Tragedy in Yogyakarta

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues International

New Orleans             The headlines are stark.  There is an earthquake near the Indonesian coast on the large island of Java near the town of Yogyakarta.  This all sounds exotic and remote.  The newspapers describe the city as popular with tourists in Indonesia.  It is an old kingdom with some royalty still intact.  Close to 5000 are now dead and some parts of the hotel district have supposedly been damaged in the city of 500,000.  Families in the countryside are still sleeping in the fields afraid to enter their homes since aftershocks may bring down the roofs on them.  Another terrible misfortune in the world it seems.  The New York Times ( indicates that most of the infrastructure is still working in Yogy, so that emergency vehicles can travel.

The world is smaller though for those of us who traveled 8 months ago with the Organizers’ Forum ( for the full report or for the report in the current issue!) to Yogy and met good groups and organizers at the FORUM, INSIST, and elsewhere who will now have to contend with something even more staggering — a disaster and death.  It has been hard on another holiday not to think of the people we met, the pedicabs, the solidarity and community we found in Yogy. 

I hope they are all right.  Or, at least will be again.

Thinking of them I pulled up the report that Barbara Bowen of the Organizers’ Forum compiled, and I share the Yogy parts here below to give disaster the human face of work and struggle.

Forum LSM Yogyakarta

Representatives at the meeting included Action Research on Urban Development, Peasants Organization, Women and Children Advocacy Centre, and a Disability action group, and Community Advocacy on Human Rights, among others.    There are 78 NGOs who are part of the FORUM in Yogyakarta, all of them focusing on marginal communities.  The FORUM is involved in all sectors including children, farmers, prostitutes, etc. and brings many of these together to identify a common platform upon which they can base their work.  The FORUM communicates with similar groups in other Asian countries

The FORUM was established in 1986, initially with 20 groups and as a government sponsored (controlled) organization intended to contain NGOs in Yogyakarta.  The group radicalized over time and from 1996 insisted on independence. They organize around issues of poverty, technology problems, and problems with the military.  They are looking for mutual dialogue.  Once every 3 months they meet to discuss their central program. The members are diverse, and there are frequent differences–they accept that they may be unable to reconcile these and look for common ground.   One example of irreconcilable differences is over the governing structure of Yogyakarta, i.e. the role of the Sultan and his dual function as governor.  Critics are concerned that as governor his decisions are those of a central state–as Sultan his decisions are simply arbitrary individual decisions.  Apparently not all members of FORUM share this critique.

The FORUM was planning to participate in demonstrations against the fuel cost increases, marching from several universities with plans for a sleepover at the offices of the oil company. The Human Rights advocacy group reported their focus is to get old cases of extra judicial murder opened so they can get justice. They are working both on the case of Munir and an older case in which a reporter was killed in 1996. They are also lobbying for an eyewitness protection program.  The Peasant’s group is encouraging a tax boycott, reasoning that peasants receive no benefit from taxes and should not pay.

The spokesperson from the disability rights organization indicated they work in 4 districts and have focused on changing public perceptions of people with disabilities, opposing hiring discrimination; increasing school accessibility and ending exploitation.  (A reference was made to difficulties at birth but because of translation it was unclear whether the reference was to exploitation of disabled women during hospital visits, or exploitation of women that resulted in babies being born with disabilities.)  The government provides skills training to the disabled and subsidies for people with disabilities exist but are small.  The group is working to ensure that the upcoming coming hiring for openings in civil service jobs are open for people with disabilities. 

The FORUM does not have paid staff.   Several NGOs make contributions to the expenses of the FORUM, but most of the work is done by volunteers.  Many of the member groups receive funding from the Ford Foundation.  All member groups also have some kind of fee structure.

The common FORUM platform has four parts:  (1) globalization,
(2) health and education, (3) government repression, and (4) decentralization. All member groups have activities that reflect one or more aspects of this platform.   The disability group’s campaign demands inclusive education and several groups are campaigning to encourage the military to reduce their role in politics.

