By Dr Chee Soon Juan
Much acrimony has emanated from the Return Our CPF protest at Hong Lim Park last Saturday. As complex and difficult as things are, let us focus on what we can all learn from the episode.
First, Mr Roy Ngerng and Ms Han Hui Hui should offer an apology to the children and parents who were present at the event and were affected by the protest.
Roy has asked to meet with the children and parents to apologise to them. This is the right thing to do.
I met Roy several weeks ago. He is a thoughtful individual and no one should believe that he intentionally targeted his or the group's actions at the children who were performing that afternoon.
It is important, nevertheless, that both he and Hui Hui offer an apology to the children.
But in the midst of the furore, let us also recognise that democracy – and its development – are a messy process, and that those who seek to advocate and build it will always fumble and get it wrong. We would not be human if we didn't.
The danger is that those who are angered by the episode but who, otherwise, would support the Return Our CPF campaign, unwittingly reinforce a culture intolerant of mistakes.
Throwing labels like “immature”, “inexcusable”, “attention seekers” at the protesters is unhelpful. For even the most experienced activists spend a lifetime making errors and learning from them. Gandhi, himself not immune to mistakes, acknowledged: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
Hasn't this nation been fed on a diet that there are no second chances? Whether it is in politics, business, education, etc we must appreciate failure as much as we value success for, need we be reminded that, it is the former that will enable us to achieve the latter.
Roy and Hui Hui (as well as the rest of the opposition and civil society communities) struggle to give voice to the voiceless. Given what they're up against, it is an arduous task to say the least.
In this vein, let us re-affirm our faith in them as well as in ourselves, who, with all our imperfections and weaknesses, continue to learn and grow in our journey to make our Republic a better place.
To those who offer your views, criticise if you must but let us also extend the hand of fellowship and encouragement to those on the frontline in our battle for transparency and accountability.
For this much is clear, the party on the other side will waste no opportunity to denigrate what pro-democracy, pro-justice and pro-equality groups are trying to achieve. A good example is PAP MP Dr Intan who, after a protracted silence over the Yang Yin affair, found time to take potshots at Roy and Hui Hui.
The onslaught has already begun. Some have labelled the protesters as “anarchists” who intentionally heckled the children. Don't let them demonise the protesters for if they succeed, they demonise all of us.
(On a side note, if the PAP MPs are so concerned about the children with special needs, then fund their education. This is a subject for another discussion which the SDP will post tomorrow.)
As I said at the beginning of this article, let us, both activists and commentators, learn from this episode and look forward to tackling the challenges that lie ahead. Remember: failure doesn't come when we make a mistake, it comes when we quit.
This article was first published on the Singapore Democratic Party's website. See also the response by SDP member Jeremy Chen to this statement. TOC has received permission from both Dr Chee and Mr Chen to republish these.