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).

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