At the conclusion of the meeting one representative confirmed problems in Aceh involving foreign aid organizations, many of which are over-resourced and seemingly incapable of delivering effective aid programs.  Oxfam, for example, has occupied an entire hotel, using 80 rooms.   There is reportedly a lack of cooperation between groups and there are “code of conduct” problems.  Resentment occurs because wage rates vary wildly for international workers as opposed to local hires.  International staff also occupy better housing, and receive R and R opportunities offshore every 6 weeks–benefits not enjoyed by local hires.   Indonesian NGOs have come to redefine “humanitarian” aid as “human eat human” and see this as a problem common to disaster areas, and suggesting the creation of an international industry

13.  INSIST: Indonesian Society for Social Transformation
This is a coalition of 19 organizations throughout Indonesia, with a Secretariat in Yogyakarta.  The group includes a cultural academy consisting mainly of students who are young writers.  They also have an Institute for Rural Technological Development Issues of particular concern for the coalition and its member groups include land rights and food security.  INSIST organized the Indonesian Social Forum as a way to clarify the agenda of disparate NGO’s and reach some common ground before everyone participates in the World Social Forum.

With assistance from the Institute for Rural Technological Development, some member groups are developing food alternatives to rice, like cassava, and sour sap.  They aim to reduce pesticide use in rice cultivation, as well as training and encouraging farmers to try their own cross breeding of plants.   They are encouraging trial projects that reduce water consumption in rice production which is of value for the very dry areas in the country.  Thus far their trial projects have shown it is possible to reduce water consumption by 50%, while increasing rice production from 6T/hectare to 12T/hectare.  Expansion of this program would require government funding for irrigation piping.

In project areas they also run workshops to encourage discussions about entitlement regarding land and housing.   Secretariat representatives acknowledged they continue to debate how best to make significant breakthroughs–through building mass based organizations or through elite lobbying.  They noted that INSIST has recently gone through an organizational change and consolidation. 

INSIST groups have taken political action at the local level.  In Maluku in 2004 they succeeded in electing 5 people to local government out of 12 preferred candidates.  The process included meetings, presentations of 3 core conditions, and getting candidates to sign onto a social contract.  In the areas where they are working, the community leaders are quite strong–once they’re convinced, they bring other voters with them. They have also been lobbying , for example the Ministry of health and education.  In 2004 their network was involved in politics, particularly elections to Parliament of District and Provincial members.  In 2005, their slogan became, “walking through working”.

At the conclusion of our meeting, they provided a 20 minute presentation on the work of an INSIST affiliate in the KEI islands.  This included programs on fishing, food processing and farming, as well as housing, transportation, and communications projects.  The presentation also showed their victim support and reconciliation work in the aftermath of the anti-Christian riots in Malacca.  More information may be available from their website.

14.  Surakarta Marginalized People’s Solidarity (SOMPIS)
Konsorsium Monitoring Dan Pemberdayaan Institusi Publik (KOMPIP)

KOMPIP appears to be chaired by the head of the Election Commission–this remained unexplained.   Its main activity is research and encouraging the formation of citizen’s forums in three local communities.  Solo is one of the areas and it is urban and the two other areas are rural.  Each forum is different because it reflects the community it is located in.  KOMPIP facilitates its formation, and uses local sectors of marginalized peoples so they can mobilize around specific public policy issues.   In the rural areas, for example, they encourage struggle for increased village budget allocations, critiques of public institutions, and anti-corruption campaigns. 

