Joko Prianto is a farmer on some of the most contested land in Southeast Asia.
On a small plot in the Kendeng mountains of Central Java, Joko grows rice, corn, tobacco and vegetables, as well as organizing one of the most disruptive social and environmental justice campaigns in Indonesia. “For five years I’ve been organizing against mining and the construction of cement factories in my village,” explains Joko, “As a farmer I can’t live without the land and the water, it is the source of my livelihood.”
Since 2012, the Indonesian government has been determined to approve massive infrastructure projects across the country, including the PKMA cement factory just outside of Joko’s village. Local inhabitants are often evicted from the land. Profits rarely benefit the local community and are instead filtered back to businesspeople in Jakarta.
In Kendeng, locals decided to fight back. When their first protestations went unheard, organizers decided to take action: “We cemented our feet into the ground in front of the parliament building in Jakarta, to represent the shackles that will bind us if the construction of the cement factory goes ahead.”
The fight against the PKMA cement factory is emblematic of activism in Indonesia. Oftentimes, the most radical voices are not activists in the inner-city, they are rural inhabitants standing up against projects threatening their livelihoods. “Farmers are the pillars of society,” asserts Joko, “people must listen up, without farmers the country will starve.”
Nevertheless, since the 1998 revolution an increasing number of urban anarchist groups have popped up around the country, organizing against neo-liberalism, fascism and ecological destruction. Anarchists run solidarity campaigns in support of agrarian struggles, leading to an interesting collaboration between urban anarchists, and farmers, fishermen and rural activists.
Despite the recent growth of political activism since the fall of one-party rule, the Kendeng Mountains have historically been one of the most politically active regions in all of Indonesia. Joko comes from the same village as the feminist and national hero, Kartini. In fact, organizers chose Kartini’s grave as the starting point for a 150 km long march against the cement factory. Kendeng is also home to the Samin people, an isolated tribe that abides by a strict ideology founded on anti-colonial principles, with a focus on social equity and environmental sustainability. “People here understand the importance of the environment,” Joko says, “it is our duty to maintain a clean and healthy ecosystem for the benefit of future generations.”
The next steps for the movement are unclear, but Joko’s commitment is steadfast: “We are not going to stop our struggle. We want to see a Kendeng without cement factories.” With anarchists and activists on their side, that vision may well become a reality.
— Louis Plottel, from Adbusters #131