arsenal of weapons, sheer numbers can and will overwhelm them. Fortunately, Malaysians in general are pacifists, so we politely leave and protest in blogs when people get arrested. Woon King Chai, you readin’ this?

2. BE DISCREET. Instead, organise innocent, lepaking sessions either at mamak stalls or at the privacy of your rumah sewa/rumah bujang. Talk people into private areas when it is absolutely yours to do as you will with it.

As a rule, police cannot enter inside private homes especially when your parents own said premises, or when you’re merely having a meal. Or better still, ask your parents’ permission to usurp the living room for a bit. If you have politically allergic parents, tell ’em it’s a sleepover. It works all the time. Don’t have more than 10 people at a time or it’d be too obvious.

Remember, it’s the impact that counts, not the numbers. You talk to 10 people, those 10 people will talk to other 10 people, and on it goes exponentially. Pyramid scheme activist style.

Write

3. PSEUDONYMS & MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES. Never use your real name for your articles. That’s literally asking for expulsion or disciplinary action from your university. Mind you, in every university, especially public universities(IPTA), there are entire dedicated departments instructed to monitor YOU.

Do not use obvious personal references that any person of your acquaintance, your family, or even your closest friends can recognise. Use names that are at odds with your natural personality, religion, background, etc.

Even the weakest link can lead to you. Use something completely different and vary the names for every other article. Pretend to have bipolar personality syndrome if you have to. I had a fondness for Christian Saints and Angels, and it has served me well.

4. COVER YOUR TRACKS. Own multiple email accounts, using the anonymity tips I just spoke of. Make sure you vary the email accounts; Yahoo, Hotmail, Rocketmail, AOL, etc. Go for the commercial ones that are freely available. Do not use university emails, company emails, etc. as they can be easily tracked down.

Use and discard. Never use the same one for more than one purpose. Limit to one pseudonym per email.

Demonstrations

5. BLEND IN. The idea of going to demonstrations is to add numbers to a cause – not to get the cool factor, and definitely not to get your sorry arse arrested. It is better to live another day free than to be arrested. It will set a chain of events which will lead you to getting in trouble in your university. Blend in.

Wear normal clothes, leave all of your Student IDs at home, conceal your face where relevant. Make sure you have established groups to protect yourself, though normally people naturally band together while facing water cannons and tear gas bombs. The idea is to get the message across. Fame is never good, unless you have your diploma/degree securely in your hands.

6. USE DISGUISES. If you’re willing and creative, dress as opposite to your personality. I’ve had friends who use the tudung labuh and purdah. It’s very effective while hiding amongst PAS Supporters.

7. FREE HANDS. Kindly carry no cause paraphernalia or merchandise on you. Not even one badge. Just wear the correct colours. No policemen can arrest you in the interest of fashion statement, but AUKU is very strict on carrying flyers and materials as such.

Miscellaneous

8. PROTECTION. This is the trickiest, or perhaps, not so tricky depending on which university you’re at. Identify the lecturers and administrative staff who are “hostile” to student rights movements or students’ independence. Identify also to the lecturers who are friendly to your cause. The former will do their best to suppress you. The latter will protect you.

I’ve had lecturers who had given me prior warning, which allowed me time for damage control. Do not think unkindly of those lecturers who protects students, they are putting their own livelihood – their jobs at risk too. I know of one who was deported to a different branch for speaking out against certain policies.

Of course, be wary of the pretenders who pretend to be your ally but in fact report to the Dean.

Do not, where possible add lecturers or strangers on your Facebook and Twitter. I have had lecturers who actively stalk students’ Facebook pages and report to the Dean and had caused much trouble for a friend of mine.

9. PARANOIA IS GOOD. Whatever you do, be paranoid. Often, said paranoia is wisdom. Be wary. Exercise utmost caution. Above all else, keep your silence on your brethren activists. Feigning ignorance is much encouraged.

I have lived and learned with this in mind for 4 1/2 years. May it help you in your cause too.

LB: In pictures – Student movements of the world.

Paris, May 1968

Paris, May 1968

Students, holding garbage can tops as shields, faced off with the police, in Paris near the Gare de Lyon train station in May 1968. A failed political revolution but a successful social revolution – it was a moment of liberation for many, when youth coalesced, the workers listened and the semi-royal French government of Charles de Gaulle took fright.

Tiananmen Square, 1989

Tiananmen Square, 4 June 1989

The protests lead to the Massacre in Tiananmen Square – several hundred civilian protesters, mostly students were shot dead by the Chinese army during a bloody military operation to crush a democratic protest in Peking’s (Beijing).

Padang kelam Sultan Selangor Baling 1974

Baling 1974

Feeling the plight of the proletariat – students at Padang Kelab Sultan Selangor fighting “alongside” peasants and farmers in the “Rural Revolution” of Baling, Kedah.

Greece, 2006

Greece, 2006

Anger and revolt – students protesting neoliberal university reforms.

he campus election results and also to raise issue of no water on campus (water rationing for 2 weeks!) and also FRU beating up students in UKM

UKM, 2010

Mahasiswa UKM at a silent protest against university authorities interfering with campus elections and the FRU entering campus grounds and were seen beating up students during earlier protests. Students also took the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction over a 2 week water ration.

