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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

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Anti-ISA Candlelight Vigil at Blog House

OK, this is a bit late, but here is my account of the hastily organised vigil last Sunday (15th September). It was very hastily organised: from what I can gather it was decided on at about 3pm and then announced here, here and here; the message also spread by SMS (the way I heard about it) and surely by email too. It started at 9pm and in all about 125 people there (some have placed the figure higher at 160-200). In any case, the speed of mobilisation is testament to the significance of blogs in terms of communication and mobilisation. Although the SMS, email and word of mouth are key to actually making it happen, by having a recognised blog such as the ones listed above (Rocky’s Bru, Nat Tan, Tok Mommy) announcing an event – it immediately has credibility, and provides a stable reference point to check any information that comes from elsewhere. I know that I always check Rocky’s Bru for things to do with SoPo blogs, and Malaysiakini for any political/national information I hear; because there are rumours that swirl around easily too.

Nat Tan, who MC'd for the evening, kicked off by mentioning how when he had been arrested, the knowledge that there were people outside supporting him helped give him strength. Then he asked for a minute's silence.

The people gathered around in the drizzling rain to hear a succession of speakers argue that the ISA is a reprehensible law, and should be repealed and detainees set free. You can get more information in the links below but the basic points were made by the President of the Bar Council Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan who reminded everyone that it was not just about the recently incarcerated ISA detainees, but all of them; YB Wee Choo Keong said that UMNO were making an intra-party problem a national problem; and YB Sivarasa Rasiah said that the government were trying to scare bloggers and the media into silence.

Faisal Mustaffa spoke in BM, so unfortunately I couldn’t understand, but I guess his clothes told me the bulk of what he was saying :-)

Bloggers also spoke up - suggesting tactics to mobilise support, means for civil disobedience, and registering strong opposition to the ISA. Zorro spoke on behalf of RPK’s wife who couldn’t make it. Tony Yew also explained the current status of All-Blogs which is still in the process of registration. Interestingly, he explained that out of the seven who were a part of the process, five were journalists: this highlighted the close relationship between MSM and All-Blogs (itself a child of SoPo bloggers).

However, although there is something of a symbiotic relationship between bloggers and the MSM (the “phenomenon of blog scoops trickling into mainstream news”, for example), there is also tension – succintly expressed by Little Taffer who forcibly challenged the MSM do their job and speak out.

Overall, I didn’t recognise a lot of the people there, and I got the feeling that many were not necessarily bloggers. One interesting observation was how one speaker said that he wasn’t a blogger, but had been commenting since the days of ‘Free Malaysia’ (? not sure, I got the impression that he meant since the Reformasi period): I’ve noticed this before, that people who comment regularly feel a part of the blogger ‘community’, even if they don’t have a blog themselves. For me this kind of proves my point about the way a blog is, ultimately, a co-product of the readers/commenters and the blogger, in comparison to – for example – a newspaper column (more about this theoretical point relating to 'dialogics' in my online presentation).

As usual, in the SoPo context, blogs are very much an instrument – a platform for freedom of expression and political mobilisation; in this case, in addition, All-Blogs were able to invite some political players and provide the physical platform – the Blog House: this reflects the online space they provide for political dissent. So we see a coming together, both metaphorically and physically, of the on- and offline spaces which become points of confluence of social action and, in this case, reinforcing the symbolic value of blogs as agents/actants of freedom.

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