In our Selected Exhortations category, we republish interesting stuff such as must-read articles and essays not originally written exclusively for the blawg, and which have come to our attention. Please feel free to email [email protected] if you would like to reproduce your writing, but first follow our Writer’s Guide here.

The following article by LoyarBurok Blawgmeister Minion Marcus van Geyzel was shockingly first published in The Star. Lord Bobo’s rage was quelled by the fact that LoyarBurok was mentioned twice in the article.

LAST year was The Year of the Protester — the people who dreamt up, inspired, executed and participated in social movements all over the world that saw power return to the people.

The role of social and online media in these movements cannot be overstated. The mantra “Internet rights are human rights” grew stronger than ever. Hillary Clinton’s address on Internet freedom at a conference in The Hague, the Netherlands, last month summed up the global importance of online information.

Last month, I was invited by the United States Mission to Asean, via the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, to a social media convention in Jakarta. Online media is a big deal in Indonesia. The main event was an annual convention with almost 2,000 attendees. I represented Malaysia (each Asean member country was represented) to speak, share and learn due to the work I do with the community blawg

The diversity of online activists was compelling. I call them “online activists” and not “bloggers” because many are championing causes in their communities. They do not just write about what they ate, or which parties they went to, or which cosmetic product or spa was the best.There was a youthful vibrancy, a tangible element of fun but also a pointed determination to make a real impact. Issues like the environment, gender equality, the fight against hunger and poverty, human rights, politics, social justice, youth empowerment and freedom of expression were discussed.

One of the opening speakers, renowned political analyst and public intellectual Anies Baswedan, underlined this attitude with a stirring call to use the online platform to make a positive change in the various countries.
He called for a sense of purpose, optimism and a vision for opportunities. We must do the same in Malaysia.

Online media in Malaysia has grown. To many, it is no longer alternative media and to some, it is their main source of information. With that change comes greater responsibility and opportunity — one that we should not allow to pass us by.

Many people I spoke to on politics, government, the economy and other serious issues were cynical and apathetic. We need to fight this indifference, non-participation and distrust in the democratic process. Some argue that this disinterest is due to selfishness — all about me, myself and I, money, luxuries, home and family — but I believe it is also to do with the lack of opportunity.

In Malaysia, as in many countries, mainstream media is to some extent controlled by the rich and powerful. This inevitably affects content. Social and online media should complement the traditional information channels.

It has been said freedom of information is a democracy’s immune system against gross errors of fact, manipulation and deception. It is not unusual in Malaysia for scandal, gutter politics and fear to be used to short-circuit discussions. An absence of alternative sources of information and a shortage of independent forums and media in which to participate in a discourse will result in the democratic immune system crashing. This will render us unable to respond to serious threats to the health of our democracy.

This is where we all come in. We must create and maintain new ways to engage in a genuine and non-manipulative conversation about issues — politics, the economy, the cost of living, government contracts, education — and our future.

We must move away from emotional responses, quick answers and blind partisanship. Entertainment has taken precedence and serious matters barely last five minutes.

We must move back to reason and mature debate.

We must remember that a foundation of democracy, the ultimate check and balance for the government, is accountability.

A democratic conversation means talking things out. Our mental muscles of democracy have begun to atrophy; we must build them up again.

The developments last year have been heartening. Many only dreamt of the day the Emergency would be over and the ISA repealed. We seem to be moving towards those historic milestones. There is more transparency and accountability – it is more common now to hear a politician justifying his actions in the face of criticism rather than ignoring the issue and just going off on a holiday. But there is still very much to do in this revolution.

The revolution I speak of is not about changing the government. It is about the rakyat detaching themselves from blind political partisanship.

It is a revolution of hearts and minds. It is changing the way things are perceived and done. It is about accountability. It is not about ignoring the mainstream media, it is about complementary media and information dissemination.

It does not have to be national politics or the economy – champion community issues that are real to you. It is about mainstreaming and reclaiming discourse. It is about a meritocracy of ideas.

Discussions should not just be for experts – every voice should matter. In many cases, hearing the views of someone you know personally has more resonance. It is about reclaiming the power of “normal” people discussing important issues.

Online media is not “media” in the traditional sense. You are online media. Use those Facebook statuses, post up those links. Engage. Write a short article. Make it normal for these discussions to take place every day. Do not be despondent and apathetic — participate instead. There are many platforms available; I can offer (find out how to join us by clicking here). The space is there for you. Claim it.

Saul Alinsky wrote: “The separation of the people from the routine daily frustrations of citizenship is heartbreak in a democracy… there can be no darker or more devastating tragedy than the death of a man’s faith in himself and in his power to direct his future.”

You must participate in Malaysia’s democracy.

Marcus van Geyzel tweets at @vangeyzel. He believes that the only certain thing in life is that everything can be explained by the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter.