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I cannot recall exactly how long it has been since I was involved in conducting our weekly house visits.
In that time when I have been really busy, my fellow members and volunteers have been tirelessly turning up without fail for months to visit the residents of the constituencies that we intend to contest in.
Coming from all parts of Singapore, with some as far as Pasir Ris, they travel sometimes for more than an hour to the residential blocks in the west that are not always easily accessible by public transport.
Not everyone in this group is young and healthy; I see volunteers who continue to help week in week out despite being in their golden years, when they should be enjoying their retirement. However they still come faithfully and regularly. To these volunteers, I offer my heartfelt gratitude.
Just last week, we were in the Senja area, and visited one resident who complained that opposition parties only come in when elections are around the corner, wondering where we were in other times. To be frank, that remark got to me a little, but I couldn’t really blame her for her perception. The party is often occupied during inter-election period with policy discussions and party building. The number of volunteers we have at these times limits the number of blocks that we can visit. Typically, we can complete visiting a maximum of about ten blocks per session. If we only had more active volunteers, we could visit many more blocks and this resident would have seen us at least twice or three times in between elections.
On one occasion as fate would have it, we saw volunteers from grassroots organisations distributing flyers to those who weren’t in, informing them that their Adviser, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, had just visited their blocks to give them the SG50 Funpacks. Dr Balakrishnan is also the Member of Parliament for the Senja-Cashew Ward in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC as well as the Minister for Environment and Water Resources.
On our side, we didn’t have any goodies to give out; we could only distribute flyers informing them about our visit, to share our policies and also the adjustments the PAP government has made to their own policies in response to our alternative ideas. Their flyers and the SG50 funpacks were funded by taxpayers, while funding for our flyers came from the fund-raising campaigns of our own Fund-Raising Unit in our party.
Nevertheless, we carried on with our work and went to another block. My colleague and I knew that we would be faster than the grassroots volunteers, as they have the SG50 Funpacks to lug around.
I must admit that I was concerned that they would throw away our flyers which we had placed at the doors of residents who were not home yet.
As luck would have it, we bumped into Dr Balakrishnan at the very next block that we visited, along with his volunteers. The volunteers knocked on doors in advance of the Minister to ensure that the residents were ready to receive him.
Indeed, it is an uphill battle in terms of electoral canvassing. Dr Balakrishnan is able to capitalise on his profile as the Grassroots Adviser of his ward, with large teams of volunteers from the People’s Association to help him. The Residents’ Committee of his precinct has at least one volunteer in every residential block.
For us, we can only cover ten blocks in a single session – and that is after we’re done with our full-time jobs during the day.
To our supporters, we would love to cover the ground as comprehensively as possible. However, this can only be achieved if we have more volunteers to conduct house visits. We have limited coverage in traditional media controlled by the state, and the only way to reach the older residents who are not online is though personal house visits.
So if we’re going to overcome these obstacles and get into Parliament this round, we need to get more people out there to knock on doors and advocate for the SDP. Throw aside your apprehension and come forward to help. We’ve been keeping the flame alive, now’s the time to make it burn bright.
Clarence Zeng is a member of the Young Democrats and Deputy Head of the SDP’s Ground Operations Unit.