LAST weekend, about 200 people came together at Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur for a picnic under the shady trees, all dressed in the colours of the Jalur Gemilang.
The event – “Saya Mahu Picnic” – was organised by bizarre participatory arts group RandomAlphabets (RA) in just four days as a response to the tensions after the 13th general election.
I was part of the core group who volunteered to put together the event, alongside RA spokesperson and co-founder Zain HD, Juana Jaafar and others.
The idea stemmed from a couple of text message exchanges between the three of us after the election results were announced. We felt that there was a strong tension both on the ground and online, some of which were sparked by certain polarising sentiments relating to race from a variety of sources, including elected officials, politicians, media institutions and of course, the average layman.
The intention behind Saya Mahu Picnic was to play a small part in diffusing what appeared to be escalating tensions.
The three of us were not the only ones who felt this way. As quickly as we started moving (we had announced the event on Tuesday evening via social media), we noticed that other people were mobilising their respective movements.
One group started a Facebook group called “Kita Kawan Mah”, which aimed to celebrate the diversity of our fellow countrymen and women. There was another group of people who started sharing pictures of themselves posing with messages calling for unity.
Then, a group of prominent Malaysians – including social activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, educator Jonson Chong, welfare activist Toh Puan Aishah Ong, former Miss Malaysia Deborah Henry and businessman Tan Sri Lim Kim Yew – came together to endorse a statement speaking out against the strains of racism that were emerging following the general election, of which I was also one of the signatories (you can view the full statement at http://bit.ly/182SfMX).
For RA, our approach was to go back to what we knew and did best – bringing people together in a fun manner.
RA was founded on the ethos of organising events that get people to spend time together in the most random ways, as we’ve done through other events like Keretapi Sarong, KL Freeze in Unison, World Pillow Fight Day, Tali Tenang and more.
The basis of our events is fun. RA feels that while we can all talk about unity, it is only when people spend time with one another that opportunities to build relationships emerge.
Saya Mahu Picnic was just one platform to facilitate that. We feel that platforms are important for people to express themselves differently. Zain personally believes that people in general are always keen to show how they feel and express themselves in a bigger and more prominent platform.
For such people, just ranting on Twitter, updating a Facebook status or just chattering at the coffeeshop is often not enough.
Saya Mahu Picnic was an opportunity for these people to come together and do something more, whether it was through the songs the picnickers sang – including Ikhlas Tapi Jauh, Rasa Sayang and Saya Anak Malaysia – or the potluck, where they shared a variety of food representing the different communities that make up our country.
Zain, in an interview with The Star during the event, said: “People need to realise that it does not matter how small their influence is, it is what they do with that influence that matters.”
The common thought is that these days, the only way to initiate action is to brand something properly or look at sustainability. People don’t often feel that the little things matter when they clearly do – the positivity that drowned out some of the negativity on social media is a good example.
Saya Mahu Picnic was our little contribution, both as a form for us to express ourselves but also as a platform for others to do the same. We’re grateful to those who took the time out to join us but also for the support and encouragement that we’ve received following the event.
* NIKI CHEONG is a social media strategist and lecturer. For more information about RandomAlphabets and its projects, log on to randomalphabets.com.