Originally posted on July 22, 2009.
Multi-perspective activism. Inclusive activism. Iskolar PARA sa Bayan. Iskolar Aktibista. Blaze for Change. If you’re from any of the two UP campuses in Metro Manila, chances are you’ve heard of these terms. Some would like to call them as the “buzz-words” of alternative forms of activism.
The (supposed) existence of an alternative form of activism means there is a “mainstream”, “established”, or “dominant” form of activism. In the Philippines, this is the ‘radical’ form of activism, as opposed to ‘moderate’. In the Sixties and Seventies, this form has been associated with organizations such as the KM (Kabataang Makabayan) and MAKIBAKA (Malayang Kilusang ng Bagong Kababaihan); the color red; the University of the Philippines and the Polytechinic University of the Philippines; and student leaders like Jose Ma. Sison, Monico Atienza, Judy Taguiwalo, Ditto Sarmiento, Enrique Voltaire Garcia, and later, Edgar ‘Edjop’ Jopson.
As Professor Dante Ambrosio of the UPD Kasaysayan Department explained in a forum yesterday, the ‘radicals’ eventually won over and dominated the ‘moderates’. When Martial Law was declared, the radicals continued their struggle ‘underground’ (meaning, illegally) and mostly in the countryside. The moderates went in three directions: they simply stopped, they supported Marcos, or they went to the radicals. Edjop was one of them.
Professor Ambrosio noted that the radicals did not need to proclaim their ‘stand’ as the correct one. Events during their time would prove it. While the moderates participated in Marcos’ Constitutional Convention, the radicals condemned the ConCon and went one step further by warning of Martial Law.
Now that we have established and made clear what is the “traditional” form of activism, let us ask the main question: why is there alternative forms of activism? But before that, we should ask what are the bases and assumptions of alternative forms of activism?
The most common is that the “established” form of activism is outdated, irrelevant, and no longer appropriate to the present. It cites apathy, indifference, and the fact that there are less participants in student rallies now then there were during the First Quarter Storm. It cites the invention of new technologies which supposedly obsoletes street rallies and other components of traditional activism.
One can only argue ‘apathy’ as a basis for saying radicalism is ‘outdated’ if the students, and the people in general, are able to make a ‘free choice’. And to be able to say that we have a free choice, we have to ignore capitalism, globalization, mass media, and a thousand and one other current social realities.
Think, as soon as we were able to think, we were bombarded by culture: The culture of the American Dream, where one gets to ‘live the life’ by studying hard, graduating, and working and saving; The MTV culture of seeking fame, sex, drugs, alcohol, cars, and money; In short, the culture of individualism.
Humans living before the era of slave societies (pre-B.C 4000, I think), did not have words or terms for concepts such as “private ownership” or “sell”. Why? Because such concepts did not exist. They did not think that whatever they hunted, fished, or gathered was, at the end of the day, their personal property. It was the property of the tribe, to be distributed and used according to the greater good.
Going back to the present day, our culture and values reflect the present socio-economic system: one that cannot exist besides the concept of “common good”. And the very same culture assaults our senses from our waking moment to our sleep.
Can we make a free choice in regards to being apathetic? No. We are conditioned to be apathetic. We are trained to be apathetic. It is the norm in the present day and age. It is enforced, first by culture, then by force.
So how can widespread apathy be blamed on the radicals? That’s Strike One.
People keep touting EDSA DOS as a ‘revolution’ (it shouldn’t even be called one, but thats for another day) powered by ‘new technology’ i.e texting. They cite how text-messaging gave birth to the phenomenon of Erap jokes, and allowed for fast communication in urgent situations such as the night when the Senate voted not to open the second envelope.
Yet, had the people chosen to just keep texting angry messages at their contacts, would Erap have been driven out of office? No. The late Cardinal Sin himself called on the people to gather at the EDSA Shrine. BAYAN called on the people to march from EDSA and storm Mendiola and the Palace itself. Technology wasn’t the ‘killing blow’ to the Estrada Presidency, it only helped in delivering it. It wasn’t the edge of the sword, it was only a hilt.
Compare it to the present day: Middle-class Pinoys blog like crazy. The facebook page ‘Pilipinas Kontra Con-Ass’ is a whirlwind of hate against Gloria Arroyo and Charter Change. It has gathered close to 50 thousand ‘fans’. Yet, their activities in the real world are participated in by less than 20 people. A president that kills her critics can never be threatened by a gathering of a dozen people, that’s for sure. That’s Strike Two.
Criticizing the radicals and radicalism isn’t a new thing. Even during the height of the anti-Marcos dictatorship movement, the political party/student alliance SAMASA (then, the epitome of radicalism in UPD) was being attacked by other parties like ISA and TUGON for being “rah-rah” (puro rally) activists. By the time Marcos was ousted, the critics were claiming that rallies and confrontational tactics and politics in general were outdated since ‘the enemy’ was gone and Cory was ‘a friend’.
The debate would eventually split SAMASA into two: one would become ‘moderate’; the other would remain ‘radical’ and is now known as STAND UP. And as history has shown, the moderates no longer exist. In fact, STAND UP would have its first decisive electoral win over SAMASA just as the campaign to oust Erap gained steam. And now, the idea of ousting a President who is hell-bent on remaining beyond 2010 is again gaining ground.
If the moderates were correct in saying that ‘the enemy’ was removed when Marcos was ousted, then why was there a need to oust Erap? Why did they join EDSA 2? And why are they also claiming now that we must oppose GMA and Charter Change?
Time and time again has shown that they would adopt the tactics of the side they claim is ‘incorrect’ and ‘outdated’. Time and time again has shown that they are barely getting support wherever they go, the strongest indicator of the correctness or incorrectness of their politics. That’s Strike Three.
The biggest difference between the radicals and the moderates is that the latter is totally isolated from the ‘basic masses’, especially the farmers and workers. They are absolutely clueless as to the realities faced by the poor.
They spout the values of ‘dialogue’ and ‘compromise’. When was the last time landless peasants got half a hectare or so by having a dialogue with the landlords? How do workers hold a dialogue with a management that fires anyone who even raises the slightest possibility of an improvement in working conditions.
They criticize student activists who opt to skip classes, or even totally drop-out, to join the campaigns of the basic masses as ‘a waste of taxpayer money’. They are ignorant of the fact that these ‘wastes’ help workers get better treatment and pay as union organizers. They are ignorant of the fact that these ‘wastes’ protect thousands of urban poor from being homeless as community organizers. They are ignorant of the fact that these ‘wastes’ are presently giving land for free to farmers as members of the New People’s Army.
There is no basis for the existence of alternatives forms of activism because the established form has never been proven obsolete. It is still relevant, especially to the struggles of the less-fortunate sections of our society. History has affirmed this, from the jumping-ship of former KM opponents during Martial Law, to the extinction of the moderate wing of the SAMASA split, to the need for another ouster after 2 EDSAs.
Alternative activism has been doomed from its very birth by its lack of knowledge of social realities. Had its proponents been actively exposed to them, instead of being cocooned in the academe, they would have seen the continued relevance of radicalism. But instead of facing up to the hard facts, they choose to concoct more theories and concepts as self-justification. But since they are planting a crop using rotten seeds, they keep harvesting rotten weeds.