From ‘Only a handful turn up for planned protest in Singapore’, 16 Oct 2011, article by Amanda Tan, Sunday Times
The bravado for a planned protest at Raffles Place on Saturday afternoon fizzled out after fewer than 20 people turned up over several hours at the spot where it was supposed to have taken place. Occupy Raffles Place, a protest modelled after its Wall Street counterpart, was intended to be a ‘peaceful movement’ to demand accountability and change, said its unidentified organisers, who launched the campaign on social networking site Facebook earlier this month.
They argued that the ‘wealth of 99 per cent’ of Singaporeans is in the hands of ‘1 per cent’ – Temasek Holdings and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. Organisers said they planned to march towards SGX Centre after meeting fellow protesters at the open space outside Raffles Place MRT Station. But the police warned the public last week against taking part in the protest, as it is considered unlawful.
…Despite the online chatter, only curious onlookers – most of them foreigners and armed with cameras – had gathered by 2pm on Saturday, the time when the event was to start. Members of the media made up more than half of those present. No placards or banners could be seen. Nor did anyone step out to identify themselves.
Instead, the organisers hid behind their Facebook and Twitter accounts, posting messages such as ‘We should try this again on Monday morning?’ and ‘Where is everyone right now?’ At about 3.30pm, they declared it a ‘no-show’ and said that they were ‘heading to #OccupyOrchardRoad’.
Eventually, as netizens labelled the event a ‘joke’, they posted a note in the evening saying: ‘Those who have come out today to show your support for the occupation, you were heroes. It means an awful lot to be courageous men and women.’
Everyone is occupied
There are a few reasons why OccupySG turned out to be a failure, not least because the police were keeping an eye on this (it applies everywhere else in the world where people gather to make some noise), but for what I propose to be the following:
1. Who are the 99% exactly? 99% is a bold statistic but what does this really mean? Do Temasek and GIC really hold 99% of the wealth of all Singaporeans? Or did it fail because a sizeable portion of us are already relatively well-off (according to Bloomberg, 15.5% of Singaporean households draw ‘millionaire’ incomes) and lack the motivation to protest about wealth distribution?99% of what? According to the we are the 99% blog,
They are the 1 percent. They are the banks, the mortgage industry, the insurance industry. They are the important ones. They need help and get bailed out and are praised as job creators. We need help and get nothing and are called entitled. We live in a society made for them, not for us. It’s their world, not ours. If we’re lucky, they’ll let us work in it so long as we don’t question the extent of their charity.
We are the 99 percent. We are everyone else.
It appears that EVERYONE else is either jobless, has no money to pay hospital bills, can’t afford a university education or the monthly mortgage, i.e 99% of us are discontent. And therein lies the problem of this movement. 99% is just one of those catchy, easy to remember, mantras plucked out of thin air which you can’t apply any scientific rigour to, coined to create a bloated sense of us-vs-them solidarity. The actual percentage of victims (if that can even be defined) is more likely to include at least 2 decimal points. It’s like perspiration when one talks about what ‘Genius’ consists of (99% perspiration, 1% inspiration according to Thomas Edison). In fact there’s a correlation between the two; maybe ‘99%’ 0f us work our butts off to just get by, while the ‘1%’ are the privileged ultra-rich who rely on a mixture of cunning and speculation. 99% is also a popular figure thrown about by biologists to convince us that we’re only 1% different from chimpanzees (We’re not). But seriously, income disparity? Mega-rich running the world? Tell me something I don’t already know. Would the Occupy folks be happy with, say, 50-50?
2. It is over-ambitious. According to the ‘mission’ taken off the OccupySG Facebook page,
Our purpose is to engage the public in this dialogue and make the voices of the people heard. We want national leaders to hear our concerns about ways to remedy the economic injustice and unfair influence the wealthy have over the political system.
We are a peaceful, non-violent resistance movement that aims to encourage people to participate in democracy and use their voices to influence positive change. We are the 99% and our voice will be heard.
