GotaGoGama was, and is, a village. Gama means village and Gota Go!means that the President—Gotabaya Rajapaksa—should get the fuck out. People have been occupying the ‘agitation site’ outside his office for over a month. It’s been a cool, weird, anarchic space. I went there with my kids. My rodents were waving flags and blowing vuvuzelas with the encamped protestors like so many other ordinary Sri Lankans.
Last week, however, they started teargassing protesters near Parliament, including families and kids, not that anyone deserves to be gassed. The ruling class is being told to clear itself, but they tried to clear the streets.
Then the Prime Minister—Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gota’s brother—got the galaxy brain idea to pull a Trumpist coup on the people’s parliament. He rallied a small army of counter-protests and marched them to smash GotaGoGama, while he sat and watched on TV.
Temple Trees (the Prime Ministers residence/office) can hold 5,000 people, and it seemed full. Mahinda assembled a small army and marched on the village of GotaGoGama.
Smash. Grab. Burn.
GotaGoGama is not defended per se, and it’s thinly occupied during the day. The Mahinda mob was able to smash, grab, burn, beat, and destroy, all while the cops looked on. It was a tactically coherent plan, assemble a mob of citizens—bribed with cash and a square meal for the first time in weeks—and incite them to violence. They could get violent where the cops could not. Then silence, theoretically. And it actually worked for a minute, they cleared a square kilometer of land. But then they lost the whole country.
I think (and I can’t think like a Rajapaksa) that Mahinda thought he could hit the most public center of protest and the public would just fold and go back to our homes. But we’ve got nothing at home. We have no gas to cook our food. We have power cuts every day. I’m rich and I feel it. Poor people are completely screwed.
GotaGoGama is just one struggle area. There are protests in almost every town, in every corner of the country. Every queue is a protest, every hungry child is a protest, everyone scrabbling for food or medicine is protesting every day. And smashing one village didn’t make that all go away. On the contrary, it made people enraged.
168 MPs voted for this government last week, while teargassing protestors right outside. They deserved to have their houses burnt down then, but people remained peaceful. But when Mahinda hit the people, the people hit back, all over the country.
As of now a few of Mahinda’s homes have been burnt (god knows how many he has), Johnston Fernando’s office and home have been burnt (he’s the worst), MPs that organized the mob had their houses burnt, in my opinion these fuckers got what they deserved.
In Colombo, more people marched on GotoGoGama, and chased Mahinda’s mob into the Beira Lake. People fought back, and destroyed the buses and vehicles that transported Mahinda’s makeshift army into town. Now they were encircled and trapped. The government declared a police curfew, but it was a people’s curfew really. The government had lost the village, they lost the city, they lost the whole state.
It’s not enough (and they always take shit back), but the Prime Minister resigned. Of course, the point of GotaGoGama is for Gota to go, and he remains. So there’s a general strike today, and indefinitely. People tried asking politely and now consent is completely withdrawn, both violently and silently. There’s nothing to govern, the administrative service, customs, the railways, they’re all on strike. Gota rules only in name, and his name is cursed.
The government got violent, and they got violence in return. People caused scary scenes outside Temple Trees, beating and bloodying Mahinda’s mob, dragging them in and trussed up. I watched on TV as an MP (I think) was brought by military convoy into hospital. He was surrounded by a mob and they beat him on the stretcher.
Another MP, Amarakeerthi Athukorala, had his car blocked and tried to shoot his way out of Nittambuwa town. People chased him, surrounded him, and he finally put a revolver in his own mouth. I don’t know how many people have been killed, but it’s not zero.
And yeah, it’s scary. Journalists talked about how they narrowly avoided beatingsaround Temple Trees. My father-in-law didn’t come home because mobs were checking for Mahinda supporters on the highway and for minorities, these are terrifying echoes of past racial pogroms. It’s not pretty. Mahinda brought a rag-tag army, and he got a raggedy war.
Now his troops are surrounded and their transport destroyed, their exit routes shut off. It’s a rout. It’s sad because Mahinda’s supporters are also poor. They came for a bit of money, a meal, some arrack, and yeah, some liked beating up protestors. But now they’re completely fucked and their leader has disappeared. They were cannon fodder and now the cannon himself has imploded.
People are quick to bemoan the violence, but honestly, I don’t. I’ve felt like these fuckers should have their houses burnt for months, as so many Sri Lankans did. They’ve been attending Parliament, appointing themselves to pointless positions, and laughing at us. People are literally hungry outside, and they’ve been peaceful for so long. GotaGoGama has a clear message, it’s in the name, it’s a refrain every child in the country knows. Gota Go Home. It’s been said every day, it’s just gone unheard.
As Martin Luther King Jr said, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” King of course thought non-violent action was strategically superior. The fact is that history is stories of violence, and saying that the powerless should never use it just entrenches power.
As Malcolm X said, “We need allies who are going to help us achieve a victory, not allies who are going to tell us to be nonviolent. If a white man wants to be your ally, what does he think of John Brown? You know what John Brown did? He went to war.” In this case, Mahinda brought an army to Temple Trees. What should people have done? They reacted, and they reacted violently.
And of course, we have our own examples of nonviolence in Sri Lanka, where satyagraha and hartal are natural words. Last century Tamil protestors sat where GotaGoGama is today, and got beaten mercilessly for their troubles. They were beaten and pogromed for decades before people finally got violent. While I didn’t understand at the time, I better understand now. You can only push people so far.
The Rajapaksas brutally crushed that Tamil rebellion, but they can’t do the same thing now. They can’t fight the whole country. They can’t even secure their own homes. Mahinda tried to show strength yesterday, to show that they had a monopoly on violence, but that monopoly has been withdrawn.
And so GotaGoGama has re-formed. Nuns and Joseph Stalin keep watch. It’s actually the most peaceful protest site, the most organized. People are putting the books back in the library, restocking the medical tent, running patrols. Mike tried to help Mahinda’s mob, and got beaten for their troubles.
Vraie of the JVP is still there and she wrote:
I am here at galle face. I am safe. We are safe. I am overwhelmed. I understand the anger. But the violence is unsettling. Violence of the state. Violence of the goverment. And the violence in response to this. Dealing with information overload. Punctured by constant panic
The people’s village remains until its name becomes irrelevant. Until Gota himself is gone. And he’s still here. So the struggle area struggles on.
What comes next? I don’t know. All I know is the feeling that courses through the entire population. I felt like we needed revolution, I felt like these fuckers houses should get burnt. I can’t say I’ve even thought about these feelings that much. They just course through us, unbidden, it’s just where we are.
I have no idea where Sri Lankan goes from here. They held a puja at the village and the gods said this would get worse before it gets better. As Amalini reported, “Madasamy drunk from a bottle of arrack, ate some thosai and smoked a beedi while communicating with the gods. They told him that the situation in #LKA would get worse before it got better, and that something good was on the horizon.” Sounds about right to me, though I honestly can’t see the horizon now.
Right now India and America are meddling the fuck out of this place and the IMF is waiting to pick the bones. While we have other politicians, we have no coherent opposition (I’m down with the vaguely communist JVP now if you’re wondering, but they have the slimmest chance).
While Sri Lanka is certainly in a frying pan, there’s nothing but fire to jump into. There’s theoretically a floor down there, but we’re a long way from finding the bottom of this situation. This is my impression of what’s happening in Sri Lanka, and I’m just one rather unusual person. What happens next? I don’t fucking know. Ask your gods and keep us informed.