When you see a rally, you assume it is a hakot crowd. Maybe you think rallies are similar to the assemblies organized by trapos during campaign sorties. But only politicians pay people to attend events and their own self-serving rallies. Unfortunately, too, there are educated people who insist that urban poor rallyists get paid for marching in the streets. It reflects an elitist thinking because the same people wouldn’t accuse Ateneo students who protested against drug-related killings of receiving cash to join a rally.
When you see a rally, you dismiss it as another anti-government action. Hence, it is anti-progress and part of destabilization. On the contrary, activists want so-called development to benefit all. They also demand an equal and efficient delivery of vital government services. They condemn abuse of power, corruption, and betrayal of public interest. They are actually protesting against authorities who are undermining the integrity of the government. Interestingly, nobody accused Iglesia ni Cristo members of being anti-government when they set-up camp at Padre Faura and Edsa Shaw several years ago. Why can’t we acknowledge that activists have legitimate grievances when they protest in the streets?
When you hear activists criticizing the president, you describe them as perennial and nuisance critics of the government. And you urge them to stop being a problem by being part of the solution. But shouldn’t we support people whose lifelong commitment is to protect and advance our rights and welfare? Unless you think politicians can be fully trusted in the management of our country, then we should at least recognize the persistence of activists to correct what is wrong and change what needs to be done in our society. You easily get offended by the slogans and complaints of activists when the real problem is the recidivist behavior of politicians who keep on vowing to uplift our lives and continue to make empty promises because they even get praised for their tiresome lies.
When you see a rally, you condemn it as violent. And you were able to confirm this when reports broadcast the clash between the police and protesters. Yet it is always the police who violently disperse rallies while activists only defend themselves and their right to express their views. But an uneventful protest (read: no tension with the police) is still considered violent and even unlawful. All activities that challenge the status quo is condemned as chaotic, a threat to our values, and terribly out-of-place in the modern world. What is tragic is that you think rallies are violent yet you fail or feel powerless to fight the structures that oppress many. Worse, you believe ordinary citizens have no right to fight back against law enforcers even if the latter were acting in behalf of evil trapos and greedy oligarchs.
When you see activists on media, you mock them as epal or papansin. Do you respond the same way when politicians speak on TV? Do you deride the rich, famous, and other members of the elite when news reports feature their views? We should probe our negative reaction: Is it because the activist articulated a contrarian perspective or is it because we feel the working classes and those who represent them have no right to speak?
What is common with these examples of anti-activist bias? They all reinforce the point of view of the reactionary ultra-rich. They reiterate how politicians think and their stubborn and dogmatic belief on how people should behave in the community. They represent years of absorbing conservative ideas propagated as the normal and modern way of interpreting the world.
Only those who exploit the poor are afraid of the ‘specter’ of the coming together of the masses to break the chains of bondage and modern slavery. They demonize the struggle of the poor to preserve the present and they use their massive but ill-gotten resources to brainwash the rest of society with their anti-poor bias.
We may think we are being wise in denigrating activists and rallies but most likely it is the result of an inception engineered by those who stand to benefit from discouraging the people to be more critical, assertive, and militant.
Unlearning the anti-activist bias does not mean we need to be activists or we have to embrace their advocacies. We simply have to acknowledge the right of the people to practice dissent and that this is crucial in enabling real democracy.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org