May 10, 2009

020509 the sound of one hand clapping

~3000 pax X 1 h = ~3000 (wo)man-hours later, the new exco finally relented & proceeded directly to item 3 of the agenda. Their legal counsel's opinion that the new exco is not legally bound by a vote of no confidence to resign was shot down by one of the female lawyers in the audience (was it Halijah Mohamad, former Vice-President of AWARE?), who pointed out that whatever he said was merely legal advice subject to the final verdict of a judge in a court of law (or words to this effect). This would be reiterated by another female lawyer in the audience (was it Poonam Mirchandani, founder of AWARE's legal clinic?) later in the EGM. For some unknown reason, the vote of no confidence was split into 3 parts:

3a. The Exco has lost mandate/confidence of the members of the Society because it has not acted or is acting in the best interest of the society.

3b. The Exco has lost mandate/confidence of the members of the Society because they do not appreciate or share the values of the society.

3c. The Exco has lost mandate/confidence of the members of the Society because they does not have requisite experience of carrying out the society's work or are otherwise inadequate to further the society's objectives.

Who was behind this split, & why? Was it the new exco hoping to argue that as long as the results for 1 out of the 3 clauses were in their favour, overall victory would be theirs? &/or yet another tactic to delay the proceedings? According to the old guard, the new exco had refused to meet with them to discuss any part of conducting this EGM. The old guard proposed that all 3 clauses be taken as a single vote, but this was flatly rejected by the new exco, & so the amount of paper, ink & time to print, mark & count the votes was effectively tripled. Add on additional airconditioning & lighting energy costs as the EGM went into 4.5h of extra time = minus 300 green points for environmental unfriendliness!

3 half-A4-sized pieces of paper, each requiring one single tick. TWENTY minutes for the new exco to explain the voting process & that 'if you want the current exco to stay, please tick NO'. & explain the voting process & that 'if you want the current exco to stay, please tick NO'. & explain the voting process & that 'if you want the current exco to stay, please tick NO'. Unfortunately for the new exco, most of the audience was not interested in being hypnotised. Instead, a long queue had built up for the lone microphone on the floor that showed intermittent signs of being alive.

What ensued has been described by many as a merciless shelling of the new exco by the old guard & their supporters, with the former denied of their right to reply time & again. To the cat, it seemed very much a simple case of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' - silence others by switching off their microphones, & they will silence you. After all, you are dealing with people who believe in & are fighting for equality. Plus, as many have pointed out, the new exco had had an entire month since taking office to speak up, engage the old guard, AWARE members & the public & make themselves clear on where precisely they stand on various issues...but nothing had been forthcoming. Mutual respect could have gone a long way, but it takes two paws to, the new exco showed that the result of their experiment with the Zen Buddhist koan of 'what is the sound of one hand clapping?' was clearly the resounding *PIAK* of a slap on their own face ;)

As the afternoon wore on, it became evident that giving the new exco less time to speak actually benefited them plenty. It allowed them to escape answering some rather tough questions, avoid stating for the record each individual exco member's stance on issues pertaining to lesbianism & transgenders, & dodge repeated queries on expenditure, among others. The more they spoke (when they could), the more they revealed of their weaknesses, inexperience, unfamiliarity & lack of basic understanding of the work of AWARE, its constitution, the non-corporate culture & 'decision-making by consensus' approach of NGOs, fundamental tenets of social work practice & SOPs of helping vulnerable women in distress, the concept of feminism & gender equality, religious & sexual diversity, the nature of research (the 'RE' in AWARE) & balanced citation of credible sources...providing even more ammunition for the old guard & their supporters. Not that they really needed it anyway, since the new exco was already doing a decent job of shooting itself in the foot.

The cat was not comfortable with the jeering, be it from the pro-old guard camp or the FM Thio fan club beside it (unlike most of the rest from COOS, they did jeer too). Here it must be noted that during the EGM, the We Are AWARE camp sent out mass SMSes saying 'Stay calm & be dignified' to supporters who had earlier registered their handphone numbers with them. The interesting thing was how, despite the litany of attacks from the new exco on her reputation & capabilities (& mispronounciation of her name), both in the press & during the EGM, Braema Mathi was perhaps the most active among the We Are AWARE camp in signaling to the audience to stop jeering so that the new exco could be heard. Time & again, the cat would see her & a few others in We Are AWARE T-shirts standing up & turning around to face the audience, sometimes walking down the aisles, & raising their hands to quell the jeering. Braema also delivered one of the best lines of the night - My reputation is being put on the line and I don't like it, but I will not follow the examples of leaders and launch defamation lawsuits against you!

When they did get to speak, the new exco didn't appear to have much to say, nor an interest in answering to the point. Their standard response was to refer to the legal counsel, bark at the audience to SIT DOWN, signal for the floor microphone to be switched off so that questions were cut off, threaten the audience with forcible eviction from the hall by auxillary police, beat around the bush, or call on puppetmaster FM Thio to speak for them. It was strange & also kinda sad to see a group of highly educated women, supposedly rather accomplished in their respective fields, sit there as mindless puppets, unable to say anything intelligent or credible in their own defence...maciam tio kong tao (like under the spell/possession of a spirit).

