As the euphoria settled after the hugely successful historic day on 16th Feb – which would probably go down into history as a phenomenal breakthrough in organised peaceful protest against a government policy, I began to try and piece out how it all actually happened.
I remembered feeling pissed off after seeing the headliner screamed – 6.9 million population white paper flasher on Channel News Asia around early February.
My immediate reaction was to organise a protest against the huge increase in population by 2030 – I thought 6 million was alot already but now 6.9 million!
Even my first tee shirt reflected only 6-million population and they have to be replaced with the ”NO to 6.9 million people”.
Ironically, we did a population forum indoor near end December and a small crowd of 60 attended quietly without fanfare.
Only Yahoo managed to send someone down to cover the event.
Planning for 200 protestors
I also hesitated about conducting a Hong Lim Park’s protest as all along our events could hardly pull in more than 200 people and my supporters were already feeling discouraged and tired.
I put the matter on cold storage for two days and finally managed to pluck up the courage to post the event on my website.
I used the strong word protest as I felt that is the right word – we are not happy with the white paper and gather as a united peaceful community to voice out against the issue.
I posted the event on my website and Facebook wall and gave myself about two weeks to prepare for a crowd size of between 150 – 200 people – our usual regular attendance for past events at Hong Lim Park.
I went about preparing for a small speaker set which we borrowed from someone and alerted my volunteers that we would be conducting a protest at Hong Lim Park on 16th Feb – seven days after the lunar new year.
How Facebook helps us
A friend asked me to start a Facebook event page so as to attract more people to the event.
I told him whether it would help as all along less than 200 people have indicated that they would attend such event in the past and only half attended.
I half heartedly post the event on my Facebook event page.
I am also not very internet savvy and could not differentiate between a Facebook page and group.
I also don’t know how to change my privacy settings and someone told me that I can stop people from posting on my Facebook wall and they could only comment and like.
After 5 days, the event page had a healthy number of 300 people indicating that they would attend the protest event – a decent number though hardly a figure to shout about.
However, I could sense that this event has generated a lot of traffic on socio political blogs and the whole country was talking about it abeit angrily.
People are already pissed off by a 6-million population projection by 2030 but 6.9 million?! That was another league…
Seven days before the event, about a thousand people have indicated that they would like to attend the protest and I knew that something huge was brewing.
Another few hundred indicated that they may like to attend the event.
By now, there were more than 10000 invitations sent out through the event facebook page and I was elated.
People began to invite their friends and their friends’ friends and it was like a viral chain effect that couldn’t be stopped.
I realised then that Facebook has this magical rippling effect of reaching out to the masses without having to post expensive advertisement in the papers.
Sociao political blogs helping us
Anyway, other blogs picked up the protest event after 5 days of my posting and they helped me to publicise it on their sites.
It was fortunate that I have a healthy working relationship with TRE and other socio political blogs and they publicise my articles on the protest event regularly.
Blogs like Feedmetothefish and TRE did a daily countdown one week before the event.
Yahoo Singapore helped by asking me for my opinion on the white paper and the mention of the protest just two days after I announced the event on Facebook also brought us quite alot of publicity.
I saw many angry comments there and realised that majority of Singaporeans are against the white paper.
Bloomberg first publicised protest event
A day later Bloomberg contacted me and wrote an article entitled: Bloomberg: Singaporeans Plan Protest as
“More than 1,100 people said on a Facebook page that they will or may join the demonstration on Feb. 16 at Speakers’ Corner at the edge of the city’s financial district. About 9,300 have also “liked” another page that calls for a stand against the government and “Say ‘No’ to an Overpopulated Singapore.”
Bloomberg’s article was the first major foreign press that publicised the event after Yahoo. The correspondent Ms Shamim Sadam did a telephone interview with me.
That got quite alot of Singaporeans interested in the protest event almost 10 days before the event day.
Reuters followed up on the same day with the article: Singapore plans rare protest as
The Reuters correspondent Kelvin Lim wrote:”Singapore is to hold a rare anti-government demonstration against plans for a dramatic increase in immigration that would boost the island’s population by as much as 30 percent by 2030.”
I was not comfortable with the word anti-government demonstration as it painted us in a negative light but there was nothing that I could do about it.
By now, I was quite excited as most of the time, our protest events never got beyond TRE or Yahoo news and zero coverage from the local press as usual.
Since independence, because of our strict controls on protests, the population dares not voice out against any government’s policy for fear of reprisal.
