Nonviolent Action alive and kicking (in) in Singapore

July 12, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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...in the early daysSomething happened on Sunday. No, it wasn’t the Robinson’s Sale. It wasn’t even the World Cup Finals. It was something much bigger.

It was 30 people getting together to protest against the censorship of Mr Brown.

But more than that, it was about citizens who have grown tired of being treated like children, people who refused to be dumbed-down any longer, and people who wanted to stand up for their rights and for what was right. It was a small and short event, but it was not insignificant.

What was so audacious about the protest was that under Singapore’s Stalinisque-type of control where citizens are forbidden to come together to express their views, these individuals defied the law, and more important their fears, to demonstrate their patriotism.

Wittingly or not, the protesters had taken part in an historic Nonviolent Action (NVA), and even civil disobedience.

Sadly in Singapore, NVA is not very well understood and therefore not widely appreciated. All NVA is is the active pursuit of social, economic, and political goals through peaceful means. Its goal is to transform the relationship between the PAP and the people into one of greater parity, and along the way it empowers citizens by teaching them that power resides in each and every citizen. Petitions are one form of NVA and so are protests.

...before the Iraq WarEveryone else does it

NVA has been, and is being, used by peoples from all over the world to claim their rights as citizens – except of course in North Korea, Vietnam, and until last Sunday, Singapore. For example, mass peaceful protests have been put to great effect in Hong Kong – a society that resembles our own in many ways especially the fact that the city is also highly dependent on trade, and therefore very business-oriented and modernity-seeking.

Today the Chinese government, mighty as it is, finds that the Fragrant Harbour people are not easy to bully. This is the reason why Hong Kongers still command respect around the world.

What about Singapore, or more accurately, the people of Singapore? As much as we have progressed, we are backsliding. Our society as a whole – its economic, political and cultural potential – is being held back because of the PAP’s refusal to let our people go.

All is not lost and nothing is too late, however, if we are willing to get the grotesque monkey off our backs and learn to stand up straight again. NVA is the way forward as many repressed societies have discovered. A recent study by Freedom House and popularised in The Economist, found that NVA is the most effective method for achieving and sustaining democracy. And the best form of NVA is one brought about by a broad coalition of civil society and political parties.

To be sure, NVA in the form of protests, is not alien to Singaporeans. The student demonstrations at the then University of Singapore in the early 1970s, the aborted demonstration against the Iraq war, and the CPF protest last year are just some examples of Singaporeans straining to exercise their right to protest. Its just that the PAP has been extra vigilant to ensure that even the slightest initiative to organise a protest is swiftly crushed.

...outside the CPF BuildingPlease do not think here

But what do protests do? How do they help improve society?

If you were one of the commuters who got off the train on Sunday afternoon and came across a wall of brown-coloured apparel, chances are that you’ll be wondering what’s going on. Then you’ll ask family and friends, and they would tell you that its probably because of such-and-such a matter. A protest creates awareness, it politicizes the people, and it makes citizens ask questions. And when citizens ask questions, they think.

The PAP doesn’t like people to think.

That’s the power of protests. Conducted widely enough and long enough, it makes the Government answerable to the people because now the people have power.

At the moment, however, all the power is concentrated in the hands of the Government. Is it really? The Government may have the police and the entire state-machinery at its disposal and we may have only our bodies. But if we realise the power that we, as citizens, wield when our bodies are steeled by Nonviolence, courage, and the love for democracy, we will also know that handcuffs and batons are no match.

...at the MRT stationThe Singapore Democrats have said it before and we say it again: If Singaporeans desire a brighter future for ourselves, our children, and our nation then we must do what citizens all over the world do – fight ever so zealously and thereafter guard ever so jealously our political and civil rights, especially our right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Repression diminishes us all, it makes us lesser human beings. Nonviolence, on the other hand, uplifts us. It empowers us and gives us dignity. It brings a sense of rootedness to a people, it reminds us of where we have come from and gives us an idea of where we are headed. In other words, it lets us know that we are Singaporeans.

Something definitely happened on Sunday.