May 06, 2009

020509 stand up & be heard...

only to be ordered by the new exco to shut up & sit down...

For a moment, Sally Ang made us feel like we were back in kindergarten ;)

Click here for part 1

A group of ladies quickly moved in to grab the seats to the right of the flower-less & badge-less cat when the original occupants shifted elsewhere. One introduced herself to the cat as a new member who joined just before the last AGM & voted in it, 'so you should know where I'm from' (in her own words)...In contrast to other people's accounts of pro-new exco supporters describing them as quiet, calm & dignified, this bunch stood up & screamed & clapped wildly whenever the new exco spoke, & their loudest screams & cheers were reserved for FM Thio.

Things got a little nasty when Ms YouKnowWhereI'mFrom kept screaming into the ears of three ladies directly in front of her...when they turned back to tell her that her screaming was hurting their ears, she saw their We Are AWARE badges & shrieked back at them SO? I CAN DO WHAT I WANT!...For the rest of the afternoon & evening, she would lean forward & scream into the ears of those three whenever she could. The cat could only hope that one day Pastor Derek Hong will teach her that being a child of God doesn't literally mean being childish ;) Whenever she & her group caught sight of Leona Lo, who was seated a couple of rows in front of us, rather unkind comments about 'ah kua' were made. Interesting how some people who say that their God is loving can be filled with so much hatred & bigotry. In a hall where the majority was pro-old guard, the cat had to end up seated right next to the FM Thio fan club...Beanz, who had also turned up alone, was more fortunate. According to her the supporters from COOS next her behaved a lot more maturely. There are both black & white sheep in any shepherd's flock.

Before the EGM could begin, the new exco demanded that NMP Siew leave the 'nice chairs' section. When he refused (Acidflask has awarded him the Best Rosa Parks tribute for refusing to budge :P), the new exco called for him to be removed by the AETOS auxillary police. He & the old guard tried to explain that he was there as legal advisor for the old guard - & at this point it was discovered that the new exco had instructed Ape Communications to keep all microphones on the floor turned off, so that only the new exco on stage could speak. People called out for the microphones to be turned on, but new exco flatly refused. This was when the audience started to get agitated, & how the shouting started (it was the only way those off the stage could make themselves heard), when people realised that they were actively being silenced, & any remnant of hope for a level playing field vanished. The new exco's response was to threaten those who shouted in order to be heard with forced removal by the auxillary police.

The microphones were turned on only after the old guard insisted that the legal counsel be consulted, & Gregory Vijayendran from Rajah & Tann spoke in favour of the old guard - that all microphones should be left switched on. For a moment, the cat felt that perhaps there was still hope for a more even exchange. However, for the rest of the EGM, all microphones on the floor, save for one right at the front, remained dead. The new exco also set the rule that everyone could only speak once, & for a maximum of 3 minutes, on top of other rules such as no flash photography, no audio or video recording, etc. Lagi bestest, the new exco continued to signal to Ape Communications to turn off the one remaining microphone on the floor so that people could not speak, or were cut off in mid-speech, especially when questions pertaining to the new exco's stand on issues related to homosexuality & transgenders were raised. Things might have taken a different turn had the new exco not denied the audience their right to speak in the first place, but the new exco never gave us a chance to find out.

The new exco flashed a powerpoint slide detailing the agenda for today's EGM, saying that it had already been distributed to all members, contrary to an article in today's Straits Times reporting that the new exco had refused to answer queries from the old guard with regards to the EGM agenda. With the EGM starting 40min late, & 'requisition for EGM' listed as item 3 on the agenda, there were fears that the new exco would seek to stall for time & drag their feet, & then call the EGM to a close at 5PM sharp, so that voting could not be carried out today, wasting the time of 3000 people. These fears seemed to be confirmed as Josie Lau started on a lengthy address + powerpoint presentation highlighting the various achievements of AWARE, with no mention that it was 100% the work of the old guard. The pro-old guard camp was naturally indignant at what seemed like an attempt by a month-old exco comprised of new members to claim credit for the old guard's 24 years of tireless effort & personal sacrifice. Those familiar with AWARE's work found it ridiculous for a bunch of newbies to lecture them & the old guard on what AWARE is about, the history of AWARE, etc. The lack of speed at which Josie Lau spoke didn't help one bit. Points of order to bring forward item 3 to the top of the agenda were repeatedly made - the microphones were still being switched off whenever anyone from the floor tried to speak - & repeatedly ignored. The audience decided that it had had enough of such high-handed tactics, & it was no holds barred jeering from then on, in order to force Josie Lau into cutting short her interminable address.

& then came the incident that turned the audience from irate to incensed - when Margeret Thomas told Josie Lau that her 3 minutes to speak was up, Sally Ang yelled back SHUT UP & SIT DOWN...& because the new exco's microphones were switched on, it was heard loud & clear by all & recorded for posterity on handphones, digital cameras & video cameras for uploading onto youtube (more than 3800 views so far) & posting on websites & blogs, & twittered to the world beyond Suntec City Convention Halls 402 & 403. Kudos to Josie Lau for keeping calm & apologising for the behaviour of her exco member, but what people wanted was for Sally Ang herself to apologise for her outburst...which she grudgingly did later, & not without rebuking the audience once more.

