By Terry Xu
Fair weather graced the eager crowd who turned up for the much awaited May Day Protest event organized by Transitioning.org on 1st of May, labour day. A sequel to the first ever large-scale protest at Hong Lim Protest, which was held previously on February 2013 against the White Paper on Population passed in the Singapore Parliament.
It was stated at the start of the event that foreigners are advised not attend the protest due to an earlier request by National Parks for the organizers to apply a police permit, which was ultimately disregarded (link). Lead organizer for the event, Mr Gilbert Goh even requested for the participants to take out their identity cards and raise it high so that the authorities can see them.
The crowd compromised of Singaporeans from a wide range of age groups, from senior folks to young teenagers with a large bulk of them being middle aged Singaporeans.
Crowd size is estimated to be around 5000-6000 participants by the organizers but it is hard to say given that there was no official attempt to keep count of how many people who came and went during the course of the whole event. But it can be safe to say that at its peak, it reached about 4,000 participants who stood and listened to the speeches. (Read Alex Au’s estimate on crowd size at Hong Lim park, it was pretty much denser than the last rally due to the good weather.)
But apart from the crowd who were physically there, there were many more who supported the event in the comfort of their own home. About 26,000 views were clocked by the end of the event at the live streaming portal which was set up by the organizers – a much celebrated feature of the event this year for those who could not make it down to Hong Lim Park for various reasons.
The 3 hour long event was packed with speakers from various backgrounds speaking on different issues ranging from CPF issues, human rights to the government’s discrimination of single parents.
“Without human rights, Singapore is just a poor little rich girl”, said prominent human rights lawyer, M Ravi who spoke first in Tamil then in English on various issues which includes the recent happenings of bloggers being taken to task for contempt of court and defamation actions, and said “Civil society is under threat”. (Video of M Ravi’s speech)
Using an example of the “Speak Mandarin” Campaign launched by the government to promote the use of Mandarin amongst the Singaporean Chinese. Ms Chan Wai Han explains how the government might not necessary know what is good for the people, referencing to her own experience on how learning dialects promoted the interest in learning and how the loss of dialects in Singapore separated generations of Singaporeans without a common language between them.
Jolovan Wham spoke of how the measures to distinct Singaporeans and foreigners create a “false divide” as though the issues that Singaporeans face today stems from the foreigners. And touching on how Labour Day came about, he reiterated the need for a vibrant civil society so that Singapore can build an inclusive society for everyone.
On the other hand, Mr Tan Jee Say, one of the candidates for the Presidential Election 2011 concluded that the only way for a change in the country is a change of government and that the oppositions are more than ready and qualified to lead by the next general elections to bring change for Singaporeans.
By midway of the event, T-shirts out on sale at the park were all snatched up by the participants to the protest, showing their strong support to the organizers to help finance their expenses. Perhaps silently hoping that the organizers would very soon organize yet another event soon.
Answering to a question from the press about whether there will be another similar event anytime soon. Mr Gilbert replied that there is no set plans to hold any such protest till the May Day next year, which he said that it would be a yearly event held in Hong Lim Park.
Although the series of the two protests started off solely as a campaign against the 6.9 population target set by the Population White Paper. But from the topics covered by the speakers in this protest and from private conversations between total strangers who have just met during the event, it seems to have transcended to a civil movement, which normal Singaporeans could feel empowered to make their voices heard by the incumbent.
And judging from the strong positive response from the crowd, this event would probably not be able to satisfy Singaporeans’ urge to voice out their unhappiness and that there will be more of such events to come in the near future.