Climate March (the Singaporean way)

Mamakan, December 1, 2015

On my recent trip to the airport, the Singaporean taxi driver spent most of the ride complaining about unfair competition from private UBER drivers. I asked him if he and fellow drivers were considering to protest, like they did  recently in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "Even though we are called the Lion City, protests and demonstrations do not belong to Singapore," he proudly assured me.


So, when I got the invitation to join a Climate March - the Singaporean way - last Sunday my heart jumped. A real people's march? Here? Sharing it on Facebook, friends expressed the same level of disbelief and hope. Our initial enthusiasm proved to be pretty naive. 


While 785,000 people marched around the world, the Singaporean way turned out to be a toothless gathering of less than 50 pax wearing green clothes having a cosy picnic in a private condo next to a swimming pool out near the Jurong oil fields. A climate picnic! 


Over 400 people had confirmed their participation to the march, but due to poor management including venue changes, confusion, corporate policy and lack of police permits, the march itself was cancelled. In the end, there was not even enough people to fill out a green heart photo shoot. Why? 


We have more than 5 million people in Singapore, so it's not for lack of numbers. Others might claim that South East Asia does not care enough about the environment, but hey, look at Jakarta! Our neighbours took to the streets marching, instead of hiding behind the fences of a private condominium. All over the world people took to the streets to show world leaders that they care about the climate, about clean energy, about deforestation, about nature.


The main Paris march, which was cancelled due to real security concerns, ended up as a massive installation with 10,000 pairs of shoes, including a plain black pair from Pope Francis. 


The Pope is a vocal environmental activist and one of the first religious leaders to enter into the battle field of climate change. Watch how the organisers were able to combine peaceful and powerful in a beautiful statement for a historic event.



Equally impressive was the Brandalism (a play of branded vandalism) campaign that plastered Paris with posters made by 82 artists around the theme of corporate greed and political corporation. Artistic activists took over commercial advertising space from brands like McDonald's and posted their own posters on top.


Brandalism began in July 2010 as a small team with a van in the UK and has grown to the biggest anti-advertising advertising campaign in Europe. The artists behind the project collaborated to create artistic posters that challenged authority, especially top politicians, such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and large corporations.


Two days before the launch of the UN COP21 Climate Conference, 600 posters were installed in outdoor media spaces across Paris. 82 Artists from 19 different countries made artworks to challenge the corporate takeover of COP21 and to reveal the connections between advertising, the promotion of consumerism and climate change.
I can't help wonder what would have happened if we had taken to the streets of Singapore last Sunday? Or a group of artists had taken over bus shelters and other commercial spaces with fake photoshopped pictures of Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong and the iconic "No Planet B" statement? I bet, that it would have caused less attention than the latest MRT train delays, which saw thousands taking over social media to protest.


Unless, of course, if the activists and artists of my imagination would have ended up in jail for disturbing public order, vandalising public and private property and insulting the government. Which, looking back at recent local examples, is quite likely.


New York, Paris, Melbourne, Jakarta and the rest of the world, well done for rising up towards the global challenges. Sorry that the Lion City let you down. I'm still hopeful that the people of this wonderful little country will grow back some teeth and protect the planet... one day. 

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