Malaysian bicycle campaign for government reform (JERIT “Cycling for Change” campaign) 2008

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Timing
Time Period:  
3 December
2008
to
18 December
2008
Location and Goals
Country: 
Malaysia
Location Description: 
Cyclists traveled along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, stopping to ride through cities and towns along the way. Two separate teams of cyclists converged on Kuala Lumpur, with one group starting from the north in Alor Setar and the other group starting from the south in Skudai (outside Johor Bahru, near Singapore).
Goals: 
The cycling campaign sought to raise public awareness of the "real issues" affecting the country's people, such as lack of democracy, excessive government security powers, environmental hazards, food shortages, and other problems.

In addition to communicating with the general public, the campaign sought to meet the Prime Minister and deliver a petition to him and the parliamentary opposition leader, stating six demands:

* Support for workers impacted by the 2008 global financial crisis (e.g. price controls on essential consumer goods)

* Restoration of local government elections (suspended in 1965)

* Establishment of a minimum wage

* Repeal of the Internal Security Act

* Provision of adequate public housing

* Cessation of privatization of public services (e.g. healthcare, education)

 

From 3 to 18 December 2008, over 100 activists participated in a nationwide bicycle convoy in Malaysia, spanning the eastern length of the country's peninsular section, in order to garner public and governmental attention to issues that they considered to be among the most pressing concerns facing Malaysia society.

The campaign was organized by JERIT (Jeringan Rakyat Tertindas — Oppressed People's Network), a then-five-year old network of civil society organizations largely focused on representing Malaysia's ethnic Indian community. (As a racial minority in a racially stratified nation, the network considers Indians an oppressed people, disadvantaged compared to the politically dominant Malay community.) Despite leadership role of JERIT, and the mainly (but not exclusively) Indian composition of the participants, the campaign's demands were not specific to race but rather related to broader government policy. Specifically, the campaign sought government action on six points:

  • • the restoration of Support for workers impacted by the 2008 global financial crisis (e.g. price controls on essential consumer goods)
  • • the restoration of local government elections (suspended in 1965)
  • • the establishment of a minimum wage
  • • the repeal of the Internal Security Act
  • • the provision of adequate public housing
  • • the end of privatization of public services (e.g. healthcare, education)

Two groups of cyclists and volunteers started their journey as two separate legs, with one group beginning in the northern tip of the country and the other coming from the south, with both groups converging on the national capital of Kuala Lumpur. Rather than cycle the entire distance, the cyclists transported their bikes by van from city to city, and stopped at towns and cities along their route. At each stop, the cyclists unloaded their bikes and rode through the city center, thus maximizing the number of people that their message reached. Aside from people seeing the spectacle of cyclists riding through town, volunteers distributed leaflets to passerby, held press conferences, and spoke to individual city residents.

In the interest of generating further public awareness, the cycling group invited journalists to join them for their cross-country journey. The presence of journalists also allowed for better documentation of the police response. News stories about the measures that police took to impede the cyclists provoked condemnation of the police measures from numerous politicians and expressions of support for the cyclists. It may also be reasonably speculated that such media coverage also provided police a disincentive against using excessive force against the protestors.

Regarding the specific demands presented in their six-point petition, the campaigners were not successful in their push for any significant change in government policy. (While it should be noted that the government agreed to abolish the Internal Security Act- one of the six policies advocated by the campaigners - in 2011, this project evaluates success based on the circumstances present two years after the campaign action.)

However, policy changes were only part of the campaigners' goals. With respect to the goal of raising public awareness and generating public discussion, the campaign was quite successful.

Research Notes
Influences: 

According to JERIT organizer Y Kohila, inspiration for the cycling campaign came from the march of Bukit Asahan plantation workers in the 1970's, who marched 150 km from Malacca to Kuala Lumpur to meet with the prime minister about their grievances.

Sources: 
"12/12/2008 Perak: JERIT Cyclists Move Forward Despite Police Threats." Web log post. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. 12 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=231&Itemid=46>.

"5/12/2008 Penang: JERIT Bicycle Campaign Continues Despite Police Harassment." Web log post. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. 5 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=201&Itemid=1>.

"8/12/08 : Police Harrasment Continues in Johor as Cyclists Persistently Continue Campaign." Web log post. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. 8 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=209&Itemid=1>.

Arutchelvan. "7/12/2008 Kluang: 5 Arrested but Police Say JERIT Leaflet Fine." Web log post. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. 7 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=208&Itemid=1>.

Aruthchelvan. "Two Dramatic Days." Aliran. 26 Feb. 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://aliran.com/826.html>.

Chong, Debra. "Jerit’s Cry for Better Laws Heard on Last Day of Parliament." Malaysian Insider. 18 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/litee/malaysia/article/Jerits-cry-for-better-laws-heard-on-last-day-of-Parliament/>.

"CPO's Children Rescue Mission." Web log post. Parti Sosialis Malaysia. 17 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://parti-sosialis.org/en/node/839>.

"Cyclists Reach Parliament! Police Defeated!" Web log post. Parti Sosialis Malaysia. 18 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://parti-sosialis.org/en/node/841>.

"The Cyclists Unite." Web log post. Parti Sosialis Malaysia. 17 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://parti-sosialis.org/en/node/840>.

"Dato Siva, SUHAKAM: "Negara Lain Akan Ketawakan Malaysia Kerana Tidak Benarkan Berbasikal"" Web log post. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. 11 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=226&Itemid=1>. The body of the article is in English despite having a title in Bahasa Malaysia.

Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. JERIT Secretariat. JERIT Bicycle Campaign Receives Tremendous Support from the Public. 8 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=207&Itemid=30>.

Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. JERIT Secretariat. Malaysia: Bicycle Protesters for Workers' Rights Defy Police Intimidation. Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. 6 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://links.org.au/node/781>.

Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. "People the Force of Change: Nationwide Cycling Campaign." Aliran. 20 Nov. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://aliran.com/739.html>.

"Jerit Cyclists to Hand in Memo to Guan Eng." Aliran. 5 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://aliran.com/640.html>.

JERIT - Rakyat Pengayuh Perubahan. Uploaded by patvinmalaysia. YouTube. 3 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DRElriUlis>.

Kala, Shashi. "Cops Warn Jerit over Bicycle Convoy to Parliament." Nut Graph. 17 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.thenutgraph.com/cops-warn-jerit-over-bicycle-convoy-to-parliament/>.

Kesatuan, and Gabungan Pekerja Kilang. "Minimum Wage: Jerit Disappointed with Ministry’s Response." Editorial. Aliran. 26 June 2010. Web. 25 Oct. 2008. <http://aliran.com/743.html>.

Khaira, Kris. "Activist Performers Wanted for JERIT Bicycle Campaign." Web log post. Indiegoat. 27 Nov. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.indiegoat.com/posts/954>.

"Mission Accomplished - N9 (Negeri Sembilan): Memorandum Submitted." Web log post. Parti Sosialis Malaysia. 13 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://parti-sosialis.org/en/node/838>.

"MP to Tell Sultan His Side of the Story on Bicycle Campaign." Star Online. Star Publications Bhd, 22 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2008/12/22/nation/2870199>.

“Nasir to Cops: Pick on Criminals, Not Cyclists." Malaysiakini. 8 Dec. 2008. As reproduced at: "Nasir to cops: Pick on criminals, not cyclists." Twilight Horizon. <http://jueheng.multiply.com/journal/item/213/Nasir_to_cops_Pick_on_criminals_not_cyclists >. 7 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.

Netto, Anil. "Protestors Pedal to Parliament, Brave Police." IPS Inter Press Service. 17 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=45141>.

"9th December; Our Campaign Vehicles Arrested." Web log post. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=224&Itemid=1>.

Pathmawathy, S. "Cycle for Change Campaign 'loses Wheels'" Malaysiakini. 5 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/94423>.

Raj, Surind. "Johor Declares "State of Emergency" on Cyclists." Letter. Malaysia Today. 7 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://mt.m2day.org/2008/content/view/15764/84/>.

Rasiah, Rani. "Pedal Power." Aliran. 25 Feb. 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://aliran.com/825.html>.

"A Road-block Free Day." Web log post. Parti Sosialis Malaysia. 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://parti-sosialis.org/en/node/837>.

"7th Day of Campaign : 9/12/08 ;11am." Web log post. Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas. 9 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://www.jerit.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=214&Itemid=1>.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia. Malaysia Human Rights Report 2008: Civil & Political Rights. Petaling Jaya: SUARAM Kommunikasi, 2009. Print. Pp. 52-3.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia. Nailini E. Urgent Appeal Update: 8 Still Being Held in Police Station. 518 International Solidarity. 9 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://groups.google.com/group/518solidarity/browse_thread/thread/82c278f7437cdf94/6757ae6606c1b66c>.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia. Nalini E. Urgent Appeal: Police Have Stopped Cyclists from Leafleting in Teluk Kumbar, Penang. 518 International Solidarity. 5 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://groups.google.com/group/518solidarity/browse_thread/thread/5e867fbddfe855a4/5c276b01b88c15f8>.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia. Nalini E. Urgent Appeal Update (4): Eight JERIT Activists Have Been Released! 518 International Solidarity. 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://groups.google.com/group/518solidarity/browse_thread/thread/9e27a6154fad0a2f/8a5227836fe2a1e5>.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia. Nalini E. Urgent Appeal Update: 60 Cyclists and Acitivist Released. 518 International Solidarity. 16 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://groups.google.com/group/518solidarity/browse_thread/thread/9132ee325a9a3db1/9daa1cc6ac851433>.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia. Temme Lee. Stop Ongoing Attacks By Police on JERIT Bicycle Campaign Now! 518 International Solidarity. 17 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://groups.google.com/group/518solidarity/browse_thread/thread/cbde1202bb014b31>.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia. Temme Lee. Urgent Appeal: Another 9 More Arrested, Bus Held. 518 International Solidarity. 15 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://groups.google.com/group/518solidarity/browse_thread/thread/f7d3515ef91d6e8f>.

"Update on JERIT Bicycle Campaign: Police Harrassment Continues." Web log post. People's Parliament. 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 25 Oct. 2011. <http://harismibrahim.wordpress.com/2008/12/10/update-on-jerit-bicycle-campaign-police-harrassment-continues/>.

Veranggan, Athi. "Arsonists Torch Jerit Bicycles." Malaysiakini. 7 Dec. 2008. As reproduced at: "Burning Cycling Spirit." Mustafa K Anuar's Blog. 7 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://mustafakanuar.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/burning-the-cycling-spirit/>.

Yoong, Jed. "Bicycling with the Police in Malaysia." Asia Sentinel. 15 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.asiasentinel.com/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1613&pop=1&page=1&Itemid=189>.

Additional Notes: 
Readers may also be interested in viewing Kayuh (2009) by Soh Sook Hwa, a documentary film that follows the cyclists over the course of the 16-day campaign. (Freedom Film Fest cut [not viewed]: 30 minutes, in Bahasa Malayasia with English subtitles. The link below is to a 21-minute version without English subtitles.)

http://www.engagemedia.org/Members/Komas/freedomfilmfest-fff-videos/videos/FFF_kayuh.mp4/view

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Alexander Blocker, 6/11/2011