Yu Patmi (48 years old) was an ordinary village woman. But there was nothing ordinary in her determined struggle to defend her home village in Kendeng Highland in Central Java against destruction by cement industry.

She came to Jakarta a couple of weeks ago with dozens other men and women from Kendeng to stage a courageous protest in front of the Presidential Palace. They buried their foot in concrete for eight consecutive days. They had to end their protest on the ninth day because Yu Patmi did not survive a heart attack on that day. They had to bring her body back home and bury her in her village. She sacrificed her life for the struggle for our common future. In a materialistic and individualistic world that we have today her death teach us a lot.

First, the struggle of the Kendeng people, Yu Patmi and her compatriots, remind me one of the very principles of the environmental movement. It is about the people, first and foremost. Their struggle to defend the Kendeng Highland, their home and livelihood, represent the very essence of environmental and social movement, a struggle for justice and survival.  And what they have been facing in the past five years are blatant complicity and intertwine between the power of state and capital, which is the source of complete ignorance to the aspiration of peasants like the Kendeng people.

Nowadays, we environmental activists are so used to grey areas. Myriads of policy discussions, policy advocacy works, lobbying and negotiation, as well as engagement with the millenials, have blurred the line between what needs to be done and what’s just nice to have. The struggle of the Kendeng people is a hard reminder of the naked truth of power that we are facing. A reminder that at the end of the day, the struggles of the oppressed working people like the late Yu Patmi and her compatriots from Kendeng, should be at the very core of our environmental movement.  

Second, broad based coalition like we have been seeing in the past couple weeks supporting the Kendeng people, is a precious social capital that we must continue nurturing. In the days of silo mentalities that we have now, Yu Patmi and Kendeng people teach us a lot about collaboration and solidarity. They, without much talking, teach us about how to work together, how to develop strategy together, and most importantly how to break our silos.

One very important lesson for me is that whatever issues we are fighting for, we should be able to bring it to the reality of people’s daily life. In this Kendeng case, the complexity of relations between the ecological position of Kendeng Highland and the carrying capacity of Java, need to be communicated as narrative alongside the main narrative, which is the survival of the Kendeng people. The broad based civil society coalition that we have today would not have been possible had we not have the Kendeng people’s future as the main narrative.

Third, that the potential of linking the complexity of Climate Change issues, and our Break Free objectives to end coal domination, with people struggle such as in agrarian conflicts in Kendeng and elsewhere is real. We just need to think very strategically about the issues, at the same time humble in our approach and like what discussed earlier if we break down our silos, others will break down theirs and we can have big solidarity movement.

In this case of Kendeng, a couple of weeks ago I deliberately decided that Greenpeace Indonesia should join the Coalition. While people may not be able to automatically link the issue, I saw that there is natural link at least between the Kendeng people struggle and the Batang people struggle against the single largest coal-fired power plant in Southeast Asia, which we have been supporting for the past six years. They are both located in the northern part of Central Java, both communities are peasants (and fisher folks in the case of Batang), they face quite similar complicity between the power of the state and capital, and at the very core of both struggle is the survival of lives and livelihoods of the people as well as the sustainability of their ecosystem.

The massive proliferation of cement industry in Java (24 new cement factories are now in the pipe line to be constructed only in the northern part of Java) must be one of the key reasons for projection of massive increase of electricity demand for Java. The government always says that this massive electricity demand can only be supplied by massive proliferation of coal-fired power plants, one of them is the Batang power plant.

Last Thursday, 23 March 2017, Batang sent the largest delegate to the Break Free mass action in Jakarta. In the afternoon of that day the Break Free mass went to the area in front of the Presidential Palace to synergize and collaborate with the Action to support Kendeng’s people struggle. It was a beautiful day for the movement, when different affected communities with different cases, and activists from different organisations, break down their silos and formed big solidarity for both Kendeng case and Coal Free future.

There are enough reasons and certainly there is a need for broad based solidarity for our common future, a healthier earth and sustainable livelihoods for the people. Yu Patmi sacrificed her live for those objectives, and we should make sure that was not done in vain.

Leonard Simanjuntak, Greenpeace Indonesia Country