General election 2018: Don’t underestimate scale of reforms needed

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Do not underestimate the extent and degree of reforms needed, writes Mary Chin. The road ahead will even be tougher than defeating a regime in an election.

“Everything will be put straight; we will stop all corruption; all resources will be fairly distributed.”

Such an assurance only shows how naive the campaigner is, not knowing what he is talking about. Fundamentally, the show of sincerity is unconvincing. Without prioritising, phasing and strategising, the task is simply insurmountable.

If we think Wan Emdeebee is the most corrupt ever, that shows how we have lost sight of the big picture. Zoom out a bit. Consider the complex entanglement with international syndicates, for example. We have some dark, dark underworlds to tackle:

  • 20 December 2017: New Straits Times reports, “The secrets of Wang Kelian exposed”
  • 20 July 2017: Al Jazeera reports, “Malaysia’s migrant money trail”

Switching to a smaller scale, some cases make it to the news, and we get a peek into how certain enforcement officers’ were held over taking bribes.

These and other corrupt individuals within their corrupt capacities might count themselves nothing but small fry – nothing compared to Wan Emdeebee, relatively harmless so to speak. Among them, many openly attack Wan Emdeebee with an air of self-righteousness too – some even code themselves yellow and consider themselves bersih.

We’ve got corruption on wholesale, folks! Now almost everyone can be corrupt.

The question is: why don’t those people so obsessed with Wan Emdeebee hardly ever worry about Wang Kelian? “Let those poor souls suffer, I only care to recover the billions and get my share”?

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking wrote of a woman claiming our world to be a flat plate resting on the back of a turtle, which is in turn is supported by “turtles all the way down”. In Connectome, Sebastian Seung describes how our brain works as “neurons all the way down”. In our systems, we’ve got problems all the way down.

That gives us an idea of the extent and the degree of reforms needed, whoever forms the next government. A reform of this scale would require strong leadership, which we can’t find from those who are the loudest.

Capitalising on the mess for propaganda, without a blueprint for reform, is a big mistake. One who cares for the nation wouldn’t rejoice in the mess that we are in.

Celebrating and capitalising on the mess for propaganda is, unfortunately, all we see.

A far-reaching genuine blueprint for reform is, unfortunately, what we haven’t seen.

Education

Like healthcare, education entities too are working hard to generate demand (that had not existed) before having sufficiently caring for local would-be students. The big industry is busy luring clients from abroad.

Dropouts are left uncared for. Vocational training hasn’t flourished in the same way that universities have sprouted over the past decade.

Except in isolated cases of first-hand parents, a commitment to greater accessibility is absent. The contemporary challenge of a fast-growing ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) population is not on the agenda. What are we waiting for? Do we act only after the ADHD population overwhelms the non-ADHD?

Genuine academic interests are limited. Subjects available are strongly biased towards money-making domains centring around management, business, accounting, dentistry and medicine. No arts; no science.

READ MORE:  The Najib Razak 1MDB Trial Ep 21: Royal no-show

Even in well-established universities, academic rigour is limited. Apart from some great teachers and researchers, many are marred by glamour: there is the glamour of professorial appointments upon returning from overseas education sponsored by Malaysian universities (even if they took extended years to complete their doctorate).

Enticed by lucrative positions that sharply differentiate them from the rest of society, some are powered by a personal ambition rather than any passion for their subject or any conviction to serve the country. This explains why after decades of sending staff abroad for postgraduate studies, local universities are still in the shape they are.

And then there is the glamour of flying here, there and everywhere attending international conferences – sometimes without giving any oral presentations, sometimes using poster presentations to gain free trips.

Do not underestimate the extent of the revamp necessary. Bear in mind that those locally sponsored postgraduates return without have done a post-doctorate (which, elsewhere, is as standard as ‘housemanship’) and have not competed in any international job market. The local environment they return to is highly protected.

The time has come to wean off Third World features, provide a healthy habitat and set a good tradition to be passed on to the younger generation by:

  • honouring copyright, subscribing to journals and paying for software licences (rather than resorting to “the students will know what to do!”);
  • advancing research rather than spinning out project after project, supervising student after student, producing shelves and shelves of ‘similar-but-not-identical’ theses;
  • typesetting manuscripts (using LaTeX) rather than word-processing using Microsoft Word
  • processing and presenting data in ways more credible than Microsoft Excel;
  • submitting to competitive journals and giving oral presentations at competitive conferences.

Complacency is dangerous here. This explains why without a massive overhaul, pumping in more funds will not help. In fact, funding approval is easier and more generous here than many other places.

