Protesting: Speaking Out for the Oppressed

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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
(Martin Luther King, Jr)

They disrupt traffic, shout little ditty chants (e.g. “No to Israel’s racist war! / This is what we’re fighting for!”), and seem to fight passionately for a cause which is either totally irrelevant to most of us Singaporeans or just plain questionable.

Their causes range from seeking justice for the oppressed Palestinians to protesting unfair neo-liberal economic trade policies that they believe result in the exploitation of the poor and the ever-widening rich/poor gap in the world. This latter cause has earned them the famous title of being “Anti-Globalization”. Especially high on their ‘gripe’ agenda lately has been the mandatory detention feted out by the Australian government upon refugees and asylum-seekers.

These are the new generation protesters, whom we see occasionally on the streets here, but almost never in Singapore.

Many people think of them as troublemakers who are merely out to attraction attention and start riots. But is that who they really are? And is that what they really seek to do?

As a protester myself, I hope to shed some light on these questions. I protest simply because I believe in the cause promoted by the protest. Most of these concern overcoming the injustice towards and exploitation of the poor and the oppressed in this world. Put simply, protesting is about being a “voice for the voiceless.”

I also protest because I see it as a legitimate and necessary path towards attaining change in this world for the better. Without a realistic hope of change, protesting becomes mere noise that irritates others and gives us a bad name. However, it is precisely because I believe change will eventually come through such actions that I continue to be part of many demonstrations and rallies.

One can look to history and see the important role protests played in securing many positive changes around the world. Take for example Martin Luther King, Jr. and Civil Rights Movement in America. Also, widespread Anti-War protests in the 60s and 70s on the streets eventually pressured the withdrawal of America from the Vietnam War – thus preventing the death of thousands of more innocent lives.

More recently, anti-sweatshop demonstrations and activism have pressured big multi-national companies to start thinking about caring for their own workers. And not to forget the huge (from 50,000 to over 200,000 people) “Anti-Globalization” demonstrations that have challenged organizations that promote unjust trade rules which serve the interests of the rich, but economically oppress the poor.

One of the biggest misconceptions about most modern day protests is that they are violent. In fact, many people see protests and riots as virtually synonymous. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, perhaps 99% or more of the protesters nowadays are firmly rooted in the “non-violent” and peaceful protesting tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi and only a few groups, like the anarchist Black Bloc, resort to violent tactics.

Oh, one more reason why we protest: that is, to create wider public awareness of the injustices in the world so as to persuade more people to join us in pressuring for change in certain institutions. Only when we garner enough support can greater pressure be applied and greater change be effected for the good of humankind. Why not be part of a demonstration while you’re in Australia? Find out more about it and just what these people are all about, for you might just learn something. This is my challenge to all Singaporeans.

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