Let’s be real, this week’s Change.org petition against Old Chang Kee and Polar Puffs, was a waste of time. 4,000 people signed it as a show of support, and the same 4,000 people are probably not going to stop eating at Old Chang Kee.
Sure, it raised awareness for the issue, and it might have made us a little more civic-minded, but petitions do little to spur real action.
The one instance in recent times when it did was early this year, when just five residents in Aljunied successfully forced the Singapore Land Authority to close a 2.5ha football pitch on weekends because they could not tolerate the noise.
In comparison, more than 10,000 signatures were collected this year calling for an open presidential election. Look where that got us.
It’s become the quintessential embodiment of Singaporean slacktivism.
In the past, we used to take our complaints to the Straits Times’s forum page and Stomp (we still do), before Facebook became the de facto platform for voicing our disgruntlement. Not only could you get instant gratification and affirmation in the form of likes and comments, you could even confront the accused directly on their own Facebook page.
Somehow along the way, Change.org, which is supposed to be a platform to champion issues of paramount importance, has become the platform of choice. As if the website’s branding, along with its association with social justice and human rights, have added more weight to complaints about the most mundane and trivial peeves.
Take the following petitions for example:
For example, one to end taxes on tampons in the UK led to a parliamentary amendment, while another to designate America’s first National Monument dedicated to LGBT rights and history, was made official by President Obama.
In contrast, our country’s campaigns are plain laughable, childish even. Mind you, these are petitions that come up in the first five pages on Change.org when you search “Singapore”.
If this is a reflection of our country’s progressive thought and social activism, it would be nothing short of a huge embarrassment.
After all, when you compare petitions about Coldplay tickets next to petitions about actual human rights issues, you wonder where our priorities lie.
But this isn’t entirely our fault. The fact is, not all causes are created equal, and by allowing anyone to put up a petition on anything, Change.org devalues the causes that are actually important and require public support.
First-world problems are re-branded as “legitimate problems” when they appear on an activist website. Suddenly, the fact that you can’t get Popeyes chicken in your neighbourhood is no longer a minor frustration, it is now a full-fledged human rights campaign that deserves national support.
But not being able to fight for the big causes like those in other countries does not mean that we cannot be properly involved in active citizenry.
Regina Veronica Vanda, one of the girls who started the petition against Old Chang Kee, tells me that she was initially sceptical about her petition. She says that Singaporeans had proven in the past to be uncaring towards environmental causes, even those started by established non-governmental organisations.
That suggests a lot about our attitudes towards activism.
Civic participation starts with ditching the self-entitlement, and ends with putting your money where your mouth is. It doesn’t work when you sit on your ass and hope someone else will make the magic happen.
To that end, I’m starting a petition calling for Singaporeans to do more than just signing on causes on Change.org.
Would you help me get more signatures?