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This young lawyer harbours hope that one day Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity and religion have equal rights under the law, as we all are before the eyes of God. She is moving with UndiMsia! (http://UndiMsia.com) and will always be an Anak Bangsa Malaysia. (http://SayaAnakBangsaMalaysia.net)

Posted on 28 July 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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14 Responses to Strategies for Student Activists

  1. kickdafella (student)

    refering to the above issue, which needs the publics attention!!!..imagine that, students get suspended and fined RM500 by UniKL MIMET for commenting on the increment of fees…Where is freedom of speech, where is human rights, where is the law, and this needs serious media attention,people…

  2. Pingback: 8 MIMET students sent to uni courts following comments on Facebook

  3. Since when this is about UITM alone?

    http://unikl.org/campus-discussion/232-8-mimet-students-sent-uni-courts-following-comments-facebook.html

    8 UniKL MIMET students are currently facing suspension for one semester for their comments on Facebook. I guess this event explained very well how useful if students would know more how things work in the administration office, and how to avoid getting caught so easily.

    I’d like to hear Ali Davidson’s view on this. Is that brave enough for you?

    What the author wrote should not be viewed as promoting cowardice, but instead as education for them students to be smarter especially when commenting against the ‘big boss’.

  4. Yada yada, Uitm does not subscribe to such 'opposition' culture.

    I do remember Uitm students parading through Shah Alam on the issue of an organisation's non payment of tax that supposedly jearpordized its campus plans & is racist. And the VC officially sanctioned the event.

    Also, on the cow head incident in Shah Alam, wonder why no Uitm students spoke passionately about it being culturally inappropriate?

  5. No name

    Revolution aint started by morons, it started by guerillas, those who live in the jungle, invisible to publics.

    For lawyers and law students who still lingering in the ruins of Malaysian justice please stop, drop, and roll out of here!

  6. Popia

    There are many ways for a student to conduct his activism. This, subscribed by Azira is only but one of them.

    There are more radical ways, more passive ways, more direct ways and more secretive ways. However, they each serve their own purpose in the course of things. Be it education for the masses, awareness, pressure or simply self-empowerment, they reach out to different areas of society and different kinds of minds/people.

    So i would not advice all students to follow these tips. We always need diversity, even in activism. But some may find it very useful if they are comfortable with this style of hers.

    To Abdullah and others who believe in upholding their version of Malay agenda,we should meet up one day and discuss things. Oh how interesting that would be, to exchange views in a mature manner!

  7. Qama Gill

    Abdullah,

    i got to nominate you as being the most sarcastic person, trailing behind Ali Davidson. Look how the excerpt is full of contradictory elements.

    “The nature and image of UiTM as a “bumiputra institution” should be understood from a just and equitable perspective. There is nothing objectionable to the policy on special privileges for a group of people on account of their economic disparity. On the other hand, special privileges for a group of people which is merely based on their race is dangerously reminiscent of racism.

    this is what i call "1Malaysia cara kita".

  8. I had a roomate in UiTM, her name was Ainy. She's currently in AGC's International Affairs Division. She regaled to me this story:

    One day, she was stopping by the side of the road for some pisang goreng. It's her regular pisang goreng stall. Ainy's the chatty type. Eventually, the mak cik pisang goreng confided in her that she was once a recipient of the JPA scholarship doing Engineering in a public university. She did not come from a well off family, but she has courage and conviction in the manner that most of us LBs have.

    During her final year, she was involved in a demonstration in support of Dato' Seri Anuar Ibrahim. She was one of the students who was arrested. Because she was arrested, the lecturers and administration staff took action against her and she was expelled from her university. She lost her scholarship and she was banned from all public universities in Malaysia.

    Instead of contributing to the Malaysian society as an Engineer, another learned member of the society, she is now a mak cik pisang goreng.

    I know not whether it is true. Ainy's my closest friend at the time, and I trust in her judgement. She is a very strong UMNO supporter btw. =)

    She was trying to disparage DSAI in my eyes, but a different lesson in this story carried with me. (As a general rule, I, like many Malaysians, distrust ALL politicians across the board).

    Long term in mind, Ali Davidson, sometimes it is wiser to have patience and use caution to serve a larger cause. Each in its own time. My goal in UiTM is to disseminate information not to lead. There is no head, and there is no tail, merely a collective group who believes in independence of thought. That, to me, is enough.

    Thank you Qama Gill.

    Amir, what I need to explain to you is something that cannot be given justice in a comment box. Suffice to say, as a human being, and as a Muslim, I cannot condone a State-sanctioned policies that borders on hate speech. Another article, perhaps.

    I'm not saying that you should go all out demonstrating, I'm simply laying down some guidelines to prevent prosecution i.e. kena drop degree/diploma cik adik ooi… kalau takat kena tegur ngan lecturer ok lagi.

