Activism Amidst Crisis

We live amidst crises: The fast moving and lethal COVID-19 pandemic; the slow moving but ultimately, even more lethal climate crisis; the crisis in neoliberal capitalism, which has created massive inequality between rich and poor; the crisis in liberal democracy, which has created illiberal outcomes; the crisis in nationalism, which has sown massive conflict globally. How do activists cope with these complicated and interwoven crises to fight for a better world? How do they develop solidarity? How can they unpack and challenge the fundamental assumptions which underpin the modern world? The “Activism in Crisis” online conference sought to discuss all these questions and more. Two of the organisers, Tim Min Jie and Suraendher Kumarr, join PJ Thum and Sean Francis Han (WakeUp Singapore) to discuss these and also the challenge of organising an online conference while making it fully accessible to people of very different abilities and needs.

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This episode is a collaboration with Wake Up Singapore. You can find out more about them online on their website, Facebook and Instagram.


1. Introductions

PJ: Hello everyone and welcome back to Political Agenda with me, PJ Thum. I am wearing a blue batik shirt, I am sitting around a table with three other people, and we are sitting in front of a map of Southeast Asia, and my pronouns are he / him. 

And joining me this week, as always, my co-host Sean Francis Han, editor-in-chief of Wake Up, Singapore. How are you today, Sean?

Sean: I am great, I am great! I am wearing like the cheapest maroon shirt that I could find at some thrift shop, thrift store somewhere, and my pronouns are similarly, he / him. (looks over to Min Jie and Kumarr)

And joining us today we have two guests from Activism in Crisis. Would you like to describe what you are wearing and what are the pronouns that you use? 

Min Jie: Hi! My name is Min Jie, I use she / her pronouns and today I am dressed in a black dress with like a red flower on the left side of it and with a collar.

Kumarr: Hi! I am Kumarr, one of the organizers of Activism in Crisis, and I am currently wearing a blue batik top, and my pronouns are he / him.

Sean: Nice! 

PJ: I am delighted someone else is wearing batik. Fantastic! And yesterday of course, was Hari Batik in Indonesia. I think they call it Hari Batik Indonesia. But batik for me is more than that. It is not just Indonesian. It is Malayan, it is Southeast Asian, Nusantaran. So I like to just call it Hari Batik, and I am very glad you are wearing. (extends his right hand and looks at his watch) Ya, yesterday, Friday, the 2nd of October Hari Batik. Anyway, Sean please, take us away.

2. Introduction about Activism in Crisis

Sean: So, today we have got two guests from Activism in Crisis. They are looking at talking, discussing, really analyzing the intersections between labor, the ecology, and right now Covid-19 in general. So I mean ecology is something that I have been waiting to get into for a long time. We have interviewed activists from all different walks of life, from all different corners of activism, and this is the first time that we are getting into ecology, so I am really excited to get started. So, Kumarr can I direct the question to you? What is AIC? Can you tell us a sort of brief summary, what you guys are.

Kumarr: So like AIC stands for Activism in Crisis and it is what it is. It is how do we organize ourselves, how do we advocate for social change, for social justice, during moments of crisis. Now, the term “crisis” is interesting because right now when we say crisis, we mean Covid, we mean climate change. But there are people who have been living in crisis for a very very long time. It is what we consider everyday life for some of us, it is crisis mode for a lot of people. Whether it is because of their identity, whether it is because of their class position, that is a moment of crisis. So Activism in Crisis was opportunistic, in a way, because we are looking at the language of crisis, to mobilize and say like, look, okay, to take stock of what we are doing as activists in different issue areas, questioning certain theories of activism like pragmatic resistance, but also looking back and realizing for us to call this a crisis, and for us to say that this is activism in crisis, it is a pretty privileged position. There are people who are just, they cannot, they have to be activists because they have to survive because if they do not, then they get hurt, their friends get hurt, and that is what Activism in Crisis was about. To really take stock of what was being done, and to recognize what do we need going forward, and what we need in this moment of crisis, and how do we also include other crises. 

PJ: So it is a sort of double meaning, you are talking about activism itself being in a state of crisis, but also activism during a state of crisis and the necessity of activism during the crisis. Great! That is really interesting. 

Sean: So Min Jie, how did everything sort of get started? How did you guys come up with this idea of doing a conference, getting that discussion going, what was the thought behind that?

Min Jie: Honestly I was only brought in at the later part of it so I am not exactly clear how it started originally, but when I was approached I think the team, what they told me is that they really wanted to have, to bring intersectional perspectives and also exploring the idea of accessible conference. And I thought that was really interesting and something that is really under-explored in the way that we have structured conferences for a very long time. So ya, that was what was told to me, and that was a vision that I felt I resonated strongly with it, that is why I went on to it, but I think Kumarr has more to say about how it started originally.

Kumarr(smiles) Actually it is strange because I did not start it either, I was asked to come in later, and I think it was Singapore Climate Rally. I think if I am not wrong I think they were the ones because I was invited by a representative from there, and they said that actually initially it was supposed to be kind of like Apa Itu Acvitist, that was like the reference point, but more rooted in climate justice and climate change and truth be told, I was not an environmentalist until AIC. Like I would not confidently say that I am an environmentalist. I do not even know whether I would say that now, but I am more concerned about climate change, I am more educated in how it is interlinked and I think it was a great initiative to sort of bring not just climate activists into climate activism, but to bring in labor, because I was more involved with migrant labor issues and student activism in general and then there were people who were also involved with activism issues like mental health and disability and also gender and queer issues so I think I was very drawn to that idea, how they wanted to center it in that kind of rootedness. I mean like, there is no point fighting for justice if there is no planet right. I mean there will be a planet, whether it is habitable is another question.

Sean: So Min Jie, Activism in Crisis did a series of conference, a series of workshops, programs, talks and things like that, that took place in August. So can you tell us about the unique circumstances of organizing a conference in these Covid times over Zoom, on a completely online level. What was that like, and what was the response? How did you think people took it? What do you think they took away? 

Min Jie: I think before even AIC started, there is a lot of fear within environmental groups circles and other friends who are working on other issues that we are just going to go back to normal right, and we are not going to have the conversations that we need, because the Covid has evidently exposed a lot of systemic inequalities that already existed in our society but at the same time we see the government seems to be just desperate to return to what is normal with the emerging task force coming out and looking at the composition of who is in the emerging task force, it is mainly big businesses, you have big oil, you have the aviation industry etc and you do not really have a lot of representative in civil society or the NGO sector even though so many issues were exposed during Covid, and so there was a lot of fear, I think, within these spaces that we are just going to ignore all these issues and just go back to things. I think that was the time period of what motivated us to want to start this as well. Sorry what is the…

Organising Activism in Crisis

Sean: But the Zoom conference though, that is to me the very interesting thing because I think some Zoom conferences that I have seen, they have been extremely successful, they have been very engaging, but I think on the whole they do tend to feel a difficulty in connecting. There is just that face-to-face element that is lost. So what was your experience hosting an online conference? 