Weaknesses should not be exploited for finger-pointing and propaganda. Anyone who is genuine about wanting to rebuild the nation wouldn’t find any of this funny or laughable.

Bersih can be more collected

Bersih should be non-partisan (otherwise, change the definition). It must be distinguishable from the opposition. Leaders and members from any party should be free to attend and support Bersih events, but opposition leaders should not be opening ceremonies and giving ceramah – unless there is a programme organised to balance, with reps from each contender.

Bersih activists should be on guard and prepared for detention. No, they shouldn’t be detained. But we know the possibility is not zero, and at this point, it is not something within our means to prevent.

If the top person gets detained, there should be a second person to issue statements. If both get detained, there should be a next-in-line. Particularly for an organisation of this nature, Bersih should never be caught so unprepared. Stand up and calm your supporters; assure them that you are prepared, and the next steps have already been marked out.

Members and supporters should exercise restraint. A little restraint could have stopped that virulent and triumphant sharing on social media depicting Red Shirts as barbaric. Red Shirts are Red Shirts – have those videos taught us anything new or made us any better persons? Those videos served only to divide and incite hatred. Those videos reflect on the sender before they reflect on the Red Shirts. By making a fool of others, we first make a fool of ourselves.

READ MORE:  The Najib Razak 1MDB Trial Ep 40: Eyes wide open

Cleaning up after rallies? Yellow or red, we are Malaysians. Some Malaysians litter, others don’t. There’s no need to capitalise on others’ misbehaviour. Likewise, among ruling or opposition parties, sabotage and vandalism do happen. It all depends which corner we point our camera to.

Don’t take things into our own hands by rounding up voters who ‘look like foreigners BN gave ICs to’, only to find out later that what was apparent was in fact one’s own illusion. This is where Bersih can show some leadership to members and supporters. Bersih shouldn’t just recruit supporters just to win by the numbers. In our midst, so many claim to be Bersih. How bersih are they?

Challenge of wealth distribution

Let us imagine a scenario where we are the cucu-cicit of atok Wan Emdeebee, who is ailing and might pass away within a month or so. The biggest question is, who are the waris (heirs); who has the right to those billions?

So far atok’s name has been pronounced most loudly by the middle class. Who are the middle class? The elites. The middle class is less of a definition, more of a self-identification. It is just neither upper nor lower class.

The middle class may feel they deserve what they have – unlike the scandalous and undeserving upper class. The middle class may feel they have the right to have and get more — unlike the undeserving lower class, who should stay where they are in their rightful place.

Feeling horribly short-changed, the middle class demand to have the billions back. When asked, they assure us of fair distribution. The sincerity, however, hasn’t been convincing.

The challenge of wealth distribution has been grossly underestimated. If these people know what it is all about, they wouldn’t have dared give the assurance. They think they can leapfrog ahead of Scandinavia? Sadly, people can be that naive.

Look at the state of Penang: the island and mainland feel like two different worlds. Note the gulf of difference. The same state; just separated by a bit of water. I am citing examples from Penang purely because I live here and I get better samples. I am sure we can find concrete examples from other states, ruled by whichever party. After all, the chief minister did apologise for leaving people out, without naming who and without suggesting corrective actions though.

Here, I take the liberty to name a few: the voiceless, the environment, migrant workers, refugees and pedestrians.

The massive floods in November 2017 set into motion round-island drain-widening efforts, racing against the clock, all out to prevent another paralysis. That feat reminds me of China, back in 2003, springing up Sars hospitals within a very short time – after wasting some time defending and denying the reality. They did it, impressively, when they finally decided to.

Despite repeated warnings by environmental groups, Penang has long been in defensive denial mode too. But like China, it sprung into corrective action when it finally decided to. It is a matter of will.

READ MORE:  The Najib Razak 1MDB Trial Ep 36: Collusion

The Penang Bangkit flood relief actually singled out migrant workers (who built us our homes) and refugees as non-persons. These non-person flood victims were denied the RM700 their next-door neighbours and the rest of their kampung received. We are creating dangerous gaps that crack our communities.

Don’t underestimate the challenge of fair distribution. We see gaps, gaps and gaps everywhere. Not least the gap between car owners and pedestrians. The Penang heritage zone is a tourism gold mine but look at the overhead bridge in front of the ferry terminal. Which decade was it last refurbished? Steps made of multiple, poorly levelled wooden planks, with discontinuous handrails — how safe is the bridge for pedestrians?

