The ability of tears to change democracy

Harryadin Mahardika
Researcher in the Brainware Special Task Force Unit of the University of Indonesia

IO – Dul shivered as he tapped away on his keyboard, his eyes red with unshed tears. Within mere seconds, Dul could not hold back – his cheeks became wet. The great photo of Ahmad Dhani projected on the back screen increased the solemnity of the moment. Ari Lasso and Andra Ramadhan took their turns to embrace Dul. Thousands of audience members broke down in tears, a chorus of distress and anger at the unfairness of Al and Dul’s sorrow over the injustice suffered by their father.

The video tribute to Ahmad Dhani in the Dewa 19 Reunion Concert in Malaysia last night (2/2/2019) went viral immediately. Millions of Indonesian netizens melted in the solemnity of the moment, and not a few of them admitted to cry themselves.

Believe it or not, crying is contagious. The tears of another person stimulate the emotion and burdens that are already within us – especially if such burdens are collective, when so many people suffer the same problem. The contagion in this case would be much faster and wider. In psychology, this is called “emotional contagion”.

The legal injustice suffered by the people in this regime is the peak that cause collective tears to be shed. Those who cry are not weak people. On the contrary, they are repressed people who can no longer stay the overflow of their anger. Ahmad Dhani’s case has broken down the final defense of their emotional control. It is clear who the target of their anger is: the regime that is considered to have failed to uphold legal justice. For them, Ahmad Dhani is a symbol of what they suffer daily.

Thousands of people still suffer from legal uncertainty – on public roads, at public service offices, and even in courts of law. They now rebel through their tears, swearing within their hearts that they would change the regime in order to improve law enforcement in the future.

This is what Joko Widodo must now face: the tears of the millions of people who are no longer able to tolerate legal uncertainty. They cry not for Ahmad Dhani, but for themselves. Ahmad Dhani’s case is the missing link that completes the spirit of resistance against this regime. This is the final piece of the puzzle.

Earlier, the fight against the regime was already very strong and militant. However, there has been no momentum strong enough to break down the regime opposers’ emotional control. There have been no collective tears fell for either Prabowo or Sandi, even though they are the spearhead of this struggle. The collective tears only fell after Ahmad Dhani was imprisoned. This causes a snowballing effect: those who are doubtful become sure, and those who are sure are even more strengthened in what they fight for. Not a few former supporters felt touched, and started to realize that the injustice is real. Some of these supporters really understand what Dhani is going through, because they had their arms twisted in order for them to give their support.

It takes a lot of emotions before tears can flow, usually a deep, heartfelt pain. People in such a mood show extremely strong motivation: they are ready to do anything to heal their heartache – in this case, including increasing their resistance against the regime. This situation is far from being beneficial for Jokowi, because the militancy of his supporters has slackened at the same time. After all, Jokowi has failed to maintain his greatest asset, i.e. the people’s sympathy. The people no longer have a reason to cry for Jokowi – he is now a leader who is closer to the elite, one who is far from the people and whom they can no longer touch. He silences the critique of both friends and foes. He is no longer the Jokowi we all knew and loved.

The people’s sympathy now lies with those who are victimized by power and injustice. The people find that they have something in common with Ahmad Dhani. “Dhani is us”, this must be how they feel in their hearts now. Ahmad Dhani himself wrote a song titled “Air Mata” (“Tears”) in 2002, and that song is now revived everywhere. It would be interesting to follow up on how the power of tears can determine the direction of Indonesia’s democratic improvement in the future.