Paint, write, sing, broadcast, film, act, dance the struggle

Northern Dispatch

MANILA — For this year at least, this would have to be the most colorful, interesting gathering, incendiary even as the liberal atmosphere of Plaridel Hall was rife with the energy of delegates to the International Conference on Progressive Culture.

It was one of many workshops in the First International Festival of People’s Rights and Struggles (IFPRS) held July 5 to 6 in different venues at the University of the Philippines Diliman. For what two-day event would not stir its participants with the most creative and stimulating presentations depicting people’s art and culture from various parts of the world?

Never has people’s art, defined by those present as the “reflection of the common people, working classes’ lives” been depicted in many ways: music, spoken word, visual arts, film, dance and movement, print media. Two days were definitely not enough to contain the artistry and creativity, the passion and conviction of cultural workers and activists who came together from nine regions of the world to ponder and attempt to “shape the society of the future.”

With Dean Rolando Tolentino of the UP College of Mass Communication, National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, award-winning Canadian filmmaker and producer Malcolm Guy (who is also secretary general of the International League of People’s Struggles), playwright and filmmaker Bonifacio Ilagan, German filmmaker Mustafa Kilinc, Fil-Am DJ and filmmaker Eric Tandoc (who is also chair of Anakbayan LA, USA) and Carlos Conde, editorial consultant and freelance correspondent delivering stirring speeches and moving insights on the role of the artist in the age of imperialist globalization, the audience was alternately pensive, then brimming with militant synergy.

Scriptwriter Bibeth Orteza, who served as master of ceremonies said the times have changed since the First Quarter Storm, after the audience was gripped by an impressive rap rendition by Nomi from the US.

Hip-hop as resistance

Tracing the roots of hip-hop as a medium of resistance in the American ghettos, community organizers like Nomi have rallied the migrant youth to express their views on racism and cultural alienation though rap music and street dancing. Yo! And behold! Fil-Am youth and Gongs being beaten at the opening other ethnic youth in the “belly of the beast” are organizing and grooving against social ills,
swaying and beating for genuine democracy and justice, dreaming of true freedom for their motherland.

It is pain and madness to live as a refugee in one’s own country. From Palestine, the duo 47Soul aimed their musical guns against US client state Israel and calls for the total liberation of their homeland. Rosa Martha Zarate Macias from Mexico is the modern revolutionary troubadour who has for ages, sung of the many upheavals in her country. Her serenade assured each one in the audience that there is hope in every dark turn in the political struggle.

Percussions expressed the beat of the people’s resistance in Southern Mindanao, punctuated by the sound of the rain stick, a hopeful reminder that peace may still visit this land of promise. Tracing roots where we all began, the First Nation all-women group Odaya from Quebec, Canada beat their drums to recall the interconnectedness of all people, that the thud-thud is the heartbeat of Mother Earth to which we shall always heed the call. For a quarter of an hour, the participants were spellbound and somehow reconnected through this aboriginal and indigenous philosophy of life and culture and the need to safeguard and defend these.

Claim freedom

With the changing times, there is no debate on the crucial role of the mass media and new technologies in shaping the society of the future. This is what every committed journalist should remember, Conde said, that objective journalism is journalism of reaction.

He exhorted media practitioners to claim their freedom to stand for what is right and just. In the same vein, he was half-lamenting the parched reservoir of feisty, committed young writers from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. But then again, hope springs eternal in this God-forsaken country, Conde said, and the once fearless editors wielding their mighty pens (or keyboards) might again find their voice even if sedately employed in mainstream media.

Kilinc, who has documented the Maoist people’s wars in Nepal and the Philippines, shared his insights: “The media of monopoly capitalism has created consumerism, passivism, insensitivity and alienation. But media can play a role in developing a culture of resistance. We must create mass mediums that engage the broad masses and make these widespread. Great resistance requires an established, strong
consciousness and belief.”

Alternative media practitioners and artists should really get their act together and venture into the daring field of shooting down Hollywood culture that has enamored and pacified the local arts and culture scene.

The visual arts collective call themselves Trust Your Struggle. With bases in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, USA, they have gone places, painted global walls with their advocacy for social justice and community activism. As modern chroniclers, their art “continues the legacy of visual language influenced by graffiti art, comic books, political posters, religious spiritual icons and indigenous traditions.”

The vast plains of Negros in Southern Philippines are sweetened by the sweat of toilers, but their lives are a bitter reminder of the economic injustice prevalent in the country.

Alejandro Deoma, a veteran community organizer, shared his experience of cultural work among the obreros and underscored the value of theater arts that mirror grassroots culture and resistance.

Ilagan said the conditions of artists are “perilous, their rights and welfare merely being paid lip service to.” Thus, the need for this endangered sector to organize and forge an enduring expression of unity.

Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, in a Skype address, discussed the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression.

The participants came and parted with greater conviction and passion. At the end of the conference, after a coordinating committee was formed to pursue future similar events, agit-props (short for agitation-propaganda) came spewing and spilling like warm fuel. With the response “Serve the People!” calls were coined thus: “Paint the struggle! Write the struggle! Sing the struggle! Broadcast the struggle! Act the struggle! Film the struggle! Dance the struggle!”

The dynamism was electrifying, the fervor contagious. It was Yenan Forum revisited and indeed, allowing a thousand flowers and thoughts to contend.

This article was initially published in the new MWF paper Good Morning Philippines (Vol. 1 No. 7 July 11, 2011), circulated in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, page 11 of the Metro Culture page.

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