MCYS-sponsored youth platform launches with a bang

Posted on 28 September 2011

But is their objective neutral?

By Fang Shihan

Conspiracy theorists – start stretching your fingers. This one’s right up your alley.

A group of 24 young people, headed by one 22-year old Soh Yida, who’s also the President of the NUS Student’s Political Association, launched a “ground-up, youth-initiated platform to BE THE CHANGE!” last Saturday. New Nation was kindly invited to the media briefing a few days before.

The group, armed with doe-eyed hope, funky fonts and MCYS support, aims to help Singapore’s youth translate their ideas into reality. How? By providing extensive networking channels and opportunities as well as mentoring.

And as with anything that involves the government in Singapore, questions of the organization’s integrity are bound to arise. Is the movement just another feedback channel for MCYS? Is the ruling party planning to use the movement to recruit young PAP ‘activists’?

Unfortunately for you trolls out there, this dreamy bunch does seem to be independent.

Sure, the launch involved an opening address by former Chief of Army Mr Chan Chun Sing. And sure, the media release smelt like just another government press release with words like “feedback”, “engagement” and “platform” on the factsheet alongside references to a national agenda.

But when I asked the group about its opinion on political activism, it was quick to deny any ulterior government motive. Obviously this wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the conspiracy theorists. But how about this: Be The Change! wants to be THE platform for youth engagement, to the extent that touchy issues such as the Internal Security Act and the Mandatory Death Penalty could likely emerge as topics of discussion during its meetings.

It’s quite simply really. Be The Change isn’t the only space for young people to network to get stuff done. Or in more academic-speak, to gain social capital. There’s BarCamp – a series of unconferences and presentations held over one weekend for people to bounce ideas around; there’s City Harvest Church for the young, hip and God-loving to form little groups to do good things; there’s also various smaller meetup groups that do quirky things from watching trains to flying toy helicopters.

Be The Change is fighting among these groups to get the attention of young people. Naturally, it would make sense to be inclusive rather than exclusive. A group that claims to represent the youth, but rejects any mention or discussion of topics sensitive to the powers that be, will only appear disingenuous.

The problem with Be The Change doesn’t lie with the MCYS shadow looming over its shoulder. This bunch clearly, are genuine in their intentions to help other youth realize their dreams.

The problem lies in them sorely lacking in street cred.

It’s like the nerdy kid in class coming up with a brilliant plan for all the other kids in class. Except that everyone’s ignoring him because, well, he’s the nerd.

When it comes to youth, the hero runs the show. And the quickest way to be a hero is to stick it to the man. Now, sticking it doesn’t mean rioting or rebelling. It is the simple act of defiance against a clearly defined authority.

Be The Change! may come with an exclamation mark at the end but they do not immediately seem to want to challenge the status quo. When asked about their stance on a hypothetical idea of staging a gay pride march, the group again, was quick to deny any rejection of the idea, but said that the onus lay on the person himself (or herself) to make full use of the platform to make it happen.

“How hard would you fight for my idea?” I asked.

And their reply? They’re just providing the platform.

Now does that smell of non-hero or what.? And while that’s a great way to escape any hairy situations that could possibly occur in future, that message certainly isn’t going to galvanize mass support among the youth of today.

Sure, change could happen. A herbal garden in some heartland could be established because of the unconferences; the cat welfare society may finally gain traction to stop the random culling of cats and so forth. But that’s hardly change of any major significance.

Be The Change! suffers from a simple case of a being slightly delusional about their role among the youth. Playing it safe is hardly synonymous with groundbreaking social change.

Plus, in a country where most youth have been criticized for being apathetic, a passive target population and a peace-lovin’ let’s-just-talk-about-it-and-see-where-it-goes organization cannot possibly generate any movement worth shouting about. 

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  • Mary-Anne Lee

    I may have gone to primary school with this Soh Yida. hmm.

    Good article. Concisely pinpoints and picks at the movement’s flaw.