A different engagement

On a Friday earlier this month I attended a protest rally. It was held at the heart of Makati, the country’s business capital. It was highly publicized by its organizers, and they put up quite a scene—stage, sound system, and all. The media, anticipating a momentous event, swarmed the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas. They called it the Million People March, part 2, because it was born out of the success of a similarly-motivated demonstration in Luneta. But when I arrived at Ayala corner Paseo de Roxas, I saw a crowd that could barely fill the Ped Xing-lined box on the intersection. The TV cameras started rolling, but the media, people simply doing their jobs, comprised what looked like half of the crowd present. It was barely a Thousand People March.

I admit, I myself shouldn’t be counted as a participant in that event. I didn’t participate, I was merely present. I went there, no, passed by there out of curiosity, and out of a sense that I had nothing better to do. I have met a lot of people who have witnessed Martial Law with their own eyes, even people who suffered Martial Law with their own bodies, having been imprisoned or worse for their opinions. Me, a free student who found himself in Makati with a lot of time in his hands, can do only so many things as worthwhile as participating in such a social-political movement, right?

Right?

I think it’s not really about the very issue that the people are rallying against. It’s about how they, and we, engage with issues.

View during the Million People March at Ayala Avenue corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati City

From what I’ve read, the reason that the first Million People March was successful is because, at its core, it was guided by a message that different sectors of society could truly connect to: the government has done something wrong, everyone has suffered as a result, and the authorities should change their ways. And everyone was surprised, because Luneta was suddenly filled by the middle-class, besides the usual suspects from militant groups. But then, as I imagine it, the middle-class saw the demonstration for what it really was: just another rally, staged by ‘progressive’ citizens with extreme opinions of government. The middle-class was, to re-appropriate a Marxist, militant term, alienated. The result is a sequel of a rally that was left for the usual suspects alone to enjoy.

I don’t think that this middle-class found themselves disagreeing with the more-militant groups when it comes to the key points. They are both against the pork barrel. But they are probably now conflicted with the means with which they act on those points. The militants go on with their militant ways. The middle class returned to their middle-class ways, which for this country historically means, sadly, apathy.

There was an interesting juxtaposition at the Makati rally. As I made my way into the crowd, the host of the program onstage was calling out to the many different “sektor ng lipunan” that was apparently in complete attendance that day. There were the farmers and fishermen, students and youth, urban poor, religious groups, and the office workers. Yes, the office workers. They were there in the periphery, just outside the lobbies of their buildings, dressed in long-sleeves and blouses, arms crossed. They weren’t participating, they were merely present. If they were thinking like I did, they weren’t listening to every cry for action being put forth by the groups, they were simply enjoying the show. The cultural show that alternated with the proclamations included a rock band, a rap performance, and even belly-dancing.

The rally scene, as I would like to call it, is in decline. It won’t die, it’s just declining, becoming more and more a thing of the past. I am grateful for the previous generations who fought not only in EDSA but also in Plaza Mendiola and all the other street-parliaments. It’s just that the modern world calls for modern methods. I’m not talking about social media, either, however. Facebook warmongers are just as atrocious in their arrogant logic and fundamentalist world-views, and that’s being respectful about it.

What we need is true, sincere dialogue coupled with considerate thinking. It takes a lot more effort than posting comments or sharing infographics, and is considerably less spectacular than mass demonstrations. We need education, and space for everyone to form their own opinions. Rather than call for unified action, we should be calling for unity in diversity.

If the pork barrel scam is indeed true, if national legislators had indeed channeled development funds to the personal enrichment of a few, what will calling names and cursing online do? And in their impunity, would they really be listening to the calls from the streets?

Maybe it’s just right that the second Million People March was poorly attended, if only to highlight the fact that we should be looking for action elsewhere. The dream is that in the future, no one will ever have to march again.

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