Min Jie(pause) That definitely is a very new situation to be in. But I think it surprised me in the kind of interactions that resulted from it. I think partly also because it was not just a Zoom conference. We wanted to build community and we wanted to start this community before the AIC event started so that is how we created the Slack channels, we invited people into the space earlier so that we can have connections, and we start building that relationship, after which, I think that space has been very helpful in maintaining that kind of interaction.

Sean: So maybe could you share with us one of the most noteworthy, the most, the one thing that really affected you throughout the conference? Was there like one thing that happened that really made it worth it? Somebody took away something that was an amazing sudden emergence of a new idea? Or something like one noteworthy thing from the conference?

Min Jie: So I think personally for me because I was mostly focused on how to make this an accessible conference, one of the things that really impacted me was how as we were centering accessibility in the conference, people were starting to hold us accountable to it. In the feedback form that we passed around, people would ask us things, would tell us things like, okay there was too much jargon in this event, it was going at a pace that I could not keep up with, and I really loved to see that, and people were holding us accountable to it, and because we centered it in the first place, people felt that they can voice (these things) out.

I think one of the things that really was like “wow” to me was one of the feedback that we got. Because there were quite a lot of comments about the sign interpreter. There were some comments about “Oh they did such a great job”, “their facial expressions were so expressive”. There was one feedback that we got from a disability researcher who mentioned that these kinds of comments can be quite harmful because it is saying, that it is giving the impression that sign interpretation is like a entertainment rather than providing (for) a genuine access needs. And if you are a person without a disability, are you in a position to actually comment on how good the sign interpretation is? And I thought that was one of the most memorable time for me, because I never ever thought of that. I think that really showed my ignorance and in some ways, my complicity this ableist culture. 

Sean: But I have to say, I think, I would see that as a massive success, because that is sort of the point there. Coming from someone who does some talks and discussions, conferences on academic topics, it is very hard to get people to hold you accountable. There is that sense in which people just come there and they are like, put information in my brain. And they are just gonna sit there and take it. But to get them to engage and to critique and feel like they have a part in that, I need to take notes from you on how to do that, because I cannot seem to get it.

PJ: I think actually there is a lesson there also, when we think about broader society and politics, because very often we do not hold our own government accountable for certain things. And we say well that is actually not important or it is not something that we care about when actually what it is, is this is a government which does not care about those things. And that is why we have learnt not to hold them accountable for it because what is the point. So you do not even think about it. But basic issues of rights, the government, this government, the PAP government does not care about those. It does not regard Singaporeans as actually having rights, only privileges. And so when they do not respect the rights that we do have, we do not hold them accountable. And then people say “Oh Singaporeans are apathetic, apolitical”, when actually the causality could be just as well the other way around. If a government does not respect rights, people over time stop trying to fight for rights because they know that they cannot do anything about it, and then you cannot blame the people for then giving up on that. So I think there is actually a very powerful lesson there when we think about how do we change the situation in Singapore, how do we actually change our political culture. It cannot be one way.

Kumarr: Can I add to that? Because the culture of accountability, in my opinion, was really possible because there was a lot of effort and labor that went into creating that space. People feel comfortable to critique their own friends, to critique people that they love, but also to do that equally as well with people who they do not know, and so on, and I think that is something that we can, I mean it is not to say that we did it well, I think it was a good direction, I am sure there are a lot of other spaces that do this much better than us or do it in another degree but it is that kind of culture that we also need among activists, to hold each other accountable and to discard some language that we have in the current system that is also responsible for our climate crisis. They are very extractive, it is very extractive and it is rooted in some sort of need for retribution. Like if you did wrong, like an eye for an eye, so to say, but there is not this idea of restoration, as to how as a community we can grow, and we can heal, so the language is important. We are talking about accountability, we are talking about healing, rather than for example if somebody does say something I mean if somebody does something that is ableist, we do not ban them from the thing or we do not shame them. We try to, because we invited people into this space because we trusted them because we were trying to create this sense of community, there is this idea of restoration and I think that is kind of where I hope activism can go in terms of circles so that we do not kill ourselves. I think sometimes even among activists we tend to really have… I mean really basic standards right like, don’t say things that are sexist, do not misgender people and all that. But sometimes, I think, people just do not know better, and I think we could really afford to have this restorative justice aspect within our own circles and that is something I took away from AIC. There was a presentation on restorative justice, I found it very enlightening. 

PJ: If I can say so, I have been to a lot of conferences in my time and this was the most accessible, it was the most open, honest, self-aware, self-reflective conference. And what you all are doing is actually modeling a really positive space for civil society, for citizenship, for all of us. When you talk about this openness, what we are seeing not just in Singapore, but all around the world is political environments, civil spaces, for citizens which are full of fear, fear of critique because it is a system which is winner-take-all, which is very much amplified in systems like Singapore’s, where you have the first-past-the-post and one party gets all the power and there is only one level of power so it is really winner take all. And this creates, And of course, you have a government which is notoriously thin-skinned and fearful of criticism, and, to me, not very self-aware, and especially not self-reflective. So what you are actually doing is not just modeling something for activism, you are modeling something for Singapore as a whole, to show that constructive and very positive outcomes can come from a system which is very honest and open and reflective, where people do not have this fear of criticism. What if every time someone told me “PJ you should not say that because it is ableist or something”, I took that as an opportunity to learn and be better, not as a criticism of my self-worth because and a lot of that was because all of you were doing that and I learned from all of you, even though all of you are 15, 20 years younger. I felt so impressed and amazed by what I was seeing. And people older than me were also picking up on this and learning and adapting their behavior. People in their 60s and everyone was creating such a constructive environment so I just want to congratulate all of you because I think it was a fantastic environment but also you have really shown that there is a strong powerful alternative to our political, civil, sort of, an arena of discourse. And I hope we as a society can learn from what you’ve done and improve on it.

Labour and intersectionality  

Sean: So anyway I want to bring it back to Kumarr. So earlier we were talking about your interest in labor, labor rights, migrant workers rights, and you wanted to get that conversation going to import their views, their ideas, their perspectives. Were you able to do that in this conference? And what were the manifestations of that?

