by Khairulanwar Zaini
It is difficult to write about a party. Particularly about one that has furtively insinuated itself into being planned, catching perhaps even the editors by surprise. Over a (frantic) flurry of emails, and a hastily-convened meeting, it gained traction, slowly propelled by the passion, dedication, and resilience of a rag-tag crew of writers, activists, volunteers, and friends.
It was probably inevitable. After riding on the euphoric success of its December forum, TOC found itself reeling from the threat of a gazette and broadcast licensing. Overnight, the small community was placed under the imperious gaze of nation and state, locked into a staring match with the behemoth it has so often been critical of. The ultimatum was to register or cease.
But would registration be construed as capitulation, to concede to the rules of their game, and be left at the mercy of byzantine regulations and opaque OB markers? There was indeed a certain romance about operating as an underground writers’ movement – but what would that say about our commitment to expressive and press freedom?
There was nothing else but to ‘do the right thing’, as Joshua said. And pushed to a corner, the right to do is to throw a party. So the acting chief editor (content to remain ‘acting’, seeing himself as merely ‘the custodian of a value of something much bigger’) led both the opening and closing acts with his band, but his role for the evening was kept relatively subdued – testifying to the fact that TOC’s strength lies not in one single individual, but the collective heartbeat of unsung heroes like Song Kwang (who had lugged our merchandise to and fro), Terry and Damien (whose photographs not only archived events for posterity, but serve as visual milestones of TOC’s growth), Han Thon’s wife (nifty cupcakes!), Shelley (who baked those amazing chocolate and banana muffins which tastes oh-so-delicious!), Lynn and Kirsten (who took charge of catering us good food), Ravi Philemon (those indigenous political quiz questions you answered? yes, that’s by Ravi), Stephii (who helped with the games), Leong Sze Hian (who missed the party but came up with three kick ass questions), Deborah and Gillian (who planned the itinerary), Ganga (who so sportingly volunteered to be the emcee), Josh and his band (who graced the event with their wonderful songs) and of course the rest of our volunteers who made this event a success.
And the party also brought to the fore the lifeline of TOC: around a hundred well-wishers descended to the Post-Museum, and their presence translated into $3800 in collected donations. ($310 came through the auctioning of Lee Kuan Yew’s Hard Truths, an exclusive copy duly signed by the TOC editors.) But the amount is arguably secondary. As Zheng Xi put it, ‘No matter how little, stand with us, and we will stand with you.’
The party was simply a brave stand by TOC for its supporters: a cheerful statement for the right to speak (responsibly) and a celebration against fear. And beneath the merriment, there was a reminder that much work remains to rehabilitate the collateral damage of PAP’s success story, to help those disenfranchised by our First World fantasies.
To that end, the TOC Community was announced, an initiative where readers are welcomed to join to do ‘simple things for the disadvantaged’. Moving beyond the comforts of online activism into tangible action, Ravi Philemon will be leading efforts to improve the welfare of society at large. Although details are still being firmed up, a clean up of a shelter has been planned for the 19th of February.