The middle class speak the loudest. Pedestrians are somehow seen as a separate group quite safe to ignore. Walk around Seri Tanjong Pinang, the upscale neighbourhood. We find consecutive manholes with broken covers, one after another – effectively a series of booby traps lying in wait for the pedestrian. At a new township, there is no excuse for not factoring in safety and not investing in durability.

Spice arena is another new landmark, a grand presentation, a local pride and front-face for the state. But who cares about pedestrians in a state dominated by elites? Pedestrians have to crisscross between moving cars to reach the exhibition halls from the bus stop. Walkways would have been one of the most basic design features of a facility of this scale and age.

That is why it is important to be explicit about the mechanisms for Wan EmDeeBee’s waris. Strangle him to death if you will, but know that the challenges ahead will be far more difficult than the strangling. We can’t afford to strangle first and worry about waris later.

Handling the waris issue requires sincere and long-ranging commitments. Things are simply not going to fall into place just like that. We need to know the safeguards against hoarding by any particular group speaking the loudest and claiming to be the most deserving.

Let us ask campaigners for a better deal: unless the waris issue is sufficiently addressed, we actually don’t mind Wan Emdeebee living longer. There is no point reaching for the eraser to rub off racial boundaries, then proceeding to draw a new set of boundaries which would push us to the worst of capitalism.

Gross Domestic XXX

Your cheating empowers me to cheat. Your stealing inspires me to steal. So now everyone can cheat and steal?

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures goods and services produced within the borders of a country. Usually measured per year, it is closely related to national income.

Consider parallels such as Gross Domestic Hatred, Gross Domestic Lies, Gross Domestic Meddling and Gross Domestic Suspicion. Capitalising on each other’s wrongs, countering one extreme with another will not produce any neutralising effect. They only add up.

Let us refrain from matching hooks with crooks. Hooks and crooks do not cancel each other. The net effect will just sink the nation – everybody sinks together. That is what reacting to others with knee-jerk reflexes costs.

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Thomas
Thomas
29 Apr 2018 10.51pm

Well written Mary. However, current political mentality of general Malaysian is not able to comprehend your points. Sadly there is none strong and political will to shift.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
26 Apr 2018 7.47pm

This strikes a chord in me.

“processing and presenting data in ways more credible than Microsoft Excel;”

I just received an Excel spreadsheet which was so poorly formatted with plenty of empty space that it took seven pages to print out, which was hard to make sense of.

I spent about an hour reformatting the width of the columns and reducing the font size to make it more readable when printed on three pages in landscape orientation.

This is the standard of whatever training in spreadsheet creation the person who created it received and moreover, creating spreadsheets also requires common sense, which many users apparently do not have or are too lazy to apply.

Malaysia Boleh!

Saham
Saham
26 Apr 2018 8.48am

Some hard hitting reminders to the opposition in case they come to power in the coming election, what if BN remains in power which is more likely?

Teo Chuen Tick
26 Apr 2018 5.14am

Thank you, Mary Chin , for your responses to my comment in the earlier article.
Yes, the context of Wan EmDeeBee is clear now.
I consider myself an idealist and I agree fully with the sentiments you have articulated above. Yet, as one rooting for change for many a year now, defective as it may be in the policy reforms you have touched on above, I am willing to give PH a try.
“…unless the waris issue is sufficiently addressed, we actually don’t mind Wan Emdeebee living longer.” – I do mind for I believe any funds recovered from Wan Emdeebee will at least benefit some rakyat.

Teo Chuen Tick
27 Apr 2018 5.29am
Reply to  Mary Chin

Yes, I see your points with respects PH approach to the 1MDB issue. I will like to believe if they manage to form the next government , they will engage the experts able to unravel the scandal.
BR1M and the other handouts are too addictive – a PH led govt. will tread very, very carefully ,that is assuming they want to review these policies.
No, Mary, I think neither bloc getting a majority is not a possibility. This means PAS is the kingmaker! God forbid – we know those wolves in religious robes are working hands in glove with the umnoputras!!
“..targeting inherited wealth..” – believe this is part of the social reforms you discussed which the PH will do well to have discussed in its manifesto?

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
25 Apr 2018 6.13pm

This is one of the best articles I have read on Aliran, which resonates a lot with my own views on these issues.

Quite frankly, I have grown very tired of hearing about Wan EmDeeBee over and over and over again like a broken record, when there are so many other issues which impact us ordinary folk more directly, including damage to our cars, property, safety, health and so forth.

As for the culture of corruption which has seeped into many lower layers of the political, administrative and enforcement apparatus, it may take a perfectly virtuous tyrant backed by a band of virtuous enforcers to root out, with public executions of perpetrators before a firing squad, buy guillotine, garotte, crucifixion or stoning to clean it up.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
27 Apr 2018 5.13pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

As you pointed out towards the end of this blog post, it is the middle class which are most vocal about issues such as 1MDB, and I may I add, also Altantuya, Scorpene submarines, etc.

From what I understand, the DAP campaigned in the 2016 Sarawak State elections and lost five seats in urban areas.

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/05/08/sarawak-polls-urban-swing-causes-dap-defeat/

And, Tony Pua wrings his hand and frets.

https://www.malaymail.com/s/1115105/bn-wins-sarawak-set-for-landslide

You wrote, “The middle class speak the loudest. Pedestrians are somehow seen as a separate group quite safe to ignore.”

What does Wan mean to rural, semi-urban and urban lower income voters struggling to survive economically?

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
27 Apr 2018 5.37pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Contd /- The problem with us, English-literate, often overseas educated, urban, professional, tech-savvy middle-class elite, is that we often exist in our circles – echo chambers in both realspace and in cyberspace, and we tend to proverbially eat our own dog food.

Check out my blog post, “CLASH OF DIFFERENT INTERESTS IN ELECTIONS”, which will better show you where I am coming from on this issue.

http://politischeiss.blogspot.my/2018/03/clash-of-different-interests-in.html

When I used to visit my late gardener and his family in their flat in Pantai Dalam for Hari Raya, I could see what it was like for residents to cram into one working but very dilapidated and slow lift.

How many see this side of Lembah Pantai?

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
28 Apr 2018 1.31pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Not sure it it is entirely about being programmed not to notice or care about the lower income section of society but more a matter of gravitating towards ones circle of people with more in common and being intellectually, culturally, to a large extent ethnically and linguistically separated from the others.

Apart from when I was a young child, I myself, have had no contact or interaction with the rural folk and even less so with the rural folk in Kelantan where I was born, just because my father was serving there at the time but left soon after and my memories as a child are mostly of growing up in the major cities and towns of Malaysia.

Dunno how I would fit into Kelantan society if I ever decided to to retire there.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
28 Apr 2018 1.44pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Your idea of denying all parties a majority which will force at least two of of them to form a parliamentary coalition to rule, like the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats did in the U.K. could work but depending on which parties form the coalition.

I also have this suspicion that if Pakatan wins by a few seats and ousts Najib and he is prosecuted, Mahathir and his Pribumi comrades could then jump ship back to UMNO, thus giving BN a majority, then BN becomes the government again, now led by Mahathir.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
28 Apr 2018 12.03pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

The main reason why I have grown tired of hearing talk about Wan amongst my urban middle-class friends and acquaintances, most of whom vote opposition is that this issue has relatively little traction amongst the rural, semi-urban and lower income urban voters who contribute most of the seats in parliament and state assemblies for the BN.

Like in on Penang island, DAP won in urban areas such as Georgetown, PKR the middle and southern part of the east coast facing the mainland and BN the west coast. Given the damage due to the floods, who will those who voted PKR in GE13 vote in GE14.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
29 Apr 2018 11.38pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Thanks. Here is Wong Chun Wai’s latest commentary which is along similar lines.

https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/on-the-beat/2018/04/29/malay-waves-not-tsunami-a-sea-change-beckons-in-the-upcoming-elections-but-the-tide-isnt-expected-to/

I often find myself being accused of being pro-Najib by pro-Pakatan supporters, including my Singapore born and bred Singaporean cousin just because I have independent views, rather than toe the “party” line of the urban middle class herd who pontificate down from their lofty heights, far removed from the “hoi poloi” – or as Clinton calls them – “the basket of deplorables”.

Trump won because the the neoliberal-left failed its core constituency.

Gender-neutral bathrooms, anyone?

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
30 Apr 2018 2.08pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Whilst Trump is loud, unpredictable and shoots from the hip, I feel that Hillary Clinton would have been worse if she was elected president, given her track record as Sec of State under Obama.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmIRYvJQeHM

Hillary is a liberal imperialist and is she is US President, I would not be surprised if we would have World War III now.

A Venezuelan diplomat told me before Trump was elected, that they were pretty certain of more U.S. interference to destabilise Venezuela’s socialist government either directly or through local NGO proxies and they felt that Hillary would be a greater danger to Venezuela’s social democracy than Trump would.

The Cuban ambassador felt the same as for Cuba.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
30 Apr 2018 2.18pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Abolition of BR1M would put off lower income voters more than the middle class and the lower income voters who are more rural based and who deliver the number of seats in parliament, so PH cannot afford to alienate them if it hopes to win.