Kumarr: So the way we organized each program / module, so it was about 11 or 15 of us, I think, in the organizing team and there was a smaller team from there that we crafted. Actually no, first we had the big team and then we had all these ideas as to like, okay what do we feel is necessary what are some modules that we want to do. “Modules”, “programs”, I’m going to use that interchangeably. So modules that we want to do and then we had a smaller team to really narrow down on what it could be. We tried to narrow it down to a month-long festival and what came out of that was then people were organized according to programs and they decided to fill their own speakers. And we had meetings every week to discuss who the speakers are, what our progress was, and the discussion was good because we were consciously aware of exclusions in the different modules and programs. It varies, but I think the good thing is that we brought in a lot of discussion on labor unions. So if I can shout out to Diana Rahim. Her presentation on the first event which I moderated was called “More than Tweaks, Alternative Visions for Singapore”. We wanted to start from there because we want to start from a position of dreaming first, really dreaming about what are our goals, what are our objectives, what are some visions that we can mobilize around and then at the very end, we talk about strategies.

So Diana Rahim’s one was interesting in that. It is counterintuitive. She says that we want a world, we want a Singapore, a world, where the word “activist” does not need to exist, because we are all doing it, we are all involved and so on. And I really resonated with that because also recent literature I have been reading about the idea that there is a difference between activism and organizing and advocacy and all that and activism tends to suggest there is this sort of minority elite or a privileged few who are like just trying to fight for social change because the rest cannot because they are too busy with their daily lives and all that. That is not necessarily true because there are a lot of people who are activists because they have no choice but I really hope we can move to a world where we are organizers and we are all organizers and we are all trying to build collective movements, rather than a single or one or two activists going out and trying to get some sort of change. And in her presentation she talked a lot about the need to have independent labor unions and that is something that we do not talk about much in Singapore about labor unions. So for example even when we talk about inequality we talk a lot about high SES, low SES and that is something I think the government has done a good job in. They really went in and then they said okay, inequality between wage, wage labor between wage workers there is high income earners and low income earners but we do not talk about inter-class inequality, we do not talk about in each company, how is your investor doing versus how many workers were laid off we do not have that kind of rhetoric, you do not have that kind of discussion, so those were some things that came up and in terms of labor. I think one thing I regret, or not regret, but I think one thing we could not really do was involve more migrant workers in the conference. And that is not stopping us from organizing more conferences about that but migrant work, migrant labor did come in a lot in conferences about solidarity across borders and so on and so forth so labor was always there. And I think something to echo something Min Jie has said in another panel before, the climate movement has to be the labor movement. One climate movement can only be successful if it has critical mass and the critical mass is in the working class, is in the workforce and the other thing is that our workers who are in industries that are pollutive, that are really standing in the way of reducing emissions, they are gonna feel that that you are going after their jobs and whatever. But that need not be the case. That is why we talk about transitioning. That is why SGCR, I think after AIC has at least two statements so far with SIA workers. The first thing they said was “We stand with workers”. And now with the recent Jurong Island incident where an Indian national was killed. I was not (sure) he died because of toxic gas poisoning actually we do not really know what was it about poisonous gas and… there were three other workers that were injured. Jurong island is super opaque. Nobody knows what really goes on and that was another thing that came up in big oil, but the first thing SGCR did was like “We stand in solidarity with workers”. I think other groups like Speak for Climate as well. A lot of these, I think we are seeing a climate movement that is becoming more and more labor-centric, more and more labor focused and that is something to be celebrated. 

Sean: So I love that sort of theoretical foundation that you have, bringing labor into the discussion about ecology. But I want to ask Min Jie now, there is also a strong focus that AIC has on intersectionality. So what is the benefit? What is the importance of this concept when discussing the ecological movement?

Min Jie: I think it is something that we cannot avoid if you really look at climate justice and what it really means. I think just the basic fact that climate change is going to affect the most marginalized people, it is going to exacerbate existing inequalities that in and of itself is already a call for us to look into intersectionality.

On an international level, when you look at climate change, I think, it is hard for us to just look in Singapore, I think it forces us to look internationally because it is a global problem. And I think understanding the position of Singapore in this global landscape of, how oftentimes we are the one that are contributing to the climate crisis rather than suffering from it and understanding the accountability that we have to communities overseas. For instance, if you just look at the simple issue of sand mining, that in and of itself, already forces us to look at intersectionality, because communities overseas like farmers and everything are losing their land because of our thirst for development, our thirst for like this consumerist culture that we want to be in. And even the local banks in Singapore and how financially we have been such a big contributor to the climate crisis. I think the very international nature of the issue and how oftentimes power is the one that determines who is contributing and who is suffering. 

Sean: So it is a sort of lens that helps you unpack who are the people, what are their unique subject positions that makes them either the contributor or the sufferer of that issue and I think that is a very important thing.

Overcoming nationalism

PJ: Can I pick up on something that both of you said and that actually I am very interested in. One of the failures of the previous era of socialism was that it was unable to overcome nationalism. And nationalism defined broadly in the sense of it could be intra-state nationalism like ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural groups or states and what we are seeing today again is that, for example, when we talk about labor, labor solidarity between working class groups across different language, race, but also in different countries should be a lot stronger but instead what we are seeing is that nationalism is trumping that and people are hostile to workers from other places. Even though really those are the same people they should have solidarity with. And I know you had a panel called “Solidarity Beyond Borders” and most of them talk about intersectionality. Were there any key takeaways from this? Any insights as to this conflict between what is fundamentally a… you know nation is a constructed, it is an imaginary thing. It is in a sort of value neutral sense of the word “irrational”. Not to say it is necessarily bad, but it is not rooted in an objective reality, but rather an imagined and constructed one. How on earth do we overcome this? Any insights from your conference? I am very curious. 

Kumarr: In our conference I think we had a lot of discussion that ended up talking about… I mean we talk about nations and all that, but then we talked about classes between nations and then there is this regional elite, there is a regional class of people who profit from a lot of this pollutive industries, from a lot of land grabs exploitation and all that and I think there was this sense that we need to build better networks regionally to discuss and to center it on labor because that is ultimately how it’s organized.

So that was my takeaway from it and there was this sense that, yes, we should do it more often but like. It is easier said than done. Like, how do we do it? Like you said, you accurately pointed out nationalism is so powerful and it is a very successful nation-building project in Singapore and it is really, it is in the way of any sort of labor movement from coming up because there is very little solidarity. You are more likely, I think, to get solidarity between low-wage migrant workers and maybe PMET workers in Singapore. But you are not gonna get PMET workers solidarity with each other migrants and locals, it is not going to happen. It is not going to happen yet. Because you have certain politicians who love really stoking that xenophobic fire and really missing the point. Because at the end of the day it is not the migrant worker who is taking your job; it is either a foreign investor or a local investor who is pitting you to two different classes together to fight for what is really basic needs survival.

And he, it is usually a “he”, he would be glad that the migrant worker and the local worker are fighting with each other and that they are just gonna go and kill themselves. This is intra-class warfare and it is really sad to see that.

And I think we need to work on questioning nationalism. There is a lot more research that needs to be done on how to dismantle nationalism. And I think, we need to practice solidarity. And I think in Singapore I feel like among civil society, the “Left”, whatever you want to call it, it is pretty divided here, I think, because there are some, they tend to be older activists who I think are very nativists, who can be very nativist and say that these foreigners shouldn’t have these jobs and all that. But that is not the point. Like you are missing the point. It is almost as if there is a scarcity of jobs and that these jobs, like, it is almost the investor is not even there. It is like, where is that in the discussion?

And that is also a subject of how I think the PAP government has… So when Teo You Yenn’s book came out “This is How Inequality Looks Like”, I felt that the reaction to that by the state was to come out and say regardless of class. Was it regardless of class? Regardless of something right, and it did not became high SES vs low SES and it just became among wage earners. It is really trying to keep it in that bubble. And when Chee Soon Juan says in a debate that, I mean, he did not say it actually, because Vivian Balakrishnan who came out to say that “my voters want to know, Dr Chee” and his voters are like Holland V, Bukit Timah, one of the richer, more affluent voting constituencies, my voters want to know like “Why does it cost them to pay for the poor?”. 

And I am just like, do you not realize that for decades the poor have been paying for a lot of what the rich has gained through labour exploitation, through cutting out welfare, through all these things and he does not understand it and he attacks Chee Soon Juan and says that “You are inciting class warfare …” like it is already being waged by an upper class against the lower class.

So it is just so much. I think it is really really hard to answer that question but I think it is very easy to be defeatist and say that to build this sort of class solidarity, working class solidarity, we need to sort of rely on something more than that, we need to rely on on our common ethnicity or find another some label but I really think, you just need to do more work and we need to figure out how to bring these things together. And what we are up against. We need to study the situation better. We need to talk to more people in the working class. Because honestly these frustrations are real. I do not think it is productive to go to somebody who is saying that like I lost my job to foreign… I do not think we should displace it. There is a genuine fear, there is a genuine anxiety, but understand that anxiety, and find out. Where this anxiety really should be placed? Is it misplaced? I think that is what we need to do. We need to have those conversations with people on the ground. 

Communicating the climate crisis

Sean: One question that I want to ask, on that note is, in my own personal conversations, talking to people and trying to get different perspectives, one of the things that I often end up hearing is that the ecological movement just does not strike a lot of people in an emotional and affective way. We talk about trans rights, we talk about labor rights, these are very immediate, very visual, very in-your-face problems, whereas the climate crisis is something that is a little bit more invisible, a little bit more hard to imagine, given the scale and the timeline that it operates on. So how do you bring that to people? How do you transform these ideas and show how they are absolutely critical and relevant for our time?

Kumarr: Directed to me? 

Sean: Both, I think both of you. Because I like how both of you are coming at it from a different perspective. You are coming from that labor perspective and Min Jie is coming from this more theoretical, organizational level so I want to hear both perspectives. 

Min Jie: Before I became involved in the environmental movement, I really struggled with this. (laughs) I was more involved in other social issues and honestly I really felt very detached from the environmental movement because what I see primarily is a lot of like lifestyle activism, and changing your everyday habits. And I just feel like, why are we concerned about all these, when there are so many other lives at stake that we need to focus on. And I think for me personally it is really understanding more of like the human rights perspective to the climate crisis that drew me to the movement. And I think one area of literature that has really helped me to relate to the climate crisis on an emotional level is looking at more environmental humanities texts, and stories, and trying to understand, how do we comprehend, like, the sixth mass extinction? That has been repeatedly said by climate activists, but it is very easy to dismiss it, because we are constantly bombarded by bad news and we are constantly asked to move at a pace so quickly that we have no time to reflect on it.

But I feel like reading all these texts and really reflecting on, how do we relate to such an issue of such immensity, and what is lost when a species goes extinct. Sometimes we think of extinction as the extinction of that final animal, but what is lost is that whole intergenerational history and work that puts into survive like, ensuring these species have lived and thrived, and all this is lost as a result. 

And I think another part that really helps me to relate to it is just the basic fact that our human history is such a small part of this whole evolutionary history and should not that fact in and of itself humble us and try to call us to work on these issues? 

Sean: So, what is a text? Because you mentioned that texts have been very transformative for you so if you could recommend one text, like just one text for a person to read, to get themselves a perspective on the climate crisis what would that one text be?

Min Jie: I have two texts that’s really transformative for me. (laughs) The first is “Flight Ways” by Thom Van Dooren. So basically he confronts this question of extinction and how do we relate to it. What is lost? How do we grieve with these animals that go extinct? What does it mean for human societies as well? 

Another text is “This Changes Everything” by NaomI Klein that gives a very very good perspective on more like the political side of climate change and how different issues intersect with each other and environmental issues are never really just environmental when you look into it. So those are what I recommend. 

Sean: Kumarr, what about you? How do you bring the issue of climate change and make it relevant for people who can not immediately feel its urgency?

Kumarr: I think we need to go to the people, we need to go to the ground and find out what are the anxieties, and because if it is true that it is in our interest to move to reduce emissions and to fight for a just transition, then that should come up in their daily conversations. They should come up with these conversations. So I would say go down talk to people who are in these industries that are pollutive, or talk to people who are likely going to be, who are supposedly going to be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. These are people who currently are on the other end of the inequality spectrum. They do not have enough labor protection, they do not have enough social protections because of various ills in our own society like homophobia, transphobia, and also just an aversion to the poor. It is very anti-poor. So these are the people who, like climate change is just like any other crisis but just worse. And we see how it affects people on the margins during this crisis in Covid. Your people who do not have these protections to begin with, are just going to be left defenseless. So for example there was a study that came up, I think was DBS, they published some findings and they showed that, I think it was among the middle class or something, it was like 10 people generally faced with 10% income loss. And during the Covid pandemic, if you look at people on low income, you are gonna have that times five, times six, times seven, because they did not have these protections anyway. They were working. They are working day jobs, they do not have savings, they are already in debt, so the idea is just to go down there, talk to them. What is their anxieties and then link it to a just transition. And I think it is also the way of communicating this. And the way of organising this is dialogue. It is not so much of like, this is what we propose, this is in your interest, do it, which I think tends to be a lot of activism in Singapore. Because most of us, our day job is not activism. We do not have the time to do that. So there may need… We need like a more concerted effort to do this kind of grassroots conversations, and really find out and feed that into the advocacy and feed that into the movement, so it is not something that comes out of thin… It just comes out of like ivory tower research and so on and so forth. 

