Rallies are sometimes caricatured as noisy and irrelevant street spectacles. Dismissed as futile ranting of a mob obsessed and afflicted with negativity. They offer only problems not solutions. They are contrasted with other political acts that focus on providing so-called practical alternatives to everyday evils. A responsible protester is someone who does not hold placards or shout motherhood slogans; instead he writes letters and prefers polite conversations with authorities.
In the eyes of many intellectuals, rallies become legitimate if they have a government permit and if they give clear options on how to solve a particular problem.
But a rally is actually more than just politician-bashing, effigy-burning, and occasional clashing with the police. It is an essential democracy ritual organized to articulate a political vision.
Every protest has a demand, petition, and appeal. Embedded in the agenda is the naming of an alternative. For paranoid politicians, this is the threat that must be vanquished which explains their ruthlessness in dispersing rallies. The visible collectives must not be allowed to assert the superiority of new politics.
If complaints against the government dominate the message of most rallies, it simply means many people are outraged by the negligence of our leaders in addressing our social problems. But it doesn’t prove that rally participants are unconcerned with alternatives. In fact, we are compelled to act because we wanted to end our miseries by exposing the flaws of the current system.
If the proposed solution is not loudly echoed, it is probably because the priority at the moment is the exposition of an issue. If the primary task is to mobilize broader public support in opposing a specific policy, more attention will be given to this mandate. Sustain the momentum, simplify and clarify the message, and organize. But it doesn’t follow that activists are clueless about the alternatives. Usually, the ‘missing’ solution is already written in the manifesto or in the pamphlet. Not all solutions are presented in pompous legalese or confusing technical papers. Sometimes, the most reasonable answers to the most perplexing riddles of life are to be found in our ordinary conversations and interactions.
Activists attend rallies not only to denounce the superbads of the world but also to speak and defend the agenda of progressive politics. They are neither professional complainers nor fanatic anti-government propagandists. Instead, they must be recognized as sentimentalists and partisans of the democratic cause. Fiery speeches are not fueled by hatred but by the stubborn optimism in people power.
Rallies are unique grassroots events. They are rallies by the grassroots, for the grassroots, and of the grassroots. They are platforms where politics is practiced at its democratic purest. This is genuine political participation. Oppression is unmasked through the testimonies of the excluded. Proofs of misgovernance are highlighted. The naughty and nice of politics are named for what they really are. In other words, rallies provide the most effective massive open offline course on political education, and yes, even conscientization.
Rallies are subversive public gatherings because they disrupt the illusory harmony in mainstream society. Power relations are challenged, history is re-made, and the prospect of revolution is openly endorsed. The impact of rallies, big and small, is always immediate. They enhance the fighting capacity of the masses, they provoke the enemies to respond or retaliate, they create new truths and opinions, they agitate the social classes. By triggering instant reaction from many sectors in society, rallies have already generated a new set of issues to be deliberated that can help hasten the emergence of more political alternatives.
Rallies alter the configurations of the political landscape. New alternatives must be debated again. Partisan forces will again vie for dominance. Conservative restoration or radical revolution? Political struggle is a never-ending process. Rallies remind us that our situation is certainly not the “best of all possible worlds” and that building another world is what makes life more meaningful. Rallies are open invitations extended to everybody who is interested in change. Ideas, doctrines, banners, and placards are most welcome in rallies.
The streets cease to be dangerous when people ‘occupy’ the streets since public rage is redirected to serve the agenda of democracy. Power is briefly reclaimed in behalf of the powerless. The future is merged with the present. The political horizon is transformed. A rally gives a glimpse of the ultimate alternative to the existing system.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org