At 6pm today, The Online Citizen made a public statement to all its readers regarding the news of the Prime Minister’s intention to gazette it as a “political association”. You can read the public statement: ‘TOC Statement: Keep Calm and Carry On‘.
Singapore’s youth have often been criticised and accused of being apathetic. Singaporean society as a whole has also been labelled as one made up of “champion grumblers” who never actually do anything about their complaints. Our current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, addressed the issues at his first National Day Rally in 2004 (emphasis added):
Don’t ask what the Government is going to do. I read that some people are asking, now that you want young people to get engaged, what is the Government going to do to get young people engaged? Actually, we are going to wait. No, get up, do it. Nike says, “Just Do It”. Engage your ideals, your ideas, your energies, build a new generation, build tomorrow’s Singapore. Don’t wait or depend on the Government. Find your own leaders, organise your own solutions, move.
Before the beginning of 2010, I was one of Singapore’s apathetic youth. I had no interest in reading up about local current affairs. I didn’t want to know about anything beyond movies, books and the odd bit of celebrity gossip. I wasn’t even interested in remaining in my own home country. My plan was to just spend a year in Singapore, get some money together, and then go right back to New Zealand, where I would apply for PR and never come back again. I wasn’t interested in “building tomorrow’s Singapore” or “organising my own solutions”. I was going to quit my country, and that would be that.
Then I began volunteering for TOC: a one-off favour became a repeat event, which led to more… things just kind of went from there. Over the course of 2010 (till now) I have been a volunteer with TOC on/off as my time allows. And through TOC I began to become more aware of my country, my society and the Singaporeans who care enough to do something about the problems they see.
Our structure is fluid and ever changing. But there is one constant – we’re all volunteers. We do this because we’re concerned Singaporeans who believe that it is better to ask questions and raise issues, than shut up, sit down, and never be heard at all.
Not too long after I first came in contact with TOC, I wrote the blog post ‘A great time to be alive‘. I wrote it because I was inspired by the people I was with, the people who had actually got off those armchairs and stepped forward to try to help. And every time I meet up with the TOC team the feelings that led me to writing that post surface again.
From highlighting the plight of the homeless and disabled, to calling for a moratorium on the mandatory death penalty, to exposing unscrupulous employers who mistreat their foreign workers, to examining problems in our education system, to raising questions about our immigration policy, TOC has over the years, broken numerous stories and championed multiple issues. To call us a political association simply for doing so is, well, daft.
TOC has never engaged in partisan politics, or actively promoted any particular party or candidate. TOC has always just been a platform for Singaporeans to voice their views and opinions. The political forum Face To Face was also just an offline, physical manifestation of the work that TOC has been doing online. It was never intended as an “opposition forum” – just like all the other parties, the People’s Action Party (PAP) had been invited. One MP had been interested to attend, but was not given the clearance, and hence the absence of the ruling party at the forum. It was not a deliberate effort by TOC to promote the opposition while alienating the ruling party.
We believe that shutting down or going underground is precisely what those who misunderstand us want and will be fodder to discredit the blogosphere. We will not give them that satisfaction.
I am extremely proud of the TOC editorial team for not being intimidated. The government has often made such moves expecting the people to just freak out and back off, restricting press freedom and freedom of expression in Singapore, muffling alternative views and heightening the climate of fear. In a way, this habit of the government’s has been a factor in alienating the people from local politics and current issues, as well as contributing to the apathy of Singaporean youth. With this move, TOC will be able to demonstrate to Singaporeans that we can have a stake in our own country, and that even if we comply with the government’s demands we can still take an active interest in Singaporean issues. This is our country, and we have the right to care about what is going on, and what is happening to our fellow Singaporeans.
At the end of 2010, I decided to turn down an offer to do my Masters in my old university in Wellington, New Zealand. I not only deferred my application, but withdrew it completely, because I no longer have the desire to run overseas and leave Singapore forever. In the span of a year I have learnt to care, to get involved and to feel like a part of my country. And TOC played a big part in causing such a change of heart.
Instead of trying to intimidate TOC into shutting down, the PAP government should thank them. After all, thanks to TOC, I went from an apathetic would-be “quitter” to someone who is doing my best to do exactly what Prime Minister Lee asked of us: “Engage your ideals, your ideas, your energies, build a new generation, build tomorrow’s Singapore. Don’t wait or depend on the Government. Find your own leaders, organise your own solutions, move.”
I am proud of having had the opportunity to contribute to TOC. Should they ever need my help and support, I will be right there for them. Not because I am trying to be involved in partisan politics, or trying to oust the ruling party, but because I am a Singaporean, and I care.
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