(Photo credits: Faz Markar)
The island nation of Sri Lanka, once called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, has lost its luster and is now facing the worst economic crisis in its recent history. Alongside the economic crisis – which has been steadily escalating since last year – lies a political one, fuelled by the people’s frustration and lack of trust in the current governance, particularly in the president and his family. This is made worse by the fact that citizens are faced with no good options in elections, where the lack of a good Opposition means more often than not, their only choice is to choose the “lesser evil.” While protests are nothing new to Sri Lanka, with various minority groups and ethnicities having protested (and ignored, while the regime focused on the majority and relied on racism to keep them in power) for decades, a new wave has sparked this tradition. Just over a month ago, the upper-middle class, tired and angry with the never-ending wave of shortages – driven by copious amounts of money printing, poor decision making, and a ban on chemical fertilizer when the country was not prepared for a switch – and incessant power cuts – as fuel became scarce and a forex shortage restricted imports – joined the protests in front of the residence of the president himself.
Since then, protests have been ongoing daily across the country, with even an island-wide curfew failing to deter the people who have, finally, had enough. 25 days ago, the beach in front of the presidential secretariat (the office of the President), dubbed the Galle Face Green, was alive with protestors who decided to make a stand at the location.
The protestors received unprecedented support, not only from fellow protestors across the island but even from the country’s legal fraternity, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), as well as from individuals and even corporations who donated everything from food and drinks to tents.
Within a matter of weeks, GotaGoGama was a fully functioning independent village, fuelled by donations from what seemed like everyone. The village was developed enough to have its own shower and toilet facilities, tents, a food and water storage area complete with ice boxes, a media tent, a plastic collection stall, a public library, a public university, a citizens’ council, an ambulance service, ayurveda center, a legal aid stall and a phone charging station. Recently, a section of the village even became powered by renewable energy, with a crew bringing in solar power.
What’s amazing is that this entire structure, this entire village, sprung up without a leader, the only driving force behind it being a group of people committed to the same cause. Now GGG’s coordination is done through a plethora of WhatsApp groups, with others spreading the word of updates or necessities through social media. However, there is no leader in these groups either.
This is a concept many struggle to understand, with many theorizing that there may be hidden influences at play. However, as libertarians, Hayek’s Theory of Spontaneous Order comes to mind; a theory where we hold that some forms of order in society arise naturally and spontaneously from the actions of thousands or millions of individuals. There is no leader, only an invisible hand at play.
In GGG, you have no roles assigned to play, yet, when you step into it, you can assume any role, whether it be helping out at the medical tent for the day, reading in the public library, loudly chanting with the active protestors, speaking or singing or reading poetry in the evenings in support, conducting a session in the public university to teach political and economic awareness, or help out by handing out food and water to those in the village, many of whom do not have homes to return to anymore.
Even though this order sprung out of nothing, it has had its fair share of challenges as the Government did everything in its power to tear it down. Multiple smear campaigns were launched. These included signal jammers set up at the protest site, military vehicles parked alongside to intimidate the protestors, the Prime Minister calling on the parents to keep their children inside in a thinly-veiled threat, and even a pro-Government media outlet calling the protests a “festival,” to widespread outrage.
When individuals start to perceive their moral stands and start defying authority for a freer future, it is likely that the Government will need to listen to the majoritarian rule of people’s voice; the same majority that brought this Government to power. This majority now has the power to bring the Government down. They are speaking, but will the Government listen?
While some tire of this continuing stalemate, with the Government stalling as much as possible in order to try and outlast the protestors, others fear for the future. This situation could be resolved peacefully, with the President stepping down, or on the flip side, we could go the way of Myanmar, with a military takeover. While some are hopeful that the President will eventually step down, or that the Opposition will finally make a stand, others point to the President’s former role as defense minister, and the increased funding provided to the military.
The community in GGG is determined to make them listen. They are fixated on their goal; to keep the protests alive until the president resigns. To achieve that goal, they have united with massive power, and the village operates with an efficiency an assigned team would take years to perfect. With the greater goal in mind, the GGG community keeps the peace among each other, even when it comes to maintaining law and order. They break no laws and do not even threaten the peace. State control is nil, and yet, the popular idea across social media is that GGG is now more functional than the rest of Sri Lanka.
This is what was achieved by the people, for the people.
Let that sink in
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.