INSIST networks internationally and mentioned slum dwellers of India, South Africa Women’s Federation, and Housing for the Poor, a Thai action coalition. At the national level, they work with UPC,

SOMPIS, by contrast, is a federation made up of several groups including street singers, pedicab drivers of Surakarta , street vendors (both mobile and stall) among others.  Government views many of the practitioners of these economic activities as criminals who should be removed from the streets.  In July 2001 they held a Congress of these disparate groups to set out a plan of action.  They work closely with UPC/UPLINK

Organizing occurs through training sessions and through advocacy.  They have brought together about 40 singers/musicians who are now members into their own organization called PESDA.  They have won a place to sing for themselves in the community.  They organized themselves because of police harassment.  Have 40 members out of a possible 150 in Solo.  They joined SOMPIS because of its advocacy abilities and for their ability to help them get security from the police.   In the near future they hope to have 3 community meetings, and are having music concerts to draw in other members.

The pedicab drivers hold rotating meetings each month and charge R5,000 a month to support the meetings and “social activities” including health benefits, loans and insurance for sick members.

One of the groups is organizing sex trade workers and domestics.  This is the result of one of the SOMPIS members doing outreach to a group of sex trade workers in the area where she lives–she is organizing about 24 women to advocate for themselves.  Their primary focus is reproductive health and disease. 

Asked to define success, SOMPIS identified the following:

o Street singers got city authorities to provide a cafe in which they could sing.

o Street vendors got R200M from the local government for their organization.  They achieved this through a strike in 2003.  They are continuing to lobby for an expropriation fee to be paid when the local authorities clear them out from in front of new malls or other developments.

o Pedicab drivers successfully prevented  the introduction of motorized pedicabs and they secured economic development dollars for a rolling fund.  They continue to lobby the Department of Corporations for funds in the budget for pedicabs. 

o They work hard to gain public support for all that they do.

Friday, September 30th.  Yogyakarta

15.  Rumpun Tjoet Njak Dien (RTND)
 – Neny, Lita & others.

Rumpun = Sisterhood
Tjoet Njak Dien – Woman hero from Aceh province who fought against colonisation as the group intends to fight against oppression of women.

Rumpun was founded in 2003 by women students and was the only union for domestic workers in Indonesia.  They have 150 members and are recruiting others, hoping to grow to 300-500 people in 2006.  Dues are R2,000 /month.  They go door to door for members, and will advocate on the spot, in discussions with employers about hours of work and duties.  They distinguished between members “on the list” who have been in the same household for up to 2 years, and many others who are connected loosely to RTND but don’t have a stable employer.  (There is tremendous movement of domestic workers from home to home)

They advocate for a Yogyakarta law setting employment standards for domestic workers.  A legislative solution is possible at the district and national level, and they are in alliance with UPLINK and others domestically as well as being members of the A.S.E.A.N. Domestic Workers where they can discuss regional problems.
RTND produces a newsletter and a theatre group.   This self-actualizing work is a way to make the group’s advocacy work authentic since it is directed by the domestic workers themselves.  The newsletter is distributed with the cooperation of local newsboys.  They also publicize their work on talk shows on both radio and TV.

In Indonesian culture domestic work is not viewed as employment, so it is not regulated.  There are no laws to protect them.  Any enforcement will be difficult because workers are hidden in homes and there are no limit to hours worked.   There are some 2 1/2 million workers, with half of them children and under age.   

o “Most Indonesian households have domestic workers–so in legalization are talking about ourselves and how to treat each other ”

Organizing problems they referred to were

o Dual levels of oppression:  the cultural position of women as second class, and class oppression.

o The introduction of sharia law in some areas which forbids women from going out without an escort, and requires women to seek their husband’s permission to attend meetings.

The group runs a Domestic Workers school, (offering courses on cooking among other things) and provides workshops on skills training and legalization. Recruitment happens through the school, asking alumni to also find new members and to help communicate with the workers.

The union currently has about 150 listed members (there are also unlisted members) which took two years to organize.  Their membership goal for next year is 300-500 total members.  

-“There must be a movement for change and women themselves must be the movement.”-

May 29, 2006

Indonesian soldiers carried injured people in their bed while evacuating them in central Java.