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/* Written 8 Nov 6:00am 1996 by drunoo@xxxxxxxxxxxx in igc:reg.burma */
/* ---------------" Grassroots Activism and Internet "--------------- */

THE GRASSROOTS ACTIVISM AND INTERNET ------------------------------------
One of the developments in the year 1996 for the Burmese pro-democracy
groups is the recognition of the use of Internet as an effective tool for
dissemination. Since the time of creation of soc.culture.burma in January
1994 - and also the burmanet-l in later that year - one can notice the
changes in attitude among users, including the SLORC, about the Internet.
It is evident that SLORC and its agents no longer afford to ridicule, as
they had been in earlier years in 94/95, about the use of internet
bulletin boards, such as soc.culture.burma and burmanet-l, for
dissemination. The change is that SLORC itself have sought to send its
meadia releases to the electronic bulletin boards. The Net, especially the
burmanet-l, also seems to reach its maturity: there are less instances of
SLORC being able to instigate the users of getting into squabbles. 

More encouraging fact is that the Net have not only grown in the number of
subscribers but also is improved by the quality of materials sent. Other
Burma related mailing-lists, such as maykha-l and freeburma-l, including
private mailing-lists created by the activists are all contributing to
Burma democracy movement in general. Judging from the political contents
of the messages sent by the Burma advocacy groups throughout the globe, it
can be seen that we have reached to a point of consolidation, at least at
the policy level. 

One good thing about Internet is that it makes the geographical
constraints to become irrelevant. This enable the grassroots activists
across the globe to share ideas and activities. Local support and
solidarity is still important - and is much appreciated - but become less
critical factor as far as advocacy work is concerned; So long as the
accurate information is received via electronic media, the valuable work
can continue. The role of traditional media in a campaign cannot be
replaced by the Net; but the activists nolonger need to rely too much on
the traditional media to get the information. 

One salient feature of networking on the internet is the impossibility to
break the line of communication between activists. Because of the versatile
and flexible nature of electronic communication (e-mails), no entity can
possibly disrupt communication among the activists. Burmanet-l, for
example, is a frequent target by SLORC's agents for disruption; then again
there are the other lists, such as maykha-l, BurmaNews-l and freeburma-l,
in which the information can freely flow on.

The democracy movement for Burma, especially by these expatriates
(and ofcourse of the refugees), is developing to become a truly "People's
movement". One evidence was that more and more individuals and groups,
particularly of Burmese origin, are seen to have spoken out about the human
rights and political situation in Burma. In those days of 1988 events (at
that time I was a Colombo Plan Scholar at the adelaide uni.), all Burmese
expatriates have denounced the military's action. As the time goes on, the
movement against military rule in Burma has never been dissipated: it is
clear that a permanent change have taken place in Burmese people's mind
about the Burmese military dictatorship since the 1988 events.

To my knowledge, there is no such thing as "foreign-inspired" movement
among those expatriate/grassroots organizations. The reason these people
are being able to speak out, and are continuing to speak out, is because of
their understanding on the situation in Burma and the concern for their
fellow country men. This knowledge on Burmese politics is making the
organizations like OBLF, CRDB or TRW, for example, have some influence on
the movement. These organizations are essentially made up of a circle of
friends and colleagues who are interested in Burma. Their activities are
mainly of disseminating newsletter/communications, organizing some
informal-gatherings now and then, et cetra, et cetra. I myself work as an
individual and the activity and support is self-propelled: in addition to
these activities on the internet, I also organize snail-mails to some 60 or
so of groups/individuals around the globe. Being a refugee & unemployed in
Australia, this is as much as I could have managed to do. Our exiled
- colleagues in India and Thailand can be of any difference to my
situation, I presumed. The point to be made  is that, inspite of such
limitation on logistical supports, the value of our advocacy work and
our influence on Burma policy of the decision-making bodies have never been
in doubt. Thanks to our international human rights friends who consistently
keep Burma situation at the focus.

If a political struggle is to be compared with a battle, then the
political parties, such as NLD, can be compared with a properly organized
army. The grassroots activism in this contex may be considered as the
guerrilla warfare: no chain of command structure is to be found among such
activists. The objectives and operational procedures are also much
similar: the selfless nature of participation in the movement, the ability
to concentrate to get the right target (in our case of advocacy work, to
get the politics right) and being able to operate with low profile at a
low cost. At the grassroots level operation, the time and efforts can be
totally devoted to movement building and to more fundamental political
issues, instead of having to worry about the organizational structure. The
Burmese communal psyche, on the other hand, appears to have more
receptivity to such grassroots activities if one was to organize a
political movement. While the primary objective of grassroots movements is
to support the prodemocracy forces and the NLD, the freedom of speech
facilitated by the Internet is serving us as a useful vehicle for the

Doing politics is not merely about making protest activities and
publicizing the cause; it is to be considered as consolidating and
implementing policies. To be able to draw up a good and practical policy,
one need to gather as many views as possible from the pro-democracy groups.
The internet forums, such as this burmanet-l etc, are the best medium for
putting forwards the views from various scholars and groups. We will need
to have policy not only in politics but also in other fields, such as
developments, economy etc. Hopefully, some good people in those field
might come out and send their views.

For those Burmese who subscribe to this list also have the opportunity to
participate in the movement. It is understandable why majority of Burmese
subscirbers keep quiet on this list; but this do not stop you from writing
to U.N. Official and the respective governments. Time and again, writing
letters to those Officials has proven to be effective and is helping the
democracy movement. Action calls and communications on this net do provide
opportunity for individuals on this list to participate in the movement.
There should be no let-up in the pressure on SLORC and lets just keep-up
the good work.

With best regards, U Ne Oo.

/* Endreport */