Calling themselves the seeds of a grassroots movement to make sure the poor can be heard, activists from all over the region have been meeting this week on the grounds of the Faculty of Pedagogy at the Southeast Asia Peoples’ Festival to show that Asean’s leaders don’t have the only voice in the region.
“This is actually a mid-stream process, the crux of it being people are poor because of policy,” Southeast Asian Committee for Advocacy Chairwoman Zaitum Mohamed Kasim said.
The festival, which opened Wednesday, is scheduled to close Sunday, after small-level aid and activist groups have had a chance to swap ideas on building a region that takes care of all of its people.
“What we’re finding more and more is that we have common issues,” Zaitum Mohamed said.
This is the first time grassroots groups have converged on an Asean Summit to get their side heard. Organizers had hoped to march through Phnom Penh, but were denied a permit, Silaka Executive Director Thida Khus said.
“It seems the Cambodian government is very nervous,” Thida Khus said.
Many of the attendees at the festival Wednesday wore traditional costumes of peasants and minorities in their homelands. On Wednesday night, they were to be entertained with a play.
“We are covering so many languages, art is an effective way of communicating,” Thida Khus said.
The fact that the official world has ignored them—to date, no government officials have even responded to their requests for delivering their policy papers—means nothing, some activists said. The point is, the gathering is a beginning.
“This is a never-ending struggle,” SEACA’s Bangkok-based coordinator Donatus Marut said. “We use a frame of thought that any solution is temporary.”
The Asean summit has also come under fire from opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has blasted the government for spending lavishly on the meeting while rural Cambodians are facing food shortages.