TNP: Join an online group? I'd rather do something real (Oct 14)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

By Eugene Wee

N the past weeks, something seems to have riled the political animal inside the usually apathetic Singaporean. First, the recent crackdown on pro-democracy monks in Myanmar shocked many here.

The atrocities prompted hundreds, maybe thousands on our fair island some 2,000km away from the troubled country, to rise up in protest.

Sort of, anyway.

Many heeded the call to wear a red shirt on 28 Sept as a symbol of protest against the violence happening there.

Those who did not have the proper wardrobe flocked to join the 'Support Monk's protest in Burma' group on the social networking website Facebook.

Ever since the unofficial recruitment drive to back this cause started on the Internet, I've been bombarded by invitations from friends to make my voice heard on the issue.

'I went out and bought a red shirt just because of the Myanmar campaign,' one friend proudly proclaimed in his e-mail to me.

'If you care about democracy, you should join in.'

'Wow!' I replied.

'Good for you. I know very few people who would go out on a limb and change their wardrobe in the name of democracy.'

I know what you're thinking. I'm being sarcastic when my friend's intentions are pure.

But here's the thing. I'm not attacking his intentions.

I'm attacking the sense of smugness and gratification he feels by thinking his grand gesture of shopping may have helped bring down the military junta.

The Myanmar campaign isn't the only one that has brought out this side in some of my friends.

Those with the 'Think global. Act local' mindset were more moved by an appeal to repeal Singapore's law criminalising gay sex.

Last week, thousands flocked to to support an online campaign to do away with Section 377A of the Penal Code.

And unlike many other petitioners, hundreds of those at this website revealed what appeared to be their real names and the places where they worked.

I am ashamed to say that I did not wear red on 28 Sept, nor did I lend my name to

But that's not to say I don't care about either issue.

I'm all for supporting a good cause, but I'm pragmatic enough to realise that a new set of clothes or a signature on a piece of paper or website will change the status quo as much as a teaspoon of water dropped into the ocean will raise the level of the sea.

But people do it anyway.

Why? It's easy, takes no real effort, and it makes you think that you're a good person who supports good causes.

Nothing wrong about that, as long as they realise that if they REALLY want to make a change, it's going to take a lot more than joining a Facebook group.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for easy.

But I try to pick my battles by choosing easy routes that can make a concrete, even if imperceptible, impact on the people around me.

For example, instead of signing up to support a few causes on Facebook, I signed up on, a website that lets you loan small amounts of money to small businesses in the developing world.

In less than five minutes, I had lent US$25 ($37) to Mrs Parvana Khalilova, a 47-year-old widow and mother of two in Azerbaijan who needs help to buy a cow for her dairy business.

When I go to the mall, I try to keep my shopping in as few plastic bags as possible, opting for paper ones if they have them. And I recycle paper products, glass bottles, and aluminium cans whenever I get the chance.

The impact of my deeds may not be noticed by others, nor will they solve problems overnight.

But at least I know that I made a calculable change.

Seeing that it takes little effort, I have since ceded to my friends' request and signed up for the Myanmar cause on Facebook and added my name to

And since my other causes take just as little effort, I hope they'll return the favour.