The Young Inspire Us or Do They?
Opinion by Jee Leong Koh
Hundreds of thousands of people in all 50 states of the USA marched against gun violence on Saturday. In DC alone, the turnout is estimated at over 800 000. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore estimated at least one million people in his comment on this photo from his Facebook page. The protesters waved signs, chanted slogans, and pleaded with people to register to vote. With remarkable political maturity, the teenage Parkland shooting survivors not only spoke with astounding eloquence but also shared their stage with victims of gun violence from marginalized communities. They are building a broad coalition around a vital cause at a time when political partisanship is rife.
Such a show of nationwide solidarity has become even more difficult, if not impossible, in Singapore. As journalist KIrsten Han commented on FB, "Under the new public order bill that was just passed last week in Singapore, this kind of large-scale traffic-disrupting protest could be considered a "serious incident", and the police given special powers to detain, search, demand information, seize and use force that is "reasonably necessary", including lethal weapons, to disperse the group. And there could be a communications stop order to ban transmission or creation of photos, video, text or audio messages." Although the government has said that they will use their new powers sparingly and that the bill is not directed at peaceful protest, "none of these assurances are actually in the Bill itself, and so would just be dependent on what the authorities do at the time," Han pointed out.
Because of its tough laws, Singapore is fortunate not to suffer from the gun violence that plagues the USA. Singaporeans do not have to take to the streets to demand anti-gun action from their elected representatives. There are other issues, however, about which the Singapore government has remained intransigent, for instance, growing economic disparities in the country, LGBT equality, migrant rights, and an official investigation into the truth of the political detentions under Operation Cold Store and Operation Spectrum. Under the new Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act, Singaporeans must be afraid that any peaceful demonstration for these and other causes may be put down by the authorities. Singapore will not have its equivalents of Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, the Parkland student activists, because Singaporean youths have been disciplined to keep their heads down and toe the line. The damage, not just to the country's political culture, but also to social cohesion and creative innovation, is immense.
The March for Our Lives Movement touches me personally. I am a teacher and a gay man, and so the horrific shootings in schools and the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, have shaken me deeply. For some years now my school has been practicing locked-down and active-shooter drills. On Saturday I joined thousands of people in New York City to march against gun violence, carrying a placard that said, "Teachers Against Guns" on one side and "Gays Against Guns" on the other. I am thankful that in NYC I do not have to choose between being gay and being a teacher, but I can demonstrate both sides of my identity in the public eye. I cannot help remembering, however, that the same freedom is not given to gay teachers in Singapore, who have to hide their sexual orientation in order to continue in the Education Service. It is a heavy price to exact on the people who do so much for our young, all because of homophobia.