GotaGoGama: Utopian commune or beach party?

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The protest at GotaGoGama has been ridiculed as a social media sensation, a beach party and carnival by several authorities despite the sacrifice the protesters made occupying sections of Galle Face for more than two weeks.

Ceylon Today visited GotaGoGama and met several protesters to find whether they are just there for fun like the authorities and some media channels describe or are struggling for a cause.

“This protest is not organised by anyone”

Vimukthi Dhushantha, an individual supporting the GotaGoGama protest noted that its main purpose is to reach out to the public and the goal is to keep the place occupied until demands are met.

“This protest is not organised by anyone, neither of us have control on who will join or leave this place, but all the protesters returning each day only stand for one cause. They may be from different social groups, political parties working for different political agendas, but the main purpose is to get President Gotabaya to step down,” he added.

When inquired about the variety of groups individually protesting in different ways at GotaGoGama, Dhushantha also noted that forms of protest can vary, but everyone in GotaGoGama are standing together for one cause.

“Some chant, some have colourful boards and there are some places where the protesters have reused plastic bottles to build creative artworks themed on the motto of this protest. As much as people support this protest there are groups who criticise this method. They should understand that this is the first protest in Sri Lanka neither a particular political party nor an organisation has organised. There aren’t any organisers or leaders to this protest. This is just the public gathering to show their support for a particular cause which is to send an ineligible leader home. Particular people and political figures have been sending different type of saboteurs to cause havoc and we are trying best to find such people and keep them out of the premises,” he added.

Dushantha also noted that public who come to protest for a whole day need a small break once in a while, and several groups get creative by including songs, music and drama that is relative to the purpose of the protest.

“We are okay with any form of the protest as long as it does not involve violence. GotaGoGama protest should not be limited to Galle Face, it should reach every village and city where all the people in these areas can show their opposition for this failed leadership and the corrupted government,” he added.

Dhushanatha further claimed that the recent Cabinet shuffle was just to show the IMF that the Cabinet is stable.

“The peak of this protest that I personally prefer as a victory, is that the next President should be appointed not from Rajapaksa Clan,” he added.

“Our motive is to take this to the village level”

Galwewa Siridharma Himi, who joined the protest with his State university friends noted that they represent the ‘Anthare’ (inter-university caucus).

“Our motive of joining this protest is to take this to the village level. We will continue to be here and protest until the President steps down and the whole Rajapaksa regime is chased out. That is what we consider the victory of this protest. Now this protest has reached the majority and the general public have an idea about the crisis of this country, so that they will step out and raise their voice for their rights. The Government has started to feel this protest, that’s why they are at least trying to change the Cabinet Ministers. We would not let this protest be forgotten. We will involve as the ‘Anthare’ and continue the protest in city and village level and continue where the general public can come and join the protest until the Rajapaksa family’s power comes to an end and return the stolen money back,” Siridharma Himi noted.

“All these Ministers and the President should step down”

Wasantha Gunesekara who joined the protest with a group of friends noted that they will not step down until the whole 225 Ministers, Prime Minister and the President steps down.

“We will not accept any of these 225 Ministers as a solution. All these Ministers and the President should step down and a new government, new set of Cabinet Ministers who has not been in politics should be elected. Even we are not satisfied with the resent Cabinet shuffle,” he added.

“6.9 million voters were deceived by a single family”

Upeksha Gothami Himi noted that she is planning to start a ‘Sathyagraha’ until the present government steps down.

“There will be no use of being here if we lose this protest. The Sinhala race will lose their land if we lose this protest. This country wasn’t fed by foreign invaders in order to feed a cunning family. 6.9 million voters were deceived by a single family and that has caused so much damage that will last for decades,” added Gothami Himi.

She further added that she launched her Sathyagraha to gain the attention of the International Human Rights Commission so the authorities cannot escape.

“Trade unions should join the protest”

Sanjaya Wishwanath noted that the protest will be much stronger and will reach its intended goal soon if all the trade unions join and support.

“The trade unions such as Teachers’ Union should join and continue to support this protest like they did during the salary anomalies protest. A protest is not something people come to spend time during the evening. Protesters are in a deadly confrontation with the stakeholders of a State. The new generation is experiencing it now and they are individually supporting as much as possible. The new generation of protesters are showing their opposition in different ways, we are trying our best to keep reminding the actual cause of this protest amidst different forms of protests,” he added.

“Now the public have got out in search of a system change”

Sri Jayewardenepura University student Bhaghya Senaweera noted that the leader who promised a system change to the 74-years of politics has pushed it to a worse state.

