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Jeffrey George recently took part in the Empower Singaporeans Rally and March that led to a standoff with the police. Here is his account of what went through his mind and how he overcame his fear.
When discussions to stage this protest was first held, I was anxious and skeptical of whether it would actually materialise.
Images of my being ‘getting into trouble with the authorities’ and the possible consequences began to play out in my mind. I also thought about the repercussions of my involvement with my family and friends.
I grew up in a family that was supportive of the Lee Kuan Yew-led ruling party, and the policies and economic successes that they have accomplished over the years.
However, the fact that we as Singaporeans have no avenue to question the Government made me decide to be part of the protest. After the recent elections back in May 2006, and after having discussed my intentions with my wife, I made up my mind to be part of the SDP to voice my dissent.
I have no political aspirations but I want to raise human rights issues. As the individuals involved in the SDP were sincere and uncompromising in their efforts to achieve democracy in spite of the attacks from the State, I felt that the SDP was an appropriate platform.
I felt that the fruits of achieving the ends overcame my fear of being involved in the rally and march. I was even prepared to go to jail for my convictions! I want to pass on a world to my children that is free of dictatorial and authoritarian systems, and one that ensures that all are free and allows opposing views in open debate. As the Good Book says, “There is no greater Love, than for a Man to lay down his life for his friends.”
On the eve of the protest, I met up with the other participants. We were busy discussing the various scenarios of being stopped and arrested and how we would respond.
But at the back of my mind, thoughts of my wife, kids, parents, friends and colleagues again played out. It hit me that the moment of truth was upon me and I had to face the realities of being entangled with the law and the wrath of the PAP regime.
I did not have a peaceful sleep that night; my wife had last minute fears and began to discourage me from going to the protest. She even suggested that I stay in the background, supporting the others without direct participation.
The main fear was the vindictiveness of Lee Kuan Yew against his foes. Her fears about me going to jail and the kids’ future, their perception and respect for a father whose reputation would most definitely be stained were real.
I was struggling with my wife’s fears and my own last moment reservations. I was looking at being charged with illegal gathering and facing a couple of thousand dollars fine, which I had decided I was not going to pay. I was prepared to go to jail for a few weeks.
It was a long night of reflection and thinking…
In the morning I awoke and prayed for strength to carry out the days activities. My heart was heavy with thoughts from the previous night and my wife’s fears, but I was determined to go through it for the reasons I mentioned above.
During the protest, the team tried make our way to Parliament House. But with at least 30 policemen and women encircling us and a further 30 to 40 of them in the surrounding vicinity, we knew that there was no way they were going to allow us through. The standoff had begun.
Soon it was past midnight and we were weary but decided to continue the standoff at the spot we were in. During the standoff I went through different stages of emotions. My thoughts of the fines and jail time grew exponential!
After a while, however, I figured that now that I’ve got both feet in the water, and I still believed in the cause and issues at hand…what the hell!
Supporters, passers-by and reporters stood watching us all night which touched me tremendously and gave me moral encouragement. I was very pleased by the support from strangers who came up to us with words of encouragement, food and drinks.
My wife called me every now and then to check on our progress and my well being. She was relieved after each conversation. I was initially not prepared to spend the night out on the pavement but at the same time I was determined to see it through.
By the third night, I was no longer in a fearful state. I was morally strengthened by the encouragement given by our supporters. As time went by, the police began to reduce in number.
At the same time, supporters picked up courage to come into our immediate group and camp together. News reports were printed out for us to read. They painted an authoritarian Singapore government in Singapore. This further encouraged me. Somehow the threat of being arrested didn’t matter anymore. What mattered most was that I went the full 15 rounds – come rain and shine.
My heart went out to Ms Chee Siok Chin who stood there, tired after three days but motivated by her conviction. As a woman she stood tall in my eyes and I was proud to be there side by side with her.
I was also proud of Dr Chee, Charles Tan, Isrizah, Tian Jing and Gandhi Ambalam. These are men of character and I would be proud to stand with these guys any time of the day and twice on any given Sunday.
Finally the time came on Tuesday the 19 Sep 2006 after the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had finished addressing the delegates of the IMF/WB. We were ready to conclude our standoff.
Dr Chee, Gandhi and Ms Chee addressed reporters. Thereafter, we recited the National Pledge with great pride and gusto, and sang “We Shall Overcome”.
With our spirits high in the thought of having bravely stood up to a dictatorial regime that denies us our basic human rights and our the freedoms of speech, assembly and expression, we finally left Hong Lim Park that was our home for 72-hours.
Accounts of the other activists will be posted in subsequent installments. Jeffrey George will talk more about his experience during the Empower Singaporeans Seminar Series on 15 Oct. Those of you who wish to attend the seminar please register soon as places are limited.