A Night of Planning at the Reform University
Seeds of the student resistance that ended in massive protests on September 23-24, 2019, had been planted long ago. Trisakti University, among the 1998 reform’s motors, again became the center of planning activities.
NEARING 10pm, the commotion on the ground floor of the Trisakti University Student Presidential secretariat only grew louder. Around two dozen young people sat around a low table, their chatter and laughter ringing out. The room was their meeting point in between classes. “After a class, [we would] stop by for a while to meet friends or to have a discussion until nighttime,” said Trisakti University Student President Dinno Ardiansyah.
The two-story building across the university gate on Jalan Kyai Tapa, West Jakarta, is among Trisakti students’ centers of activities. The door is open all day long, and the carpeted room inside is never without people. Dinno and his team’s office on the second floor is also a hangout place for other students. “The university facilitates this. As long as it’s for student activities, we’re free [to do as we wish],” said Dinno on Thursday, December 12.
On a similar night, 80 days prior, the secretariat was even more rowdy. The place is a historical site for the student movement that ended in mass protests in front of the House of Representatives building on September 23-24, 2019. The university, one of the motors of Indonesia’s reform in 1998 was visited by students from various cities prior to the protests.
The meeting on September 22, 2019, was the last planning session. Held from 4pm until almost midnight, the meeting was attended by over 50 students from 45 universities. “The room was packed. Some came from Sumatra. Several representatives from the student executive body (BEM) alliance also came,” said chair of University of Indonesia BEM, Manik Marganamahendra.
They discussed ways to “rescue” the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and reject a number of problematic bills. The topics of environmental destruction, sexual violence, agrarian problems and human rights violations in Papua were mentioned. Students debated while they planned the mass protest at the House. They agreed to form a unified forum to prevent division between alliances. “The Indonesian University Students Alliance was created to bring everyone together,” said Manik.
“It was the first time we were together with UI. before it was just normal communication .”
THE demonstrations on September 23-24 were the pinnacle of a series of similar actions in various cities, including Medan, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Kendari and Makassar. Moving sporadically, students had planted the seeds of protests in Jakarta far before. The act of solidarity for the KPK, titled “Ring the Alarm,” on September 11-12, was the bell that united Trisakti University and University of Indonesia (UI) students. “It was the first time we protested with UI students. Before it was just normal communication,” said Dinno Ardiansyah.
The Bandung University Students Revolution Axis spokesperson, Ilyasa Ali Husni, said a similar action for KPK was held in Bandung. Although they could not join their peers in Jakarta, Bandung university students eagerly prepared their protest. “It was a fundamental issue: battling corruption,” said the Indonesia University of Education (UPI) student.
The protest escalated one day after, coinciding with the fit and proper test for KPK chief candidate, Firli Bahuri, at the House Commission III. Students from Gadjah Mada University, National Development University Veteran Jakarta, and Paramadina University held their ground at the KPK. Another group of university students, including from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and Indraprasta University, joined the Trisakti and UI group at the House.
Amid the House commission meeting, some students protested by holding up pieces of paper with the letters SOS, to signify an emergency situation. Trisakti BEM research coordinator and negotiator, Edmund Seko, said the rolls of paper were hidden in separate places by the students, and made it through security check. “We were thrown out, but at least the act was successfully performed and was broadcast,” said Edmund, who also held up his own protest sheet.
Two days later, at a café in Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, students again discussed a follow-up protest at the House. Their strategy was thwarted when the KPK bill was passed on September 17, although the students had just discussed their plan to reject the KPK law revision in a protest at the House on September 19. The situation turned even more bitter when there was news that the controversial Criminal Code bill would be passed. “The information was spreading among several network groups,” said Manik Marganamahendra.
A debate broke out among students. Some urged to hold a protest at the State Palace, while others insisted that the protest must be held at the House. A number of students from UI, Trisakti, ITB and Indraprasta University planned to hold a protest and asked to meet House members on September 19. UPI students who heard the news prepared a protest in support in Bandung.
Cabinet members of the Trisakti university student executive board at the university, Jakarta, December 2019./TEMPO/Hilman Fathurrahman W
News of the plan to pass the Criminal Code bill also drew even more students to join the protest in Jakarta—the first wave of the series of massive protests surrounding the parliament. Thousands of students from various universities gathered at the main gate of the parliament building on Jalan Gatot Subroto. The House did not budge, but the students refused to leave without results.
They gathered in front of the main gate until the House finally opened its doors. At first only the team from Trisakti University was allowed to enter, but Trisakti students refused. “We asked that representatives from all universities be allowed to enter, or no one at all,” said Edmund.
In the end, representatives from 14 universities were allowed in and met with House Secretary-General Indra Iskandar. The team of students entered the parliament building at 5pm and only left three hours later. They had a handwritten note signed without a stamp. The note said that the aspirations of the Indonesian people, as voiced by the students, would be conveyed to House leaders and all of its members.