“All these 225 has done nothing but lounge around inside the Diyawannawa. Now the public have got out in search of a system change that they were expecting Gotabaya Rajapaksa to bring. All the Ministers and the President who could do nothing should step down. Now we need a strong leader and a responsible set of public representatives to bring this country the system change that it deserves. Not a set of politicians who will continue the 74-year old system or make it worse than that,” she added.

A set of Peradeniya university students, who were in a hut, noted that the government has abandoned the next generation by crippling their education.

“This government did not start the State universities in a normal way after the pandemic. When everything was functioning as usual, they restricted only the educational sector by limiting everything online. Many who study in State universities are from rural areas and from middle class families. Online education is a challenge for us. Sometimes we cannot afford to get data because of the country’s situation. Sometimes there are signal issues in areas that we live. Even though we try our best and got graduated, one day our degrees won’t worth as much as a normal degree. Anyway, the graduates in this country are struggling to secure a job, in future they will ignore our degrees saying they are online degrees,” they added.

They further noted that the GotaGoGama protests should go in the history books as a great example of the people’s sovereignty.

“Govt doesn’t know how to deal with peaceful protests”

Buddhi Prabodha Karunaratne, an individual protester, claimed the Government does not know how to deal with a peaceful and creative protest like the GotaGoGama protest.

“On Tuesday (19) night the whole of Galle Face GotaGoGama  observed a one-minute silence in memory of the Rambukkana incident where people lost their lives and were injured. The whole GotaGoGama starting from Galle Face Roundabout to the Kingsbury Roundabout was silent and held candles for their fellow protesters. Then a few took that opportunity to remind the purpose of the protest afterwards. We are hoping to reorganise the Galle Face GotaGoGama protest, remind and educate about the main purpose of this protest. Nobody has been distracted from the main purpose of the protest and we make sure that all the protesters to keep it violence-free,” he added.

Buddhi added that no matter what, the victory of this protest will be in the public’s hand as long as there is no violence involved.

“The Government has centuries of experience in mitigating riots and violent protests accompanied by weapons and anger but they do not know to deal with a peaceful protests, which has been reaching out to the public faster with its creative methods. They are clueless when it comes to suppressing the voices of peaceful protesters who sing about their ideas and spread their ideas through creative mottos. They wouldn’t have seen a set of protesters who put their thoughts out on the Presidential Secretariat building using projectors,” he added.

Buddhi noted that GotaGoGama is filled with different groups who follow different political parties, who have different principle and agendas but they all gather around for three non-negotiable requests at GotaGoGama and that achieving these three requests are the victory of this protest.

“The first, Gotabaya Rajapaksa should resign, secondly, members of the Rajapaksa family who were appointed as Cabinet members and any Rajapaksa family member affiliated with power positions in State organisations and any Rajapaksa auxiliaries who are in official State positions should be removed. Third, all the Rajapaksa’s who are affiliated with State assets and all the Rajapaksa auxiliaries’ properties should be audited and the stolen public money should be confiscated,” he added.

When Ceylon Today inquired about some youth performing stunts in their motor vehicles without following any safety measures, as a form of support to the protest, Buddhi humbly requested that as a fellow protester and a citizen who has been in GotaGoGama, all protesters should keep in mind the main purpose of this protest while making sure they are cautious about their safety.

“Because of this failed government, we lost a life at Rambukkana and several lives at essential commodities queues. We should remember these sacrificed lives when we protest,” he added.

Responding to the Ceylon Today inquiry about many allegations raised, claiming that the GotaGoGama, Galle Face protest is beach party or a carnival, Buddhi noted that said allegations are results of the agendas of politically influenced media institution.

 “Some shameless media institutions in our country also have their own political agendas and they report many incidents filtering according to the said agendas.  These types of media institutions may give numerous interpretations for this protest. We doubt that even after protesting for more than 10 days, the real nature, purpose and the interpretation of the protest haven’t been communicated properly out of the Western Province,” he added.

Buddhi further noted that many brazen and corrupt media institutions falsely interpret the GotaGoGama, Galle Face protest, in the bid to keep a failed government in power. He added that in near future all the public in the entire country will understand the real nature and purpose of this protest, and understand that they are protesting for fundamental rights, not in demand for a separate land or to provoke racism or extremism.

(Pix by Kelum Chamara and Venura Chandramalitha)

Story by Nabiya Vaffoor in GotaGoGama, Galle Face