36 hours before the campaign took off at the Youth Park, the organisers gathered in Tong Yee’s house to apportion the badges into bags of 20. They also had to load 500 T-shirts emblazoned with “StandUP For Our Elderly/Mothers” onto a lorry. Area coordinators planned the execution using paper cut-outs representing train stations and carriages. The organisers pooled together the capital to finance the badges, which would hopefully receive the sponsorship of the National Youth Council, and T-shirts, whose partial costs would hopefully be recouped from each volunteer’s $5-contribution.
With this degree of investment and deliberation, it is little wonder that an official from the Ministry of Communications, Information and Arts called Tong Yee and repeatedly sought confirmation that the organisers were just a group of friends: not a religious organisation, charity or educational institution.
Over a dinner of chicken rice and Ribena at Tong Yee’s house, I attempted to trace the web of friendships that netted this group of Singaporeans from all walks of life: educators, an architect, a videographer, students. There were housemates from their university days in London, church members, chanced encounters in corporate settings, etc.
On National Day, volunteers for StandUpFor.SG trickled into the Youth Park. The diversity of volunteers was quite remarkable. There was a little girl donning a red volunteer t-shirt that engulfed her diminutive frame. There was Raimi who brought his girlfriend to this event to celebrate not only the nation’s birthday but also the couple’s 59th month anniversary. The fasting stricture during Ramadan did not faze the smiling Muslim couple.
As I explained the vision of the campaign and handed out the cute badges exhorting Singaporeans to stand up for the needy, I had my fair share of rejections. An uncle in his seventies was standing in the crowded train. He declined the badge as he believed its message was futile.
“It’s useless! (没有用的!)” he remarked. The uncle subtly flicked his head towards a teenager who was seated and plugged into her iPhone and dozing off.
Yet, another rejection did not dampen my optimism. This time, an aunty who was proudly wearing a white scarf adorned with wispy red patterns chuckled and said she had enough red and white covering her body. In fact, she felt the badge was unnecessary as most people would automatically relinquish their seats for her.
The movement’s significance rippled beyond the allocation of scarce seats in our buses and trains brimming with commuters. People who flout the rule of giving up the seats risk becoming targets of vigilante photography on STOMP, the website which some describe as a voyeuristic platform. Wielding the big stick of shoot-and-shame does not appear to be a durable and coherent way of fostering a gracious culture. Badges identifying pregnant mums and the elderly are kinder means of tweaking our norms.
StandUpFor.SG also stood out because a group of friends rallied around a cause and rallied together more friends. Together, they took a stand on National Day. Such is the nourishing of a democratic virtue. Voting not simply at the ballot box but also voting using actions that draw attention to issues that matter to us.
The organisers left a farewell note on the Facebook page after the pockets of volunteers dispersed to catch the fireworks:
Today you made a stand. It took guts and a stubborn belief in your fellowman.
We hope you saw the joys of taking a leap of faith, to make a connection with another person come alive even if it was for the briefest moment.
We need as many Stand Up citizens as we can get, keep at it, keep practicing what making change feels like.
You made a stand & we hope it won't be your last.
We're so proud of all of you.:D
The StandUpFor.SG Team
All pictures from StandUpFor.SG Facebook page here.