Even the government-approved Hong Lim Park is not a comfortable place for Singaporeans to come out and protest peacefully.
I have to keep on reminding many protestors that Hong Lim Park is a government-gazette place for peaceful protest and demonstration.
Still, I heard from many readers that they were afraid to attend such organised legal protests.
40, 000 Facebook invitations sent out
Three days before the event, more than 40, 000 invitations were sent out by Facebook friends and 6, 000 people indicated that they wanted to attend or might attend the event.
Three days before the event, Reuters contacted me for an interview and the article Protest, voter anger put political risk in Singapore’s future was reported a day before the event.
The correspondent John O’Callaghan wrote very well and it was presented in a very balanced manner and I hope that our local press will be able to write that way instead of shying away from the protest until a day before the event.
He wrote: “In a country where nearly all media are state-linked and open dissent can easily fall foul of the long-ruling government, Goh’s call for a public protest on Saturday is striking a nerve.
It is also raising the once-absurd prospect of political risk in one of the world’s biggest financial and trading centers that has been built on a reputation of stability.”
Two days before the event, the Japanese press The Asahi Shimbun Singapore Bureau interviewed me and it was a long 1 1/2 -hour session in my office.
They asked very pointed questions in their accented English and I wondered why the Japanese presses are so interested on the white paper population issue until I realised that Japan is also facing a similar greying population with no ready solution.
Other foreign media
Three Japanese presses were there at the protest event and they fired away questions at us during the press conference.
A day before the protest, I also went for a BBC live news broadcast at 9am and by now, half the world would have known of our historic protest event on 16th Feb.
I wore my 6.9 million tee shirt to the studio and felt so proud as a Singaporean.
I am not a very good orator but tried my best under the circumstances to answer the presenter live on air.
Guardian UK emailed me two days before the event and I answered as quickly as I could as the correspondent needs to rush out an article on the protest.
I thought that the Guardian article Singapore protest: ‘Unfamiliar
Besides stiff competition for jobs, the heavy influx of foreigners have cause housing prices to go up and trains are now like packed sardines during peak hours.
Kate wrote: “The bubbling discontent in Singapore has recently been compounded by a string of scandals causing some outsiders to wonder if the Asian utopia so carefully crafted by the nation’s so-called founder, Lee Kuan Yew, is finally crumbling. Most young professionals still live at home because they can’t afford to move out, the government has had to subsidise speed-dating schemes to encourage partnerships, and abortion rates among married women now account for over half the total – as many families struggle to stay afloat.”
I thought that summed up appropriately the social problem we faced right now in our country.
A friend from London told me that she saw the Guardian article and was very pleased that the London paper published the event on 15th Feb.
On 15th Feb at around 4pm, the local presses started to contact me via email saying that they would like to interview me and covered the event the next day.
Zero pre-protest local coverage
There was zero coverage from the local presses prior to the event and Sunday Times only reported the event on page four whereas South China Morning Paper put it on their front page.
Though disappointed that our papers preferred to downplay the historical event, I am pleased that international presses and TV stations reported it worldwide.
I also wondered why our international presses are so fascinated by the protest and asked several reporters about it.
They told me that firstly protests are almost unheard of in tightly-controlled Singapore and secondly even if they are scheduled, no one will dare to turn up or the attendance is minimal.
I must thank Facebook, our socio political blogs especially TRE – Richard and our international presses for their pre-event coverage of the historic 1602 protest event.
Without their media support, the event will not be so successful.
My only regret is that we are unable to provide live streaming for overseas Singaporeans living abroad.
I urge our local presses to come out of their shell and start behaving like a free press in a democratic country.
Many Singaporeans have to depend on foreign presses like Yahoo, BBC, Reuters. AFP and Bloomberg for coverage of the pre-event.
Jentrified Citizen wrote a critical piece on the failure of the mainstream media to cover the protest adequately Shame on our Mainstream Media for failing its readers and Singaporeans
He wrote: “It is a crying shame that we Singaporeans have to resort to reading overseas media reports to get the full impact of the protest held at Hong Lim Park yesterday. The international media including the BBC News,Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Aljazeera, Bloomberg, Reuters, Jakarta Post and South China Morning Post (SCMP) all gave very substantial coverage to the event which will surely go down in our history as a significant milestone”.
For those who blog about our event - both pre and post, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for covering a historic moment in Singapore’s history.
If you have invited friends through your facebook page and personal email, you also deserved our sincere thanksgiving.
Let us continue to unite together for a better Singapore!
Written by: Gilbert Goh