The past one month had been a tough one for Gilbert Goh. I’d meet with him occasionally to chat about the May Day protest at Hong Lim Park because I wanted to give him my personal support and encouragement. I know personally that organising such an event takes a huge amount of work – and you also have to deal with high expectations from the public. This is especially so, following the very successful first event.
We both didn’t quite know what to expect, really. We were talking of – at the most – perhaps a thousand people turning up for this second protest. So, you can imagine our surprise when some 5,000 or so showed up on Wednesday.
I am personally very happy for Gilbert because he went through quite a bit before the event.
First, there were the criticisms, even from some in civil society, of him being supposedly xenophobic. This particularly disappointed and saddened me because I’ve always felt that we in civil society should stand together in such times, seeing how hard it is for each of us as it is to try and do what we do. In any case, I think that accusation of xenophbia should now be put to rest.
Gilbert also faced extra pressure from Nparks which, quite inexplicably, insisted on him applying for a police permit for the event because, Nparks said, a permit was needed if foreigners were involved. And even after Gilbert told them that no foreigners would be involved, Nparks still insisted on him applying for a permit. In the end, Gilbert decided not to comply. And he is right not to as the rules of Speakers’ Corner do not require him to.
And then there was the Commissioner of Charities who is enquiring into the accounts of transitioning.org, and a media which constantly was hounding him for news and updates.
Besides having to deal with these things, Gilbert was also the target of malicious online and offline smears and rumours about his personal life.
I am thus proud to see how maturely Gilbert dealt with all these – and doing so under such pressure.
Too often we expect saints of those around us. That they must be whiter than white, and cleaner than a whistle.
Gilbert is not perfect, he indeed may be a “flawed character” but only insofar as none of us – none – is a “perfect character”.
More importantly, with the state of civil society as it is in Singapore at the moment, I’d rather have someone like Gilbert – with whatever flaws he may have – than not to have him at all, championing causes, and sticking his neck out so the rest of us can have a platform to express ourselves.
Most of us do not see the emails and messages and phone calls Gilbert receives from those who appreciate his efforts. He receives hundreds of these after each event. And these are from people – Singaporeans – who have found a voice in Gilbert. And when you are down in the dumps, sometimes a voice is the only hope you have.
So, cut Gilbert some slack, those of you who feel he is not good enough, or do not live up to your expectations. He is trying. Better to leave him a private note than to rage against him publicly.
It is not an easy thing to do, to stand out there in the spotlight and speak for what you believe – especially not in this country with a government which is prone to using all sorts of tactics to deal with those it disapproves of, as we all have seen these past months.
Kudos to Gilbert and his team of volunteers for their courage in giving us all a voice.