The future is promising

Dear Reader,

I am inspired by the commitment of young activists that I meet. They are more articulate, better informed and educated and braver than I was at their age. I am hopeful for the future of our civil society. Civil society, the term, the concept itself, is difficult for many people to understand. In Singapore, we seldom talk of a civil society, because of the suppression of independent action, because of our early history, when the law was used to silence civil society, because of the limit inflicted on our freedom of expression. As a result of this history many Singaporeans define civil society as opposition, as hostile to the state. But elsewhere, in democracies, it is usually defined positively as a space for citizen participation and contribution to the practice of democracy, for the well-being of society, by offering ideas, procedures and systems through which cooperation and trust is built among activists and between the state and its institutions. This is where independent thought takes place. But in spite of the difficulties we face, civil society has managed to survive in someone’s living room, or in cafes and usually took on the form of small groups of citizen activism. Over the many years I have had such groups in my home—friends, like-minded people sitting around my dining table, talking, discussing, educating each other, empowering ourselves in the process and then being inspired to become activists. This way to activism begins in small and sometimes fun ways, sometimes moved by horrific stories of abuse. One of these gatherings led to the project The Singapore Advocacy Awards in 2013 and resulted in two books: The Art of Advocacy in Singapore (2017) and now We Are Not the Enemy: The Practice of Advocacy in Singapore, an Ethos publication to be launched on March 17th. My activism has enriched my intellect and my soul. I have a community of friends who share the values I hold and my life in my old age is richer for that. I shall forever be grateful for the opportunity to contribute to my community and consequently become the person I am today. Did I feel helpless? I did many times. Did I feel fear? I did many times. Did I feel tired? I did many times. Did I want to give up at any time? I did many times. Forty years on, a much younger activist describes his experience as “an incredibly exhausting and intense week of student organising. But in my entire time in the university, I had never felt more alive…” thus wrote Suraendher Kumarr. You will find his story about becoming an activist in the concluding chapter of We Are Not the Enemy. You will be inspired as I was to learn that so many people of Kumarr’s generation are becoming activists or aspire to become involved in civil society. The experiences of activists, narrated in the book, reveal many different ways of being an activist and what they have achieved for the community and for themselves by doing the work they do, by shaking off the helplessness they feel—which all of us feel at times in this environment of fear, coercion and extremely limited freedom. I am inspired. The future looks promising.Constance Singam