    I wrote this because I'm worried for the worried students. Hopefully, from being 'dissenters' and 'troublemakers' in Uni, we shall become a loud and growing voice of professionals who can not only talk about change, but initiate it for the sake of the future generations. Life is not only the 5 years you spend in University, but also the 50 years afterwards.

    It is good to have a knowledge-based society, where knowledge of the constitution and law is no longer novelty, but general knowledge. What use is empty qualifications without minds to function? It is just not good for certain people who prefer sheep over thinkers.

  9. Ong Jo-Lene

    Dear Ali Davidson,

    Do the words "taking a jibe" / "sarcasm" / "tongue in cheek" mean anything to you?

    But A+ for your passion though.

  10. Abdullah

    Go Amir, go!! I support Amir !! That particular lecturer who was transferred to Sabah fully deserves it for being a Malay traitor!! Just read the excerpt below and you'll agree that our students must be protected from such a subversive person:
    "The nature and image of UiTM as a “bumiputra institution” should be understood from a just and equitable perspective.  There is nothing objectionable to the policy on special privileges for a group of people on account of their economic disparity.  On the other hand, special privileges for a group of people which is merely based on their race is dangerously reminiscent of racism.  Look at the example of British colonial policies together with the Apartheid regime.  Look also at the Zionist policy of “aliya” in Israel.  All these special privileges reserved only for the whites and jews have been condemned ad nauseam as racism.

    Turning back to UiTM, historically the Malays were among the poorest people in this country, hence the special privileges policy for them.  It must be proclaimed proudly that UiTM has helped to increase the number of Malay professionals and the burgeoning of the malay middle class.  However, when one takes a look at the demographics of the students in UiTM Shah Alam, any reasonable person would seriously wonder as to whether the Malays are still backward economically.  Parking spaces for the staff , particularly around the area of the Law and Business  faculties have been encroached upon by hordes of shameless students.  Wouldn’t this increase in the number of the students with cars be an indication that the economic standing of the Malays has changed for the better? And if we could accept this presumption as a fact, and I challenge any person who tries to brush this item off as a figment of my imagination to prove me wrong, then , doesn’t  it
    necessarily follow that the economically poor yet brilliant non-malay students should be taken in, at least at the number of 10%?  Furthermore, these poor yet brilliant non-malay students could offer us real competition , plus a further attempt in nation building. "

  11. Qama Gill

    Amir,

    you really want to start on this establishment issue? go back and hide yourself under your mom's skirt. you can participate in an assembly since you have this absurd duty to protect but others can't? you remind me of my buddy "Nazri" from We, the Non-Malays article. is there any law that dictate you can while i can't? such loyalty that you proud of is nothing different with those zionist that you hate. they believe they are the supreme race compared to others; and now you carried this mindset with nonsense establishments. you are not above the law my friend just because you are having "bin" on your name.

    "I am thankful that in uitm we have our lecturers who vigilantly guard and protect us agaisnt these evil influences."

    pity for you there. where got evil? "pendatang" wants to rob you? how about those public funds that been mismanaged to the point of having more national debts leveraged among public? with all resources that we have yet we are now about to go down the drain because of your so-called "savior". are you much better than me just because you are a Malay? or me being less-human than you?

    Ali Davidson,

    certain people wants to play it safe since they have other priority at stake. at least they do understand things around them and doing something according to their capacity. effort is still effort regardless how small. i do know courage is what change things. that is the difference between leader and follower. either way, there will be light at the end of this tunnel. Amen.

  12. Ali Davidson

    Amir,

    You haven't really been out of Malaysia much haven't you?

  13. Amir

    As a uitm student who is fully loyal to the university n to the bangsa melayu, I must stand up against the garbage written by azira. Demonstrations n ralllies are not for uitm students since these things sow the seeds of hatred against the Malay establishment. I am thankful that in uitm we have our lecturers who vigilantly guard and protect us agaisnt these evil influences. So what if these vigilant lecturers are umno cadres?? These people care more about the future of the Bangsa melayu. The public demonstration that we had against the MB of selangor was a special case since we are all duty bound to protect Malay privileges. Our VC also gave us his support. Any lecturers who do not support our VC deserve to be transferred elsewhere.

  14. Ali Davidson

    What is this? A Pondan's Guide to Activism?

    If you intend to get anything changed and this is your manner of doing things, you'll be living forever in Shitville.

    A duty of a civil resistor is to provoke response and provoke he will until he receives a response or the law is changed.

    With such a lame "strategy", do you really think the Government would give a shit when the whole purpose of your "show of dissatisfaction" is hiding yourself and not getting arrested?

    What you're basically saying is "I'm against laws criminalizing assembly but I also don't want to be caught Assembling!". Stand up for what you believe in if it means you have to go for prison for it; that's what courage is!

    The Government will only start giving a shit when the population embarrasses its policies and its leaders and you do that by purposefully breaking the law and encouraging others to do the same; to show the irrelevance of such laws and how such laws have no hold over you.

    Not by hiding, being discreet or worst of all putting a tudung on. Please, stop embarrassing yourself!