This article was first published on 21 October 2011 for my fortnightly column in The Star’s iPad application, ‘A Humble Submission’.
The Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee, which runs the MyConstitution campaign, has always been one of the few Bar Council committees that accept membership from non-lawyers. It is a move initiated by the previous chairperson, and on hindsight, is probably the most important decision ever taken on behalf of the Committee.
As a result, a significant portion of the Committee comprise of non-lawyers. This has brought about vibrancy and dynamism to the Committee that would not be there if the decision was not made.
Many a time, the main movers of a particular project are non-lawyers. Lawyers are sometimes constrained by other priorities; volunteer work should take a back seat to fee-earning work.
This is not an issue as far as the Committee is concerned, after all, the whole point of the campaign is that the Constitution belongs to all, not just lawyers.
Most of the non-lawyers are students from the various public and private universities and colleges from all over the country. The target group of the MyConstitution campaign are youths from 15 to 35 years old, and the student membership is a testament to its reach within this demographic.
We have gone to most private universities and colleges and a few public universities, and with each visit, we managed to gain a number of new recruits for the Committee. We have even gained members from those universities which we have not been to and which do not seem to allow us into their hallowed halls for whatever reasons.
Among our circles, we know these students as those who are ‘activated’. They are politically aware and itching to do something for the country.
Like us, they are fiercely non-partisan and most of the time, have a general aversion to politicians and political parties.
They feel there are many things that can be improved in this country, but have no platform to channel their energies prior to this.
These activated students reminded me of my own self not long ago. I have always been politically aware of the going-ons in this country, even way back when I was in high school.
I was always frustrated with what I perceived as the problems and weaknesses in the country. Yet, I thought that I could not do anything except than to talk about it in nasi kandar restaurants and to rant on my blog (which at that time, was hosted by Friendster).
Even in the UK, I stayed firmly in touch with events in Malaysia and continued to express my sentiments on the Internet.
So the other day, when I was speaking to student Christopher, he told me the reason he had joined as a committee member was because he wanted to do something instead of just talking away at coffee shops.
How his words echoed within me. There are many people like Christopher and also Ern Nian, a former attachment student in my firm.
Young, energetic and vibrant, these students have found movements like MyConstitution and citizen education campaign UndiMsia! as platforms for them to move with. Enough of talking, enough of blogging and tweeting, enough of angry Facebook updates, the youths of Malaysia can now walk the talk.
Some seasoned activists have expressed reservations. They felt that many of these students are in this not because they believe in the cause, but because they are attracted to the ‘sexiness’ and ‘cool’ factor of these movements.
Human rights and the constitution are all the rage these days, where people like human rights lawyer Edmund Bon have managed to ‘mainstream’ these causes to a wider audience.
There are also reservations that students are in these movements because of the personalities involved.
Valid concerns, of course. Yet even if personalities are the reason why we jump into activism, it is the cause that will keep us in firmly in it. Personalities come and go; idols will be reduced to mortals once we get to know them better.
But the reason why some of us still do what we do, investing time and effort with nothing in return is because we believe in the cause. Those who are in it for personalities, be they students or lawyers, will inevitably leave sooner or later.
There was a time when the perception was that if one wants to change the country, you need to be in poltics. This may no longer be true.
The youths of today now have various other non-partisan platforms to bring change to society. This will reduce the reverence and dependence that the older generations have to political parties.
This is where UndiMsia!’s ‘Youth Action Groups’ (YAGs) come in. The movement aims to create many YAGs all over the country, in every community and organisation.
These YAGs will be the focal point of youth activism, to educate those in the community or organisation and to reduce the dependence on political parties and politicians.
If UndiMsia! is successful, what we would have is essentially cells of activated, non-partisan youths all over the country moving together for a better Malaysia.
My only advice to these students is, do not neglect your studies. An education does not guarantee you success, but it does open a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities.
Most of the time, it also secures your rice bowl. One cannot partake in activism on an empty stomach.
We live in exciting times. While politicians are mud-slinging and resorting to hurl insults towards each other, the youths of Malaysia are waking up and reclaiming the country. Watch this space.