Min Jie: Can I just add to something? I think another reason that it’s maybe quite hard to really get into the issue is because of how invisibilized everything is. The effects of climate change is very much hidden from us in Singapore, and I think perhaps one way that we can go about this, is to try to make these invisible things visible. For instance something that we really wanted to do in the conference is to show the reality that indigenous communities have been displaced in Singapore for the sake of development and that is something that we do not see in our history textbooks at all. We read more about raffles than about our indigenous history which is just like, I don’t really understand. Why is that the case? 

PJ: Don’t get me started.

(all laugh)

Min Jie: And also the issue of like sand mining and fossil fuel industry that we financially invest in abroad, like how does that displace communities overseas? And I think the last thing that I would be interested to explore further is having more information about how environmental injustice takes place in Singapore. We were just having a conversation earlier about how we observe that I think there could be a tendency for migrant worker dormitories to be located near factories and how does that… Like the air quality is different right, so how does that affect them and how the people who are living in the area. Is a certain social economic background of people that tend to be located in these areas? So I think I personally have not really seen much data around this and I would be interested to explore. 

PJ: If I can just pick up on the history, what that reminds me also is, as a historian reading contemporary writings, in the late 60s, early 70s and the sheer optimism about our future that is present in those writings about how the world is going to get so much better things, technology is going to transform the world, we will have flying cars, we are going to solve all these problem. And then I think back to when I grew up and in the 90s, early 2000s, and there is a kind of consensus. Okay this is it, this is the end of history. We have solved these things and we are not going to get better or worse per se, but we are just going to continue on in this trend, and then now when I look at all these writings about younger people in their 20s, people like yourselves, there’s a sort of underlying theme of profound exhaustion, pessimism, frustration. The world is getting worse, is it even going to exist?

So I think what I want to say especially to older people who might be listening is, have very serious conversations with your children, your grandchildren, who are going to have to live with this world

and do not dismiss what they say as being. There is all those cliches “Oh when I was your age…”, “Oh young children  …”, “Young people today so spoiled…” blah blah blah. But actually listen to the cares and concerns that younger people have. Because for younger people, I think, there is a genuine sense the world is not going to be here when they get to retirement age and that is genuine fear and I think older people need to understand that. New Narratif’s surveys of Singaporeans’ concerns found that overwhelmingly older people were concerned with the PAP’s politics and transparency and accountability. But also of course things like healthcare, CPF, housing, whereas younger people were really really concerned about the climate crisis. And that generational gap also needs to be bridged. And I think we need to seriously talk to each other and older people need to really do listen to younger people about this. 

Sean: Anyway, bouncing off of Min Jie’s point, she brought up the point about our very artificial and poor construction of our national history, privileging the life of Raffles over the indigenous community. I just want to direct…

PJ(laughs) Don’t get me started. 

History and the logics of colonialism & capitalism

Sean: I just, I am gonna get PJ started because I am very very curious about this but just maybe a short bit. How has this construction of our history affected our ecological eyes, affected the lens through which we see the ecological crisis? I feel intuitively that there is a strong relation: privileging the colonialist over the indigenous; one is massive, out-spreading force of disaster; another one that is very in touch with the land, with the Earth. Can you say a few words about, yeah, what that relation is, how that has kind of corrupted our ecological consciousness? 

PJ: Actually the main thing I will focus on – I mean I could talk about this for a long, long time – but the main thing is the underlying normative value that exploitation… that produces economic development, is a normative good in and of itself. And this then underpins our entire attitude that GDP growth, making more money, becoming more effective, efficient, greater exploitation of the resources around us, is a good thing that improves society. 

That whole idea underpins how our history is presented. From very simple things like “we were a fishing village when Raffles walked up, and today we are a gleaming metropolis”. The fundamental idea is that it is better to be a gleaming metropolis than a fishing village, without actually unpacking the idea of what are the tradeoffs that being a gleaming metropolis, global city, connected, having all these resources accessible to us, by being flown in, shipped in from around the world – All this is a good thing! And that is why we should be happy with Raffles and why we should be happy with the PAP… without ever thinking about the tradeoffs. 

So that to me is the most key thing. The sort of… you know, it is very neoliberal. It is in some ways a sort of whiggish interpretation of history. But fundamentally, it was, I think, introduced to prop up, first the colonial government, then the PAP government and their decisions – and governments, of course, always want to be shown having achieved success. But then also, it works the other way, where having achieved this, they have to keep arguing that this is how you achieve success. So defining success in a very specific way that is extractive and exploitative, I think that is- we really do need to reevaluate that and think about all the tradeoffs. Everything has tradeoffs, right? And that is not explored in our history at all. 

Sean: I never thought about it, sort of, that way that by making that implicit value judgment about, “Woah, colonisation, modernity, late-capitalism is a great thing” that comes at the expense of the environment, that comes at the expense of the poor. And that is just baked into our history, and subsequently baked into our psyche. 

Kumarr: (interjects, pen raised) It is the logic, right? It is the logic of capitalism, of colonisation, of imperialism, that drives our climate crisis. Itis something that you said before (turns to Min Jie) in, um, I think the Civil Society: Ground Speaks that really struck me, which is like, “We can’t rely on these ideas because the logic itself is unsustainable”. The fact that you need to have this exploitative relationship with somebody, so that mutuals, everybody’s rational self-interest will somehow create this society where the ultimate good is achieved, has to be questioned. Naomi Klein says it very well, right, human nature did not kill the climate – did not kill the planet, it’s capitalism. And we need to question the logic of capitalism, and the things that capitalism has dished out in it is arsenal, like colonialism, like imperialism. 

I mean just, near us, right? What is going on in West Papua? What is going on in Kashmir? I think in Singapore, because we get a lot of American TV, we tend to look at the West a lot. And that is something I got from the conference as well, we tend not to look near us. And I think culturally, we are more aligned with the US, than we are with Indonesians, with Malaysia, Philippines – all these countries – even India. We look at India right now with so much xenophobia. It is ridiculous. You can see articles about Covid in India, and you can see people bringing up Zika. It is honestly quite gross. I just wish we can question that logic. 

