SG Youth Activism – Where are we at?

SG Youth Activism – Where are we at? Image by Tomas Vysniaukas via Unsplash

“The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” – Nelson Mandela

“History has always been shaped by the power of youth.” – Daisaku Ikeda

“Every youth owes it to himself and to the world to make the most possible out of the stuff that is in him…” – Orison Swett Marden

In some way or another, (older) people like to remind us that we are the future. We hold the capacity for change in our hands. And yet, activism – which is literally about achieving change – remains a controversial word in Singapore.

Just last year, Saint Joseph’s Institution (SJI) rescinded their offer for university student, Rachel Yeo, to speak at their TEDx event after learning she was “’a LGBTQ+ activist’, further stating that ‘any form of activism is socially divisive’, and went against the school’s principle of community building.”

Even last month, the subject of TODAY’s first webinar was “Activism no longer a dirty word: The rise and impact of youth activism and its future in Singapore.” It is clear that the perception that activists are troublemakers lingers on.

However, just like everything else, as youths continue to fight for what they believe in, this is changing – as a society, we are beginning to think of activism as a constructive force. In fact, according to The Diplomat, as a people we “have shown a willingness to organize quickly when they feel a pinch, and have managed to prompt the government to respond in their favor.”

September 2019 – The SG Climate Rally. Planned by a youth-led non-profit organization, almost 2000 people showed up to call for “systemic change from the government as well as corporations”.

May 2020 – Transient Workers Count Too (TCW2) worked with major telecom companies Singtel, M1 and Starhub to issue almost $1 million worth of phone top-ups to 90,000 workers – 30% of the entire migrant population. They provided “‘mental respite and emotional comfort’” at a time when the entire world had been turned on its head.

While we often think of shouting crowds and riled up speakers, activism is not a mere synonym for protest – it comes in many forms. There are many who think social media is shallow – a place where you’re expected to show off – however, it cannot be dismissed as simply frivolous.

In fact, it is invaluable when it comes to propagating the voices of the silenced. 

Instagram accounts such as sg_activist and minorityvoices have created platforms that not only raise awareness, but foster discussion. Whether it is the treatment of migrant workers or institutional racism, they address the issues that the mainstream media are often only too willing to gloss over.

Activism may look like a lot of work – and it definitely can be, but if you make an effort to be informed, you’re already halfway there. Awareness is the first step: without collective recognition of what is wrong, we won’t ever have anything to fix.

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