Nowhere in the site does it explain how 99% in the Singaporean context was derived. Is 99% a global figure or exclusive to the US? The mission also appears distorted to suit the organisers’ own political agenda. They continue to lament about bad investment choices by the accused bodies, and boast about ‘creating a new democracy’. Through a FACEBOOK page. If you’re serious about change, you set up a proper website with links to references for your claims, not whine on social media about why nobody turns up at your event on a Saturday afternoon. You also have to be specific with your demands and pitch the benefit of sacrificing a precious weekend to the ‘99%’, which, in this case, there was none. Where is the HOPE in this? What’s in it for ME? What’s the point of all this really? There’s not even curry to make up for the eventual futility of it. ”OCCUPY’ also has an aggressive, war-like, territorial ring to it, as in ‘Japanese OCCUPATION’, which contradicts the organisers’ claims of being a ‘peaceful’ movement. It’s more like OBSTRUCT really, though it’s not so much Raffles Place being barricaded here, but common sense.
3. Nobody takes anonymous activists seriously. Local organisers should take a look at the original OWS website. Creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account without enquiry channels or an actual living person taking charge casts doubt on the dedication of this ‘movement’, and resembles more like flippant bandwagon-jumping similar to other internet trends like planking, parkour or flash mobs. You can also bet on a higher attendance if someone organised a ‘Save the RWS Dolphins ‘ day, because the result of a successful protest, no matter how unlikely, is clear (No dolphins at RWS). For Occupy, there isn’t a clear objective to fight for, and it seems like protesting just for the sake of it, capitalising on the recent curry saga which, in spite of the national enthusiasm, really achieved little other than serving as a transient reminder to tolerate one another. In short, you don’t want to risk getting put in jail when the instigators themselves refuse to stand up and lead by example, especially if nobody has the faintest idea of what they expect to see changed from doing this.
4. Targetting the wrong audience. The REAL ‘99%’ of downtrodden people who can’t afford three meals a day wouldn’t have a basic internet connection, not to mention have the luxury to maintain a Facebook/Twitter account. Occupy seems to be obsessed with the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, without a clue as to how to handle the ‘just-have-enoughs’, which probably applies to the majority of us, people who live in HDB flats, perhaps own a car if lucky, but can’t afford to risk our livelihoods over the Seinfeld equivalent of a protest i.e a show about nothing.
5. It’s easier to boycott than be an active voice for change. Or to put it another way, short of voting, Singaporeans are mostly passive agents of change. It’s easier (and maybe more effective) to turn down a wedding dinner if the host serves shark’s fin soup than march onto a shark-fishing boat and try to toss finning knifes overboard. It’s easier to cook, or eat from, a pot of curry than to seek permit to organise a forum bringing ethnic groups under one roof to preach tolerance (in two or more languages). It’s easier to save your money on RWS and stay at home if you think training dolphins for entertainment is cruel. Sometimes, non-action works just as well, if not better, than so called ‘non-violent’ movements. It also has the added benefit of being legal, so if you want to be part of the ‘resistance’ and ‘stick it to the Man’, don’t consume Coke, McDonald’s or buy branded goods, patronise a minimart instead of a hypermart, and avoid the casinos or even recommending them to your friends from overseas. Collectively, for certain cases of corporate greed at least, we can make a difference from doing nothing rather than holding hands around the Supreme Court or KFC threatening to light ourselves on fire like crazy martryrs.
Overall, it’s not so much being cowed into submission that Singaporeans are less than enthusiastic about the Occupy movement, in case critics label our lacklustre response as a symptom of oppression or apathy. Rather, it’s because we have better things to do with our time than ape our Western counterparts by customising the OWS to suit our own selfish agendas. We also do not subscribe to an activist herd mentality and organise viral ‘movements’ only when ‘everyone else is doing it’, yet keeping silent and minding our business like obedient citizens the rest of the time. And here’s a fun fact: Tin Pei Ling has more followers on Twitter than OccupySG.
But I think the real reason is that 15,000 Singaporeans were ‘occupied’ with something of far greater importance on that very day: The Ben and Jerry’s annual Chunkfest.
Filed under: 2011, Bloggers, Campaigns/Elections, Corporations | Tagged: Campaigns/Elections, corporations, facebook, Money, Politicians | 3 Comments »