Covid-19 and the climate crisis 

Sean: I mean bringing it to the issue of the hour, Covid’19 has affected the conference in innumerable ways, but of course it has also changed our human landscape. So can you tell us a little bit about some of the core and key damages that Covid 19 has had in interaction with the climate and the economy? Maybe we can start with you, Kumarr?

Kumarr: Yeah, I think one is that, in any crisis, it has affected the people in the crisis way, way more disportionately. We see this in terms of… lower-income people. You see them losing jobs. We see them losing income. With that, you know, they are left to… that is where I think the mutual aid network that was set up. And that was quite interesting, you had people really just stopping to rely on the state. Because a lot of our social welfare, you know social services and all that, relies on a lot of documentation, a lot of proof. Proving that you are poor is in itself a traumatic process. And trying to prove deservedness is also difficult, especially when a lot of people in lower-income right now, are underemployed. 

They are not unemployed, they are underemployed. That is a very key difference. While the press, the government is very concerned about unemployment data, they are not talking about underemployment, which is people who are not in full-time work, people who are in gig work, people who are in part-time work, or in some sort of on-call job and so on. As a result, their employment may not be official, there may not be any contracts, so to the state, they are unemployed. When it only comes to receiving some sort of financial assistance, there is suddenly not proof that they are employed. Because they do not take the employer’s letter – an employer would not even give a letter because what do they owe you?

That is especially the case for a lot of local workers, a lot of them are in the service industry, a lot of them are doing grab, doing food delivery and all that. We do not even recognise… gig work is a very complicated topic. It is supposed to be seen as work, we call it “gig work”, we see them as essential workers, but we do not give them employment rights – like they are not seen as employees. And the other thing, I mean – that is the same logic with foreign domestic workers, right? They are not seen as employees in our employment act.

In California there was a ruling recently, for employees in Uber and all these gig work to be seen as full-time employees. In America, some can say that there is a bit more freedom than Singapore, and this was supposed to be a good thing – and indeed it was. This means that workers will be given more employment rights, they will be given some sort of benefits and so on. But the thing is, what Uber did in response to that was to threaten a capital strike, which means they will withdraw their money from California, and this means everybody would be displaced without a job… that is what they can do in Singapore also, right? That is what foreign investors can do in Singapore. That is why the government always says that we do not want to give too many labour protections, give union rights and all these kinds of things, because if we do that it is going to drive away foreign investors – but that is only the case if you do not allow workers to strike. 

That is why, it is always class. And that is the effect of Covid, especially on the lower-income. That is what I see. 

Kumarr: Min Jie, what about you? What do you think are some of the core issues that have been revealed or have come to light because of Covid’19?

Min Jie: Building on what Kumarr has said, I think one of the main thing that came to light is how unprepared our systems are to deal with the global crisis. During the Covid period, we see a lot more emphasis placed on care work, workers, right, and how essential they are to the economy. But we do not really compensate them in a fair manner, and that is really exposed in this Covid period. 

I think another interesting thing, Covid also presents quite a good opportunity for us to reflect on the values that we want our society to be on, as what we were talking about – all the logics of extractivism. Right now we do see the airline industry, and the fossil fuel industry, being very very affected by it. The executives are not the ones that are really suffering, the workers are the ones that are suffering because of the economic crisis that is happening with these industries. So I think we have to talk – we have to start talking about a just transition, like now. Talk about it before the climate crisis really forces us to do it, and we have nothing prepared. 

I think another part is the Covid crisis also showed us that, what we have said previously, that it is impossible to change our economy, it is impossible to change our way of life. I think the Covid crisis shows that it is possible. We are changing. (all smiles) And yah, the same principles of how we are dealing with the Covid crisis to some extent, should also be extended to the climate crisis.

Lastly, I think we also have to recognise that this is probably not going to be the last pandemic that we are going to experience, with the climatic changes. There is a lot of uncertainty as to what is going to happen, what kind of new diseases are going to be released when our ice caps melt or something. It is a really good opportunity to think right now, and how we can organise a just transition. 

Theory of change & a just transition 

Sean: Speaking of changes and transitions, I want to ask you, what is your theory of change, right? How do you see activism, AIC, and your own activism, moving forward? What do you think should be done, could be done, must be done? And how it should be executed?

(momentary silence)

It is a big question. (all laugh)

I think it is something all of us are still negotiating especially in these sort of very uncertain times, right. And of course Covid has come and shifted everything up; So things that worked in the past are not going to work anymore.

Is there a general sense that you have of what you think activism should or could be to you? 

Min Jie: I think it comes down to having conversations and uncomfortable dialogue about what this transition can look like, and what we have to take care of in this transition, and addressing the anxieties that we all have. Because it is very scary, right? Moving to a new world, and moving away from all our old habits and what we are used to? So I think it comes back to, yeah, starting to have conversations, especially having conversations with workers in these industries who are now really, really affected. It is a conversation that needs to be had. ‘Cause on one hand we need to transition away from this industry, but on the other hand, there are so many things that we need to do before we can have this transition. So for me, it would be coming down to have that dialogue and conversation about what exactly this transition would look like.

Sean: And so that really echos Kumarr’s point as well: about getting on the ground and speaking to the people most affected, most directly affected. So Kumarr I am guessing that your Theory of Change is going to be somewhat similar? Can you share with us what are your ideas about what activism should be?

Kumarr: Yes, yes. I think talking to people on the ground has been monopolized, having these conversations have been monopolized by politicians, and the PAP and the extension of the PAP in different forms – like the People’s Association, the grassroots, and all that. I do not think it is illegal to talk to people. (smiles) I think it’s just because it’s so much work, right? Where do you start? Does anybody have a plan? There is no reference. So that is something we need to figure out. I mean to quote Malcolm X, “We are not outnumbered, we are out-organised”. What we need to do is to organise. There is no one… we cannot wait for a saviour or politician to come out. With all due respect to Jamus Lim and Raeesah Khan, like I like their campaigns and all that, but they are not going to be the ones who sort of rescue us from the… 

Sean: (interjects) yes, because no one can, right? Nobody can fill that..

Kumarr: yes… no one can.

Sean: And no one should either.

Kumarr: Yes, yes. Only a movement can, right? And we need to think about movement-building. And that is really, really hard to do. In AIC, the conference, we had some ideas on taking stock of where we are, and just figuring out… sort of like doing a literature review, right? Taking stock of what is out in civil society, and sort of critiquing it, and going, “So now what?” 

We had a post-AIC thing, called “Talk so much, do what now?”. It was a smaller group – PJ you were there, yah – it was a smaller group and we discussed some things. I think the sense is that we need to stop – I mean not stop – but we need to go beyond just talking about what we are resisting, and talk about what we are building. So in AIC, the people, the conferences and all that, I can just narrow it out to four things, right.

