Galle Face Commune

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The most prominent site of the islandwide protests is the one that is taking place in Galle Face. It stretches from the roundabout near the Presidential Secretariat to the statue of SWRD Bandaranaike, all the way to a section of the Galle Face Green.

On 9 April, hundreds and thousands of protesters gathered at Galle Face and around the Presidential Secretariat demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Government’s ouster. By Sunday (10 April), tents and supply stalls were built to sustain the protest. Inspired by the Occupy Movement, the protest site adopted the moniker ‘Gotagogama’ from the
anti-government slogan ‘Gota Go Home’.

Through the New Year holidays, Gotagogama quickly grew to incorporate a library, a school, a citizen’s assembly and various other vending stations supplying food, water, sanitary needs and services for the protesters and occupiers. Concert venues popped up near the verge at Shangri-La Hotel and protest music filled the air. A food truck with a solar panel charged phones and a tent with lawyers gave out free legal advice. By 19 April occupiers were seen setting up a permanent kitchen and a plumbing system to settle in for a long siege against the stubborn regime.

The commune also became a haunt for celebrities and social media influencers who supported the protesters by using their fan base to send in desperately needed donations and supplies to the ones on the ‘frontline’ of this struggle. Every day, cars park alongside the commune and unload crates full of food and drink to fuel the protesters and occupiers. All in all, Gotagogama has become a walking, talking and breathing example of mutual aid and could play a decisive role in bringing in Sri Lanka’s much needed and much talked about ‘system change’.

Mutual aid is an organisational theory championed by anarchists who believe in voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit instead of systems of power based on exploitation. For example, mutual aid has been used to provide people with food, medical care, and supplies, as well as provide relief from disasters, such as natural disasters and pandemics. And since this struggle is a leader-less resistance, the theory of mutual aid is ever so important to shed light on a better future for Sri Lanka; away from centralised political structures dominated by elites and towards empowering the citizens of the country.

Furthermore, the word anarchy or anarchists; two words used liberally by out-of-touch politicians to describe chaos and trouble makers respectively, comes from the Greek word ‘anarchos’ meaning ‘having no ruler’. At a time when ‘rulers’, detached from the public and wholly beholden to corporate and other interests, the word anarchy only sends shivers down the spines of those who want to protect their hegemony; be it political, business, religious or otherwise. The Colombo Commune with its functioning mutual aid can be a model for this system change, where Sri Lanka can become a better version of itself by vesting power solely in the people through mechanisms such as direct democracy and decentralised institutions where there won’t be representatives but participants in politics and stakeholders instead of shareholders in its economy.

However, to achieve this sort of massive change requires huge initiative and self-discipline from the people. Gotagogama has problems such as trash and petty theft. But in that case, the garbage issue can be attributed to the nightly revellers and the crimes are done by mostly those driven to the lowest rungs of poverty; both of which are products of this exploitative system and not the fault of those who are trying to bring change.

Now that the people have spoken; resolutely and unequivocally, for the sitting President and the Government to leave and hand over governance to those who are capable of reversing the present tide of economic doom, we wait in anticipation what the Government’s next step is going to be!