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Indonesian punk rock music scene fosters democracy



In Indonesia, the underground punk music scene is fostering a thriving democracy. Underground niches not only signal democracy is alive and well, but further the advancement of the said democracy. 

Even outside of Indonesia, music has always been used directly in protest and indirectly in diversifying thought between individuals. In places with harsh regimes, such as Indonesia, and a history of autocratic rule, opting to stand up for personal beliefs carries a much more severe outcome than we see here in America. 

Not only was it possible to face legal repercussions of speaking out against the majority, but the threat of being ostracized by one’s own community also existed. Underground music scenes, such as punk, metal and even hip-hop, not only allow a united place for people to come gather and find a new community, but can be used as a tool in speaking out against larger issues — seeing as using music makes a collective, as opposed to individual, statement.

When individuals can find a community that holds the same beliefs they do, it’s incredibly powerful. Not only in the way it reassures the individual, but in the way it mobilizes a group. 

Previously in Indonesia the new order made individualism almost obsolete. It was much safer and acceptable to fall in line with the majority's thought and practice, but now, as we look into present times, adolescents are letting go of that more and more and leaning towards individualism. Underground music scenes provide niche communities for those who find themselves experiencing different opinions and perspectives on the world. For these scenes to thrive, it requires involvement of the people. 

If people are looking at underground punk, rock and rap music and deciding they align with these groups, despite them not being mainstream, it sends the message they can have their own voices and opinions which differ from the mainstream in other ways, not just music. Underground music encourages individualism and your own experience of how you see and experience the world through this specific art form. When individuals see it is okay to differ from the masses and branch out, it translates to other areas of the community. 

For example, if someone is comfortable participating in the underground punk scene and feels a community and individual empowerment there, they can move that to other areas of their lives, outside music, and feel empowerment there, too — be in in their schooling, political involvement, goals or societal views. By encouraging individualism in one aspect of a person’s interests or life, down the line you encourage individualism across every facet of a person’s being. When more and more people see this happening, there is a chain reaction that leads to everyone having a say, a voice and, ultimately, a democratic society.

Across all borders the punk music scene has always shared similar messages, regardless of the location. In the past, and even in the present, the punk music scene includes ideals of equality, accountability of corrupt government, ability to act and think against the grain, and resilience. 

Indonesia is no different.

Punk historically has always carried a connotation of being wildly anti-government and, if the government is overstepping boundaries, members of the punk music scene will be the first to let you know. 

The foundation of punk music and movement is speaking out against authority and making sure equality exists for underrepresented groups.  Although the punk music scene is not solely about protest, that is where it draws its roots —protest against the government, society’s expectations or perceived acceptable behavior. If a punk scene exists in any place, it is safe to assume democracy is flourishing there as well. 

In 2011 in Aceh, the only Indonesian providence to operate under Sharia, the government arrested 64 punk attendees during a concert in the capital. The government did so hoping to boost support of the current government, but instead drew national criticism for illegally detaining the prisoners, forcing them to attend military camp and holding them without charge. 

Before this story went viral, the noise surrounding the Indonesian punk scene was minimal, if any. Yet, the arrests of these 64 punks sparked international outrage and an outpouring of support from punk communities around the world. For the first time, the Indonesian Solidarity Party, headed by Grace Natalie, is gunning for a new, fresh candidate on the ballot of the upcoming 2019 elections. 

Their goal is to harness young voters’ contempt for political corruption and provide a candidate that comes from backgrounds as various as teachers, lawyers, bankers and doctors — not one who got their career started during the era of the New Order. 

The underground music scene allows for a place where people can come together as a group and fight for the future they want. It creates a place for individuals to branch out, to become involved in revolutions, in part of counterculture. When 64 punk individuals were arrested because of what they stood for, they drew national attention that forced Indonesia, for the time being, to re-evaluate their practices. 

Now, for the upcoming election, there is an entire party designed to eliminate old candidates in favor of a new face of democracy. Where there is underground music, there is revolution, and where there is revolution, no matter the magnitude, there is a budding of democracy.

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