Ultimately it is about a Just Transition. A just transition means that we need to move, to half our global carbon emissions by 2030. That is as per an IPCC report – you have to do that. Otherwise we are at the point of no return. And we need to prepare for the effects of climate change, rising sea levels and all that. Bangladesh is sinking; China has issues with the Three Gorges Dam; Jakarta is sinking – that is why Indonesia has shifted its capital. We need to prepare ourselves for that.

The third thing, which is the most important part of a just transition and differentiates itself from other climate movements – that, you know, Min Jie talked about, can be very lifestyle, consumer sort of thing – have to talk about transitioning in a way that benefits and protects the majority and not just the few. And your majority is… they are workers, your majority are people in the margins. We keep saying “minority” a lot, but if you look globally, your minority… if you look for example minorities in Singapore, right? Like Indians. If you look globally, how many Indians are there? We make such a huge population. If you talk about minorities as well, you look at the diaspora, you look at where people came from – it is actually a majority. 

It is really controlling discourse to sort of continually feed us this rhetoric that we are weak, that we do not have the strength. And the working class even, they can find all kinds of ways to divide us, through nationalism, through middle-class, high SES, low SES. We need to fight that. We need to remind ourselves what this is. We need to really organise around that.

Just to sum up, right, when we talk about a just transition, some things that we want to built towards AIC. One, is to have a degrowth economy. This means decoupling GDP from carbon emissions – is that correct? [turns to Min Jie] I cannot remember, but degrowth basically means not prioritising GDP anymore, because GDP does not necessarily translate to an improvement in wellbeing. Instead what we want to do is to centre care and ecology. 

The other thing is replacing our retributive justice system with a restorative justice system, where we see each other as… where we use the language of accountability and healing, rather than punishment. And the other thing is just, really expanding our democracy. So this means people having the ability to advocate for themselves, to fight for themselves. In labour unions, having the right to assemble, the right to strike – all these different rights that should be fundamental to just existing as a human being. 

And the fourth thing, right and the last thing is really increasing our social welfare, in terms of social and labour protections, and ensuring that people who are not visible – as Min Jie said –  people who are not currently visible, harms that are not currently visible, are made visible. Trans people should be recognised. Gay marriages should be recognised. It just baffles me that we have 1 million work permit holders in Singapore, but the national disease expert, national infectious disease expert or something – I cannot remember his name -, he actually said in the mainstream media recently that “we did not account for migrant workers in our plans”. Like you did not account for 1 million people? Like how did that happen? And if you think about it, it makes sense why they would do that, because they are excluded from our national conversations. So we need to do the work of just making people visible, and just bringing these voices to the fore – that is ultimately where my theory of change is. 

Min Jie: I can just add to it. I think what I wanted to add is, as we look towards building this – moving towards this degrowth world, where we centre care, and we centre people. I think activism and ourselves have to also model these principles that we are trying to build within our spaces. I think, a tension that I often feel in these spaces, because we are facing so many crises, there is always a sense of urgency – acting from a place of urgency. And sometimes, we fall into this trap of activism becoming very instrumental, and we no longer take care of each other, we are just more focused on getting to the end-goal, and giving outputs, seeing each other, evaluating each other based on how productive we are… which is very, very harmful and contradictory to the world we’re trying to build. 

And that is where we also need to look at how we make activism a regenerative one. How do we make care a collective responsibility? We talk a lot about self-care, but it is not possible to self-care if the community does not value care in and of itself. And also recognising that all of us have access needs, and access needs look different for everyone. It could be having a disability, it could also be stuff like, “oh I have a midterm tomorrow, I do not have a lot of energy to focus on this meeting, I am just showing up and listening, and being here today”. I think just normalising these kind of practices. In Speak for Climate, what we do in our meetings before we start off, we check-in with everyone and get everyone to share, “do you have any access needs today that we should know?” And just normalising such culture of being open with our vulnerabilities, and if we need help, just ask for it. If no one has the capacity to help, let us just remodel what path we are going on. 

And I think another reason why it is so important to take care of everyone’s access needs is so that organising activism does not become an exclusive space, where people with the privilege of time, of leisure, or have a certain education can participate in. If we take care of everyone’s needs, the space would be much more inclusive. And we need to constantly think about… and we are accountable to who is not in the room with us today. Why do we always have to be the voice for these people? Like why are they not here? And just constantly questioning that. 

How to live your activism?

Sean: I just have one last question here, which is a semi-personal question, which is: In my conversations with people about climate change and the climate crisis, one of the things that often comes up is that, when people try to live their activism, they try and make conscious everyday choices to go vegan, or to choose options or brands that are environmentally sustainable over those that are not, there is often a sense of fatigue and hopelessness… I am just buying a shirt, I am just not eating meat for… what does my action count? What does my action matter in the grand scheme of things? Because for every beef burger that I do not eat, Fox con and the big companies are churning out mega tonnes of gas and carbon emissions. What does it matter at all? That sense of fatigue tends to be a big stumbling block for many people trying to live their activism. What do you think about that? How do you negotiate that? 

Kumarr: Yeah, I think like the language of restorative justice helps here. We need to think about it as harm reduction. Yes, I mean, our individual actions, especially consumerist actions, right, just changing lifestyle all that, yes it does not really translate to some sort of systemic change or whatever. But it is also important to try to reduce harm in whatever way possible. 

I would say one thing that has helped me ground myself and not feel utterly depressed after reading the news and just seeing how little progress there is, is by just getting involved in communities and talking to other people. I realised there are some relationships that I have, that sharing that kind of fatigue can add to more fatigue. But there are other communities, where I share that with other people, and I just feel so energized, where I am like “I am not in this alone, and I have this sort of care circle. We can all grieve together, and we can all do something about it after this”. I feel less alone. I feel I am not in this by myself. And there is this sense of solidarity. And I think that is just the beauty of solidarity. I think solidarity does not get enough emphasis. It really has a very healing potential. 

That is why I think restorative justice is good, because it gives us that kind of language of talking about harm, healing and accountability. These three concepts are going to be the key concepts we need to really get us out of the climate crisis – any kind of crisis. 

Sean: Min jie what about you? I’m really curious to hear this perspective.