The students were also promised a meeting with the House to discuss the rejection of the KPK and Criminal Code bills before September 24. It was mentioned that Indra Iskandar would be delivering the students’ message to the House, urging them not to pass the land, labor, as well as mineral and coal bills. “We told the House secretary-general that if there was no response, we would be back in four or five days,” said Dinno.
The demonstration dispersed nearing 9pm, but the students did not forget the promise made to them. Manik said the action received attention due to the influence of social media and news reports. Many contacted him, asking when another big protest would be held. “From then, we decided to hold a massive planning [session],” said Manik.
On that same day, they communicated intensively through WhatsApp groups as well as other groups on encrypted channels, such as Signal and Telegram. According to Edmund, no one knew who created the conversation groups, but all of their contacts from various universities were in these groups.
Questions emerged on the national-level planning because the deadline given to meet with the House was closing in. Finally, an invitation for a planning session on September 22 was released, with Trisakti as the chosen location. “Friends from all the universities were the ones who designed the action plan,” said Dinno.
Over 45 universities sent their representatives to Trisakti. Some students came from outside the city, such as the Bandung Axis group, and spent the night at Trisakti. According to Ilyasa Ali Husni, his team included students from Padjadjaran University, Parahyangan University and Langlangbuana University. “I distributed all the meeting’s results to friends in Bandung,” said Ilyasa.
The big meeting was a closed one. The students strictly monitored those who came because they didn’t want their plan to be leaked. They even refused an offer of assistance from former Banda Neira vocalist, Ananda Badudu, because they wanted their action to be independent. “Logistics were OK, even for several thousand participants we were ready,” said Edmund.
All of the meeting participants’ gadgets were collected before they entered the room, to prevent people from secretly taking pictures or recording videos and spreading them. All identities were strictly checked.
The Trisakti team had, in fact, prepared special officers to document the meeting, but there was no guarantee that what was discussed in the meeting would not be leaked to the public. Because of a broken A/C, the meeting room’s door had to be left open. As a result, people were entering and leaving the room. In the end, they attempted to monitor the situation by looking after their own peers. “We had to identify each person to our right and left,” said Edmund.
The meeting was held to align the students’ perception. They agreed to begin the protest on September 23, but many student leaders gave contradictory suggestions. Some proposed demanding for President Joko Widodo to step down, to refuse the presidential inauguration, and to form a vote of no confidence in the Indonesian police.
But the core issues were already outlined under seven points, similar to the demands made by the Gejayan Memanggil (Gejayan Calls) movement, which was already widely reporte on mass media. BEM Trisakti field coordinator, Azzumar Mansyah, said the meeting was able to suppress wild demands that would have hurt the September 23 protest. “We could have been accused of treason,” said Azzumar.
A major consolidation of 45 universities discussing action to be taken at the trisakti university student presidential secretariat, Jakarta, September 22./Trisakti student presidential and BEM Nusantara
One of the most hotly debated topics was the sexual violence bill. According to Difa Shafira, University of Indonesia law school BEM social affairs coordinator, many meeting participants misunderstood the bill due to limited information, and the bill was thought to be in conflict with Pancasila. Some meeting participants were not ready because they had not done enough research.
Despite coming from different backgrounds and organizations, it was easier for the students to work together after the meeting. The night’s meeting ended in agreement to name the alliance the Indonesian University Students Alliance. Three points made them united. First, they agreed to save the KPK. Second, the various problematic bills must immediately be resolved. “Also the House, who ignored the demands made by the public and students,” said Edmund.
THE TRISAKTI group began their demonstration on September 23 by holding a press conference in front of the May 12, 1998 Monument. After, their convoy of buses moved to the Parliament Complex in Senayan, where tens of thousands of university students were already waiting. The roar of honks, singing and yells rang through the air. “We didn’t expect such a crowd. It had became a kind of moral responsibility to those who fought for reform,” said Dinno Ardiansyah.
The protest ended on a bitter note after the police repeatedly released tear gas and charged into the row of protestors to disperse them. One day after, conditions turned even worse. Tens of people were taken to the hospital for injuries after they were assaulted with tear gas, billy clubs, and water canons launched by the police.
The tragedy did not cause the students to give up. New groups emerged to carry on the students’ torch. “It’s true we haven’t won, meaning the demands \we made haven’t all been fulfilled,” said Natado Putrawan, a student from Border Rakyat, a university student organization formed three days after the mass protests on September 24.
According to Natado, Border Rakyat is also a form of protest against a number of people in university BEMs who they felt did not care about the struggles of their peers in the field and only wanting to appear on television. Later, their relations improved. Natado said he will go on communicating with fellow students wishing to continue the movement. “If the media wants to highlight this issue, well, come to the field,” said the Atma Jaya Catholic University law student.
Dinno guaranteed that the fight will continue until the primary demands made by the students in the mass protest are met. They deliberately decreased the intensity of the movement and are planning to improve their next protest. Those in BEM managements have also agreed to better their communication networks and perform internal planning meetings. “Without an evaluation it would have been just for fun; our goal would not be achieved.”