May 05, 2009

020509 calm before the storm

12:32 made it up to level 4, queue for existing members kept growing on level 3...


...even though the queue moved pretty quickly:


Incredible how quiet & orderly a queue can be in Singapore - all kept in line as the queue zigzagged in the space on the left on level 4:


Registration was a breeze as all it took for existing members was to have our NRICs scanned, & sign in...the speed & ease at which so much of our info & particulars can be captured & accessed was a little unnerving. 50min after the first photo was taken, when the cat had finished registering + having its bag checked by security + finding a seat inside the hall, the queue at level 3 was still growing:


Quite a few guys couldn't believe their eyes. One of them shouted at us, 'Ladies, there is NO sale!' Guess he has never met females like the cat who are homozygous recessive for the shopping phenotype. About 3 female PRC employees of a Chinese restaurant, armed with laminated menus, took advantage of the captive audience & tried approaching people in the queue to advertise their restaurant. Their presence highlighted to the cat how for once, it was standing in a crowd that was overwhelmingly majority Singaporean, something it rarely experiences nowadays (but nope, the cat has no interest in joining SAF for the chance to experience this).

Knowing women well, the pro-old guard team was prepared for the fact that some who want to stand up & be counted might be intimidated by the prospect of being surrounded by people from the other camp...especially when quite a few of the pro-old guard supporters would be turning up alone, united by a common cause...instead of being ferried in by the busload, directed by a common instruction (as the pro-new exco camp was alleged to be planning to do). Hence volunteer ushers wearing We Are AWARE T-shirts to identify themselves, so that old guard supporters could approach them & be introduced to fellow likeminded lone rangers, & the We Are AWARE handouts, badges & flowers that allowed those sharing a common purpose to identify one another & sit together. Like MUI, the cat didn't pick up any - it had already read the PDF version of the handouts online, better to spare one set of stuff for others in case there weren't enough to go around. Mass SMSes were also sent to those who'd registered their mobile phone numbers with We Are AWARE, to welcome us to the EGM, clarify which voting forms to fill out (two of the five were not used), & remind us to keep calm when things got heated up.

We Are AWARE sign from the handouts (many who didn't get one earlier hunted around the empty seats post-EGM & karang guni-ed the few we could find as souvenirs), PDF printout of EGM info from the We Are AWARE site, & unused voting slip (this item was scrapped from the agenda):


Some of the pro-old guard We Are AWARE team:


Many men (four in above photo) of all races volunteered for their cause as ushers & runners, directing people to the correct queues, answering queries, distributing info, badges, flowers, water, sandwiches & curry puffs, relaying messages to people at the back of the queue about the voting slips that they had to collect, etc. Mark Goh & NMP Siew Kum Hong helped out as legal counsels for the old guard (pro bono - much cheaper than Rajah & Tann).

There were also guys joining as associate members, encouraging their women partners & friends to join, turn up & vote, publicising the issue on blogs & facebook, raising questions for the new exco, speaking in support of the old AWARE's programmes, helping to cover the event by camera & video, updating the outside world via SMS/twitter/live-blogging/etc when the press was shut out by the new exco, keeping friends & partners company in the queue, & helping them get food & drink when they had to spend lunchtime queueing & the EGM lasted way past dinnertime till ~21:30. Many more men & women helped behind the scenes by taking care of things at home/work for those who'd turned up to vote, driving them to & from the venue, & keeping those within the hall updated on what the press was reporting to the outside world.

First time experiencing such segregation, thanks to arrangements made by the new exco - life/ordinary members-only section with nicer chairs & projector screens:


Associate members (all male + non-citizen/PR female + below 18 y/o members) section with plastic chairs:


Says something about the new exco's interpretation of the term equality. People like them give feminism a bad name. If you think yourself equal to men, treat them equally - give them nicer chairs too ;) Plus projector screens - associate members (both men & women) should be able to follow the entire proceedings too.

Before the new exco would allow the EGM to begin, they ordered all guys out of the 'nice chairs' section...thought gender segregation in secular space happened only in places like public toilets & females-only train carriages in Japanese subways? If all voting could only be conducted by secret ballot as the new exco insisted, & not by a show of hands, why shouldn't associate members be allowed to sit together with ordinary members? As pointed out when the new exco tried to evict NMP Siew from the 'nice chairs' area, in past AGMs everyone was seated together. Strangely, a few seats away from the cat in the 'nice chairs' section, a guy associate member & supporter of the new exco was somehow allowed to stay put throughout. As noted by misshallelujah, one of the first things the old guard did after the new exco left was to invite all from the plastic chairs section to join everyone else in the 'nice chairs' section.

May 03, 2009

020509 in with the old, out with the new

so that we may regain our secular common space:


Upper right & bottom left of above photo enlarged...

Newly elected:


Newly resigned:


News gets old so rapidly...