Min Jie: Quite similar to Kumarr actually (smiles), I think doing it with people, and having a community where you can talk about all these difficult emotions together, really, really help me personally. One way I like to look at this individual action, in a way I am also trying to reclaim my agency as well. It is quite daunting to look at the climate crisis, and the way that it is moving – and feel there is nothing you can do – but within doing these actions, things that are still within my control, it is very healing for me to live out these values that I am not seeing right now in the world. I think the principle for me, is the process to which we get there, is as important or more important than wherever we end up being. And just seeing this as a long-term thing – and we do not have to get it right at the start. It is ok to have a cheat a day or two, like it is fine. (laughs)

Sean: I am going to steal that answer, I am just going to say, I am going to steal that answer. Reclaiming agency! Right. Cause when the fatigue sets in, or when snarky individuals come and make these stupid comments online, like “Ah, you know, you talk about ecology, you talk about do not use plastic straws, but then you see those big factories, go and bump gas into the…”. You know the answer should be, well I am not going to take it sitting down. It is my body, my life; I get to do what I want with it and I choose not to take it lying down. So I am going to take that answer, that is a really good response. (laughs)

How to get involved?

PJ: Can I also ask, for our audience, if they want to get involved with what you are doing, what should they do? How can they reach out?

Kumarr: I mean there are a lot of different groups around, like SGCR is also growing. I don’t think they are accepting memberships and what not, but what…

PJ: That is Singapore Climate rally?

Kumarr: Yes yes, and what I do see, however, is the growth of book clubs, the growth of different sort of circles. I tried to start this radical men circle, where we talk about gender issues, and we are just all men. But yeah, it is just because I am so burnt out, I do not have the energy for that. I think you just need to get in touch. You can get in touch with myself, anyone in AIC, other sort of initiatives that are there. It just may not be so visible because, yeah, people are just really exhausted. And people just want these communities, these little pods and talk to each other and so on.

I think… I mean that question you asked, the reason why I paused, is because we do not yet have this sense of community-building in activism. And in just the civil society, the left, in Singapore. And we need to do that. And my honest answer to that, is that there is not that created space yet. It is still building, it is very ad hoc. I think it being ad hoc and it being unregistered, and being this sort of unofficial thing – it is why it is so strong. Because it is not beholden to any institutional criteria. So what I would say, if you need, just contact people who are in AIC, people who are involved in the Singapore Climate Rally movement. In the younger groups, I think there are a lot of different activities going on, book clubs and all that. So I used to do this thing we cheekily called GRC, Group Reading Committee, and we just organise book clubs. I think where I got my intervention with climate first, was when one of the founders of that space, assigned “This changes everything” by Naomi Klein, and that is when I was like “Oh ok, you can see the intersections and all that”. It was also quite accessible for me. I felt it was very hard for me to get into the environmental movement, because it is so dominated by science, so it is very esoteric. 

I think GRC is still very decentralised right now, people just organise their own book clubs or whatever. You can just contact me, you can probably contact Minjie, contact anyone in AIC, and we would just find a community.

Navigating an authoritarian context 

PJ: What I am hearing is that both a big problem and a big strength of the movement is the lack of institutionalisation. And it sounds like there is no bureaucracy. You want something to survive, you need to create a secretariat, a bureaucracy, a self-perpetuating core, and a way of funding it, and a way of being sustainable, replacing yourself over time. Sean we had this conversation when you came on… about sustainability of activism. Is that a goal? Or are you trying to be more decentralised? And if so, how do you navigate that contradiction?

Kumarr: There was a musician who came to SIngapore, there was a band that came to Singapore in the 90s, and there was this whole ban on slam dancing at that time, right? It was because… suppose a violence had broke out and all that. A lot of people in the punk scene were upset about it, because they were just like “How can you take away our culture?” And what this musician said was “Hey you know, they say do not do slam dancing, you dance different. Give them another reason to sort of oppress you, find another way to cancel whatever you are doing.” And I find that very relevant advice for how different organisations can come up and sustain themselves.

Creativity is really important in an authoritarian context like in Singapore. We need to find ways where it is not easy, it is all legal right, but the core aims of the organisation are not going to be derailed because of whatever legal constrictions there are. For example, one problem of registering an organisation is the IPC status. I think it is the Institute of Public Charter, and that is, whatever donations you get are tax deductible. A lot of organisations need to have that tax deductible so they can survive as an organisation, so people are willing to donate and all that. So one way is to, maybe not be a charity organisation, or not rely on so many of that, sort of decouple some of these things. For example if you look at HOME, if you look at AWARE, these organisations are trying to do two things, right. They are trying to do advocacy, but also some sort of charity. And it is very difficult to do both these things. 

The way I see organisations going in this direction, I mean climate movement does not really have to be a charity, does not have to do anything charity related. And I think these things have to be separated, where you might just want to focus on advocacy and community-building. So you stop doing charity, and you focus on community-building and advocacy. You do not have to be registered to do that. You can be informally organised. Singapore Climate Rally is not registered, but they are still recognised by the state. What they say still goes into papers. So in what way is it different from a formal association. I think that is where I think more movements can go towards. You do not want to be bogged down by that. 

Thing is, when you have that, you are still going to need to create some sort of bureaucracy, some sort of protocol, because infiltration is real. AWARE saga that we witnessed, where there was a threat of a right wing takeover of AWARE, was scary, right? So we need to also be creative about how we design these informal organisations, and how to do that democratically. 

PJ: I mean with New Naratif, I registered the company in the UK, and we are headquartered in Kuala Lumpur. I mean we did try to register here, but the government made, you know, a lot of wild accusations about us. But you cannot say that we are not having an impact on politics and society in Singapore, at least I hope we are. So I think we also can think about another theme we talked about. Cross-border solidarity. New naratif is trying to do advocacy across all of Southeast Asia, and that might be another way to be sustainable. Do not just limit yourself to just one state. But build connections across borders, or start something that is cross-border, and leverage on the different political environments in different states, to find the gaps where you can operate most successfully. 

Kumarr: Absolutely.


Sean: Alright, without further ado, I am going to thank my two guests, Min Jie and Kumarr, from Activism in Crisis – thank you so much for coming down and joining us and sharing with us everything that you have for the last hour or so. It has been amazing, and I think I have learnt a lot. I was always interested in ecology, but I did not know how to respond. The intersections that come, with human rights, care, with labour. So this has been an absolutely fascinating, absolutely enlightening discussion, and thank you so much for coming down!

PJ: And thank you very much, thank you to our guests, thank you to Sean for co-hosting, and thank you to all of you for tuning in! And do check out our sister podcast, “Southeast Asia Dispatches” with more news, interviews and commentary from around Southeast Asia. Check out all our stuff on, and if you like what we do, please do join New Naratif as a member,, or you can donate to New Naratif at So thank you very much everyone, and see you next time. (everyone poses)

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