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How to protest in Singapore, as inspired by millennial activists Greta Thunberg, Emma Sulkowicz, and the Parkland shooting survivors

How to protest in Singapore, as inspired by millennial activists Greta Thunberg, Emma Sulkowicz, and the Parkland shooting survivors

Speak out

Text: Aravin Sandran


Protesting in Singapore isn't exactly as simple as drawing up a homemade placard and marching into the streets with a loudhailer and a whole lot of balls. You've got to be sneaky and shady, but more importantly, be aware of the legal parameters you're going to be faced with, or else you might run the risk of being exiled like Singaporean YouTuber Amos Yee, or handled with scrutiny like social worker and human rights activist Jolovan Wham, who has had multiple run-ins with the state.

Before we dive into some of the more imaginative approaches around the world, I feel obliged to mention that there a couple of safe yet soul-sucking methods to get your voice heard in Singapore: you could shoot a strongly worded email to the Ministry that's responsible (you can find the appropriate contacts here); if you're into face-to-face interactions, you could wait an hour or two to raise your concerns during a Meet-the-People session with your constituency's MP; and lastly, you could always be a model citizen and apply for a police permit to scream into the void at the barren Hong Lim Park.

If all of the above seems a little too "auntie" or pedestrian for your transgressive mind, read on to find out how three socially-engaged millennial activists are doing it on their own terms.

Climate change: Make a statement at school like Swedish student Greta Thunberg.

What she did: It's indisputable that climate change has become the most urgent issue of our times, but while most millennials in Singapore do their part by simply switching out their plastic bubble tea straws in favour of metal ones, 15-year-old student Greta Thunberg — who's been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome decided to take it up a notch by skipping school to strike outside of the Swedish parliament on 20 August 2018. Since then, she has not only returned to its footsteps regardless of rain, sun, ice, or snow, but she has also mobilised a global movement (held on 15 March 2019) and travelled the world to address and criticise the inaction of world leaders.

What you can do: While I'm certainly not advocating for truancy or skipping classes, the twenty-odd minutes of mid-day recess time would certainly be more than enough make an impression among your teachers and peers. Since permits aren't exactly required in schools, get creative and speak your truth through a dramatic monologue atop one of the tables, or get your friends to join in on a guerilla activation. Just make sure it's worth the detention that you might be facing.

Sexual harassement: Fuse your art and activism together like visual artist Emma Sulkowicz.

What she did: Long before sexual harassment had its reckoning in Singapore's tertiary education campuses this year, visual arts undergraduate Emma Sulkowicz was carrying their (Emma identifies as non-binary femme and uses the pronouns they/them/their) mattress around the Ivy League campus of Columbia University in New York City. This wasn't any old single-sized mattress though; it was the mattress upon which they were raped in their own dorm room. Fustrated with the complacency of the school's authorities, what followed was a headline-grabbing nine-month long performance art protest.

What you can do: You don't have to be an anarchic fine art student at LaSalle ⁠— although it might count towards your final grades ⁠— to make your point through an artistic public performance, installation, or intervention. You could obviously follow the neccessary protocols and file a complaint through an appropriate channel, but what's the fun in being a straitlaced Singaporean? Let it out, honey.

Gun control: Speak boldly to the media like Emma Gonzalez and the Parkland shooting survivors.

What she did: On 14 February 2018, an expelled student brutally gunned down 17 students and teachers with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Three days following the incident, Emma Gonzalez who was a senior at the school then, addressed a gun control rally in nearby Fort Lauderdale. Her impassioned speech kickstarted a feverish and polarising conversation around gun control policies in the United States.

What you can do: Social media is obviously a powerful tool in any activist's toolkit, and rightfully so. While it might be a no-holds-barred medium to communicate directly to the masses overseas, it's not exactly the case on our shores. With the enactment of the new anti-fake news law recently, any FB status updates, comments, or IG posts that are deemed "false" or "against public interest" can be up for scrutiny, and even persecution here. In view of that, take a cue from Emma and her Parkland coalition of survivors by amplifying your reach through the press. As a member of the media myself, I have to admit that we're suckers for stories with drama and conflict. Better yet, I'll even do you a favour by slapping on a sensational headline for the clicks.

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