Most of the bloggosphere has been buzzing with the happenings of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) Extraordinary General Meeting (EOGM) on 2nd May. The run up to the meeting was fraught with drama, suspense and old-fashioned politicking. The stakes were high for the veterans – the 24-year old organisation they had been with for years (and in some cases, since its founding) was in danger of being lost to a group of new faces who did not exactly seem to have women’s welfare in mind. (See here and here for a review of the events after the power-grab).
The venue had been changed twice – at first from Toa Payoh Auditorium to Expo, then, upon the instigation of the police (who was concerned with law and order issues given a large-scale Christian seminar would be going on next door), to Suntec. The media were ready with cameras and microphones, and when Saturday dawned bright and early upon Suntec, the stage was more than set.
I arrived at 10.45 am, as the registration was set to start at 12 pm (and the meeting was set to start at 2pm). Clearly I was not the only one with the bright idea of arriving early – the 4th floor was already full of supporters on both sides: red-shirted men and women on the side of the new exco, and white-shirted volunteers on the side of the new exco. When I arrived, taking in my outlaw appearance (ie, not being a chinese christian), 3 women tried to stop me from going up the escalator to the 4th floor, saying registration didn’t start until 12, and that the white t-shirted people weren’t part of their team. I brushed them aside and went up anyway.
After waiting an extraordinarily long time in the queue (thank god for reading materials I brought along), during which the white-shirts distributed food, flowers pamphlets and advice, and passing a security check, I finally entered the hall and sat myself down for what was going to be a long wait.
Little did I know the said long wait was going to be for the next 9 hours until the end of the EGM. In between reading, I noticed that there were two police-men guarding Thio Su Mien, and that an extraordinarily old woman on canes (literally) was walking up the aisle to the VIP seats, whom I later learned was Mrs David Marshall, coming to support the old guard.
The meeting started really late, at 2.40pm, where they exco finally presented themselves. The second Josie Lau took the mic and started speaking, the previously demure congregration burst into jeers and shouts.
And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the EOGM. If anyone ever thought Singaporeans were quiet docile lambs, all such notions would have been dispelled within seconds of being in that hall.
The drama continued for the next 7 hours – for a full transcript of proceedings, see here. The highlight of the proceedings were threefold: when the new exco admitted that they had spent 90k SGD to date, in prepping for the EGM (including the venue), when Thio Su Mien stood up and declared that she was qualified to be a feminist mentor because she was mentioned on an obscure book AWARE published, on page 73, and when the new exco was voted out 1414:761 through a no-confidence motion.
Now, having had a few days to digest this historic win and event, and having read distinguished commentaries upon it (here and here), there are a few things I would like to highlight.
Firstly, the behaviour of the exco in spending nearly 90 000 dollars since the time they took office a few weeks ago, itself makes them entirely unsuitable for running AWARE. There were so many ways to do it for cheaper – such as employing volunteers to scrutineer (and make a buddy system to cross-check against biasness), engaging pro bono counsel instead of running to one of the most expensive law firms in Singapore and perhaps not installing CCTVs and changing the locks barely after they took over. Their attitude is one of that of a mega-church with deep pockets, or a corporate entity, not of a voluntary organisation. Whatever else one can say about their stealthy maneavours and less-than-noble intentions, if one is to judge them by their performance in office for a no-confidence motion, this would have been the clincher.
Secondly – just because you are legally in power, does not mean you have the authority to lead, especially when you have had no experience, the only reason you are voted in is because you rallied people to sign up and vote for you, and your means were underhanded and shady. Please show us some respect, and do not keep insisting that this was not planned – it most obviously was, and the longer you repeat that story, the more credibility you lose. I asked a question at the EGM which was not answered: what if I decided that Focus on the Family (FOTF) was losing its pro-family focus and becoming overly concerned with promoting homphobia? What if I decided that, because of this, I was going to appoint myself a Family Values mentor, email my friends and family and simply take over FOTF one day? It might be entirely legitimate, but does this new exco have any moral or even practical authority to lead FOTF? More importantly, is what I did right?
Thirdly, I was there, and I can testify that the crowd was indeed loud and sometimes overpowering. But contrary to what the other side has said about the old guard supporters being bullies and hooligans, I feel this was a result of passion and deep belief. Voices were raised, but no one was harmed, or even threatened to be harmed. Emotions spilled over, but that is approximate response to what happens when one takes over an organisation by stealth and under-handed means. No one stopped the other side from speaking up – they were entirely free to make their opinions, and when they did, I observed that they made no sense (even to an objective listener). The other side had all the opportunities to speak, but they did not. I personally feel many of the supporters of the new exco were only there to vote, not speak – by the very fact that the most of the new exco supporters left shortly after the voting process. Even I cannot help preserve the freedom of speech for someone who does not want to make their opinions known.
Fourthly, the opposition camp has painted this as a pro-gay vs anti-gay issue. It is anything but – it is the new guard who declared their motivating factor to take over AWARE was because they felt AWARE was too pro-gay. It still is NOT a pro-gay vs anti-gay issue – it is an issue of mutual respect, of living in harmony with different points of view and faiths. It is an issue of protecting the secular principles this country is built upon, by making sure one religious group does not overstep its boundaries or amass so much power as to intimidate minorities.
Fifthly, going into the hall, knowing this is not a pro-gay vs anti-gay issue, I was pleasantly surprised that there were plenty of people who spoke up for the acceptance and inclusion of queer people – women and men of all ages, backgrounds, religions and races. The message the majority sent out is that inclusiveness is not an empty word, and it means what it means. And really, for a bunch of educated women, especially Thio Su Mien – they seemed unable to tell the linguistic difference between tolerance, acceptance and promotion. The dictionary is there, use it. When you do learn the meaning, come back and tell me with a straight face that being accepting gay people for who they are, is exactly the same as telling people to be gay.
It must be said in conclusion that this EOGM was a reaffirmation, and a heart-warming sign that there is progress being made on the forefront of inclusiveness. It however, sadly highlights the existence of certain fundamentalist conservative groups who do not understand this concept and will do anything, anything to stop it from happening, even though it really has nothing to do with them.
Christians are not the enemy, neither do we consider them to be. We are not your enemy either. I take this opportunity to make a plea not to let things go that way, to not go the way America has gone in terms of the culture war – there are far far more important things in the world to think about, to work on. There are literally starving children in Africa, and I think your money, your effort, all the passion you have towards changing the world, can be redirected to causes much much bigger than trying to stop two consenting adults from loving each other.
And on that note, this is me hoping the best for the future!