1. Rallies are violent, street rallies are illegal, and they cause destabilization. A rally is neither a picnic nor a carnival but it is also not a riot and a mortal combat activity. A rally will end and disperse peacefully if the police is not ordered to attack the protesters. Many people erroneously assume that rallies are chaotic mainly because news reports often highlight the clash between the police and protesters. What these reports neglect to mention is that the tension lasted for only a few minutes during the whole day rally.
As a public spectacle, a rally is no different from a festival parade or a church procession which all require a permit from authorities. But unlike rallies, the latter and other seemingly non-political street events are not outrightly dismissed as illegal whether or not they have official approval from the bureaucracy. By the way, a permit to hold a rally is not necessary if the venue is a freedom park (Liwasang Bonifacio, Plaza Miranda), especially during weekends.
Destabilization is a manifestation of a severe political crisis. But it can also be caused by rallies and it might be the political impact intended by activists. Nevertheless, it is not wrong. Only the despotic, corrupt, and illegitimate leaders like Marcos and Arroyo are threatened by the specter of destabilization.
2. Rali na lang nang rali ang mga aktibista. Wrong. We have too many meetings and only few rallies. I wish the reverse were true but the reality is that our time, energy, and attention are spent on attending and holding meetings. Meeting of community leaders and members, meeting with policymakers, meeting of mass organizations. Meetings during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including weekends. What do we do everyday? Education sessions, lobbying, networking, community integration, forum organizing. A rally is actually the culmination of a particular campaign. It is counterproductive to hold rallies every now and then without first investigating and studying the issue, launching an awareness and information drive, and recruiting new members.
3. Rallies create public disturbance like heavy traffic and loss of livelihood. The country’s most popular protest venue is Mendiola near Malacanang Palace which is located in a busy intersection in Manila. Why do activists hold rally here? Because the government has outlawed protest actions in front of the palace. Aside from erecting an electric fence, the government has declared the Malacanang Freedom Park as a ‘no-rally’ zone. Why do protesters congregate in Commonwealth Avenue during the annual state of the nation address? Because the police and the local government are always preventing activists from staging a counter-Sona inside the SB Freedom Park in front of the Batasan.
We want to protest in front of a government building but the police are always blocking our march. Rallies are commonly held in Manila because it is the country’s political center. Streets become protest venues because they are almost the only public space available where the people can freely express their beliefs and briefly reclaim power.
Who benefits from the myopic thinking that rallies create monstrous traffic jams? The inept politicians in power and their benefactors who want to redirect public attention away from serious policy questions. It is a disservice to the public if the main debate is shifted to peripheral issues like the inconvenience caused by rallies rather than focusing on the central political issue at hand.
Also, to reprimand the poor for rallying instead of working is to echo the point of view of those in power. Can’t the poor immerse themselves in politics to assert their rights?
4. Rallies are communist activities. Tell that to the Catholic Bishops who organized pro-life rallies. Perhaps journalists are communists too for marching in the streets against the culture of impunity with regard to media killings. All presidents must be communists too because they joined and even organized rallies in the past. Cory was a street parliamentarian during the Marcos years, Ramos was part of the People Power rally, Erap marched in the streets against the US bases, Gloria rallied against Erap, and Noynoy was also sometimes present during the anti-Gloria rallies. But when these politicians became presidents, they suddenly turned averse against those who are joining rallies.
Participating in a collective political action is a democratic right and it does not become irrelevant even if it is continually dismissed by politicians in power and their apologists.
5. Protesters are paid to join hakot rallies. Pork barrel funds of Leftist legislators are used to organize rallies. Many politicians are guilty of organizing hakot rallies especially during election campaigns. But instead of simply condemning the people for ‘selling’ their political convictions, we must organize them and encourage them to fight the political system which caused their marginalization.
Cynicism is hard to overcome but we must allow ourselves to be open to the idea that there are groups like the militant Left which are sincerely struggling for political reforms. Many people join rallies not because of money but because they believe in the cause. Acquiring material wealth is not a motivation for those who choose to become a National Democrat or Natdem activist.
The Left has been organizing rallies for many decades already and it entered Congress only in 2001. It has always relied on the mass movement, and not the pork barrel system, to raise the resources needed for its activities. Further, not a single proof has been presented that Leftist legislators have abused the pork barrel system to commit anomalous deeds.
6. Activists are rah-rah, grim and determined simpletons who are always opposing the government. