Keep the rallies going, and the quality too

Lorong Cat - Singapore's Literate FelineBy Lorong Cat

The period of 12 months from when Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008 to its anniversary in 2009 was a tumultuous one. This period was marked by an unprecedented wave of financial meltdown with some of the biggest banks in the UK getting nationalised with taxpayers’ money and also coincided with an Israeli incursion into the Gaza strip. Both of these developments spawned weekly large scale demonstrations in central London.

I was new to London and my first “participation” in a major demonstration was during the 2009 G20 summit in London where world leaders representing 20 major economies come together to talk shop. A huge protest was slated to take place in the heart of London’s financial district right outside the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland, five minutes walk from my office.

I received an internal memo from my company’s security department instructing all employees to take precautions when coming into work against possible violent behaviour from protesters. We were told, where possible, to dress in trainers, jeans and carry backpacks — basically to look anything but like a bank worker.

I was excited that such a large scale demonstration was to take place so close to my workplace. My apathy towards the protesters and their cause was also on an inexplicable high — having not taken part in such a large scale mass people’s movement before in Singapore.

To my horror, my colleagues — mostly British — soon revealed themselves to be rather dismissive of the demonstration.

“On the dough and happy for some socialising with like-minded creatures”

“All these students should find better things to do”

“Schools should keep kids busier so they don’t have time to do these things”

“Glastonbury for those who can’t afford tickets to the real thing”

“A chance for the homeless to pitch tents and sleep on the streets legally”

Just some of the comments I heard from my jaded colleagues, weary of such demonstrations which were common in this country. Prejudiced they were as well against demonstrators, believing the majority to be immature and unproductive members of the society either with too much time on their hands or with personal agenda to satisfy, rather than some higher causes.

I did attend the G20 protest, during my lunch hour with camera in hand (photos below). This event would later make news with the death of an innocent passer-by following a tussle with the police as well as several other related violent incidents.

Observations from my walkabout did somewhat vindicate the scepticism of my colleagues. I saw many youngsters of tertiary school-going age. In the heart of the demonstration venue were dozens of camping tents with people sitting around chatting and sharing food. Loud pop music was blaring from portable audio players. Floating party balloons added to the carnival or Glastonbury-like atmosphere. The “real” protest had not begun for sure and these folks were just gearing up for it. But some renegade mini demonstrations were taking place with individuals standing atop makeshift platforms shouting slogans and waving placards. Whatever that was said — despite poor audio quality — was always greeted with honks of approval and applause.

Fast forward to 2013. In Singapore for Chinese New Year, I attended a rally at Hong Lim Park held in response to the Population White Paper (my amateur video here).

The crowd was civilized and everyone looked enthralled listening attentively to what the speakers had to say. There was a good mix of attendees. I spotted senior citizens, students, working adults and even ran into people I know who are working professionals. Most people who braved the rain to attend the rally looked like they were there out of concern for the future of Singapore. The speakers I heard were good orators and sprouted (mostly) responsible and insightful speeches.

Such rallies we have in Singapore are tame and purposeful and, in comparison to some of the demonstrations in other countries, are probably more effective in terms of getting the message across to the right people. It is important to keep these public rallies to a high quality. While there is a high level of restrictions placed by the government on the public’s ability to hold rallies of this sort, we should also adopt some form of self-policing to ensure things do not get out of hand.

There is another rally slated to at Hong Lim Park to address the MDA licensing “framework” debacle this weekend. I hope as Singaporeans becomes more vocal in voicing out alternative views and opinion, we do so purposefully and avoid the pitfalls that befall other countries, where demonstrations and rallies have lost credibility and effectiveness with those they most want to influence.

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