Alexis Ong: Occupy Singapore failed miserably because we're in Singapore

Alexis Ong: Occupy Singapore failed miserably because we're in Singapore

While the rest of the world took to the streets in protest of Wall Street, business-friendly Singapore did a no-show

In case you haven’t heard, Occupy Singapore was a raging failure.

Not only did nobody – well, almost nobody -- show up to its Facebook event at Raffles Place, but online coverage of the organizers’ failure reveals that Singaporean netizens have moved beyond trademark cynicism into a sensational predatory froth.

Even worse, a local blog claims that people who signed up to go to the Occupy Raffles Place protest ended up at a jokey promotional event called Occupy Ben and Jerry’s Chunkfest.

Food versus politics, for many Singaporeans, is an easy decision. Even an Occupy KL event in Malaysia managed a respectable 200-strong turnout.

Facebook events may work in other countries where its citizens are taught from childhood about their right to a public voice. Singapore is not one of these countries.

Our education system is a number-crunching machine. Schools teach that our society prizes quantifiable achievements, while abstract qualities like social responsibility and political engagement are often glossed over. These are crucial factors in shaping a society’s voting culture. We are taught to be civic-minded, but passive. We are praised for being individualistic, but not as individuals. Most of us are well-educated, but not well-informed.

We are taught to be civic-minded, but passive. We are praised for being individualistic, but not as individuals.

My generation just had its first taste of “voting” in the last year, with more than 30,000 people attending opposition rallies each night.

Of course, the usual suspects won, but the surprising jump in voter awareness was just the beginning of what are hopefully the baby steps of a long-term paradigm shift in Singapore’s sociopolitical culture.

All in all, it would seem like Occupy Singapore is the perfect vehicle to take part in a peaceful movement that has been the focus of international media for the past month.

Its Facebook page has the following mission statement:

"Occupy Singapore is about engaging the public in the democratic process and creating a new form of democracy. It has become clear that our “leaders” can no longer handle the responsibility of becoming a representative of the people. So, we invite all to join us in occupying the Singapore Financial District aka Raffles Place."

"We are a peaceful, non-violent resistance movement that aims to encourage people to participate in democracy and use their voices to influence positive change. We are the 99 percent and our voice will be heard."

On the surface, it all sounds good. After all, we are in Singapore, and unannounced mass protests, no matter how peaceful, are a no-no. However, it seems to me that whoever drafted this statement must have temporarily forgotten who and where they are -- this is the country where Speakers’ Corner remains silent, and empty.

It’s nice that they wanted to show solidarity with London and Paris and New York. It’s commendable that they decided to do this despite our sub-par political climate. But the Occupy movement would have never taken hold here, why, because local organizers are taking a “one size fits all” approach by projecting Occupy Wall Street onto a totally different city, on a completely different continent, with a vastly complicated economic status.

For starters, most reasonable people can agree that we’re a democratic joke. Our type of democracy is a façade for a well-oiled machine that is really, really good at getting things done.

Our “leaders” have never been a representative of the people. It runs a tight ship, and to run the ship, it does what it needs to, even if means occasionally stepping on us little guys.

It isn’t in anyone’s best interests to show up to an anti-capitalist-greed protest in an authoritarian country that does good business.

Memo to the Occupy Singapore people: if you want to make a local chapter of Occupy the World work, you’re going to have to adapt its mission to our city. Don’t just lift platitudes about American-style democracy and the decline of ethics in capitalism, and slap it onto your mission statement -- do your homework.

An Occupy Raffles Place movement would have never happened. Singapore is a regional lynchpin for countless multinationals and international banks, and the government is protective of foreign investors.

It isn’t in anyone’s best interests to show up to an anti-capitalist-greed protest in an authoritarian country that does good business.

Nobody is coming to your anti-greed street protest, not just because there are laws against public congregation, but because the elitist, hyper-capitalist behavior that Occupy Singapore decries is the very foundation of our government.

Occupy Wall Street and its western brethren have been successful so far because they have this thing called “civil rights.”

We don’t.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alexis Ong.

Alexis Ong has a degree she doesn't use, but can read, write, and do some arithmetic. She's spent the last few years in Singapore and previously lived in New York and Boston.

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