We need dissent for democracy

It is our duty to speak truth to power for the health of our republic

In our times, when the ethos of the establishment has seeped into every aspect of the society and all are mute in the face of injustice perpetrated under the patronage of power, some of us must speak up against the mainstream and bring the sponsors of injustice to the books, along with the direct culprits of the incidents.

Effective dissent does not mean barely reacting to an incident. Reacting to a singular event of injustice is necessary and just, but it cannot ensure justice by itself. Organized, continuous dissent is necessary to keep the powers in check. It is up to the independent minds of these times to formulate such a platform that can establish itself as a threat to injustice.

Now, by dissent, I do not only mean direct action via activism. Dissent can have many forms. Under threat from power, any form of dissent can kindle the fire of hope. As Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said in his great speech of March 7, 1971, we must all be prepared with whatever weapon we have. 

And we have varied weapons to fight injustice. Some do well in street confrontations while some do well in the realm of thought, and some resist through art. All of these are necessary. An effective anti-establishment organization must contain various wings that can fight through different means. Dissent is a many-winged bird. An intellectual wing, an activism wing, a cultural wing, and a media wing are all necessary. 

In order to fight the enemy, we must understand it first. The establishment does not become the establishment in a singular method. It seeps its tentacles into the institutions and thoughts of independent citizens through various means. Sometimes, their musical propaganda distorts the idea of patriotism of our youth. 

Sometimes their posters and billboards create an illusion of development in front of the unemployed masses. Sometimes their street power silences the radicals. As such, an effective anti-establishment organization must fight in all fronts. Sometimes, through immediate confrontation and sometimes through long-term strategy.

To effectively dismantle the power of the powerful, the entire narrative of the establishment must be challenged. In our times of the global tide of authoritarianism, the narrative often becomes that there is no effective alternative. It is up to us, the dissidents, to remind the people that there is an out. We must remind them that an alternative is possible by creating an alternative firsthand.

Of course, this is not an easy task. Engaging in the politics of dissent is definitely challenging. You would be challenged and intimidated in many ways. Your reputation will be attacked and your physical security may come under threat. 

But you must still do it from your moral obligation towards your people and for the health of your republic. Your work will lead the powers to brand you as an extremist, an anti-national or anti-state agent. However, we must realize that those who engage in anti-establishment politics are not anti-state. As my teacher Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak once said, dissidents actually speak for the state so that it can be a better democracy. We must, therefore, engage in dissent so that our democracy can thrive and we can create a more perfect republic.

This quest for a better republic is not a battle, mind you, it is a struggle. I say this from my sore experience with revolutionary activism that most of your protests will not be fruitful. Your movements will be subverted, your leaders will be bought off, and your cause will be co-opted. You will find that your fight has been stolen by those who you were fighting and your heroes may sing their praises. 

It is heartbreaking, but that is what it is. You must still not give up. It is not a sprint, but a marathon. Your goal is not to spark change in a day, your goal is to light a fire that burns for eons. 

For this, an amorphous organization works best. Never pledge allegiance to anyone, but create bonds with everyone. Never worship, but definitely respect. Create committees and bodies and divide up roles among your people, but do not choose a singular spokesperson or leader. Do not let the powers specify the head of your organization. Take rotations as the head so that the organization remains even if the leaders are taken down. 

Cultivate leaders, thoughts, art, songs, dance, cinema, paintings and, more importantly, cultivate ears. Your anti-establishment organization will never remain anti-establishment if you fail to listen to your people and understand their pulse. Remember, you are not here to create an alternative establishment, you are here to dismantle the establishment altogether.

So speak, talk, dance, sing, draw, paint, write, and love. Liberation may take its time, but it is in the horizons. Until then, hold on to your friends and make sure to be each others’ keepers. The politics of change is always hard, but it is definitely worth it. Change is in the air, and it is bound to come, today, or tomorrow, or the day after. For that day, we fight. Until then, Godspeed, my friends. See you all in the day of the sunshine.

Hasta la victoria siempre! 

Anupam Debashis Roy is a member of the editorial and steering board at Muktiforum. He can be reached at muktiforum@gmail.com. This article was first published in Dhaka Tribune.

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