That said, PH should come up with a comprehensive social security, public healthcare and affordable public housing programme which is superior to BR1M, which is just a binary mode populist measure.

Binary mode is typical of Malaysian politics. If BN says “white”, PH says “black”, if BN says “black”, PH says “white”.

Perhaps it’s due to our rote learning based education system where both sides think within their separate boxes.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
28 Apr 2018 12.15pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Contd /- Also, what impact does this Tangkap Jho Lo protest outside SOGO serve to influence the outcome of GE14, especially after the Indonesian court ruled the seizure of the yacht unjustified, given that Jho Lo is not the legal owner and has held no official position in Wan?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKLg3o1mh9k

Neither have the Singapore and Swiss investigations into Wan named Najib of any complicity by name. The US DoJ came closest by implying that “MO1” is Najib but unless one of them accuses Najib by name, there is no case against him. I’m no lawyer and actual lawyers should know this, yet they have been repeatedly saying that he is guilty over teh tarek or beer when there is no case against him yet.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
28 Apr 2018 12.20pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

Contd /- Also, assuming Pakatan wins and Najib is brought down and BN defeated, then what will the new Pakatan federal and state governments do about other issues affecting the people, such as land clearing to make way for construction, unaffordable housing for most people, public transit, affordable and quality healthcare and many more issues on the ground, not that the BN has been and will be much better but what will a Pakatan government do?

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
29 Apr 2018 11.51pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

If Pakatan wins the federal government in GE14, I would expect that BN, including UMNO as opposition will quite probably hold protests, rallies and so forth against the government and I wonder whether the Pakatan government will let them do so freely in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or will they crack down on them, just like the BN government has done before.

Some years back I was having tea with some PSM members and one of them said that if Pakatan wins, they would probably be in Kamunting.

This of course is a personal view of a PSM activist but the same thought had crossed my mind several times too.

BTW. I am not a PSM member.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
30 Apr 2018 1.55pm
Reply to  Mary Chin

PH comprises parties representing the interests of certain sections of the capitalist class against another section represented by BN, so PH would not want to accept PSM, which I regard as left social democratic and pro labour (to some extent) into their ranks.

At the same time, I do not think that PSM should be a part of PH. though it could support and collaborate with PH or even BN on certain issues where they concur.

PH may be more liberal on certain social, cultural and political issues compared to BN, just as the Democrats vs Republicans in the U.S. but the Democrats are liberals or neo-liberals, not social democrats or socialists, though they have a left wing, such as Bernie Sanders.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
30 Apr 2018 12.14am
Reply to  Mary Chin

I have long noticed a tendency amongst DAP politicians who seem to think that they can win the elections by picking on faults or wrong doings they see with the BN government or under BN rule, without offering convincing alternative policies and solutions to real problems.

Here I pointed this out to DAP MP Lim Lip Eng in August 2017.
http://itsheiss.blogspot.my/2017/08/we-need-realspace-not-cyber-solutions.html

And here to DAP Y.B. Dr. Ong Kian Ming in February 2018.
http://itsheiss.blogspot.my/2018/02/commentary-on-different-ways-to-think_18.html

Perhaps in the past they had come to believe that they would never be part of a government , so had resigned themselves to being a barking watchdog and that mindset remails till today.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
30 Apr 2018 12.27am
Reply to  Mary Chin

Back in the 1980s, opposition and pro-opposition publications used to highlight the plight of workers, such as assembly line workers in the semiconductor plants and how effluents discharged by these plants were destroying cockle beds in Penang and so forth.

However, I don’t hear or read about such issues raised by today’s yuppiefied opposition parties, pro-opposition NGOs or pro-opposition publications, not even from the likes of Hishamuddin Rais or Anwar who led student protests over the plight of farmers in Baling and squatters in Tasik Utara back in the 1970s.

Now it’s all about Wan EmDeeBee, Anything But UMNO and ousting Najib, even if they have to embrace their former ‘devil incarnate’ Mahathir to achieve that aim.

PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
PolitiScheiss (a.k.a. IT.Scheiss)
1 May 2018 5.27am
Reply to  Mary Chin

That’s the problem with single issue politics. If the issue dies, is rendered no longer relevant or is co-opted, it loses its political value.

Anyway, Happy May Day!

You can read and download the May Day 2018 message by the Secretary General of the MTUC over here.
http://www.mtuc.org.my/sandbox/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Secretary-Generals-Labour-Day-Message.pdf

An Indonesian version of Solidarity Forever over here.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QQ7EKW6_5Q

And an English version by over here
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs8Cmb9zoZA

May Day rally in Portland
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX1ZmGQASGM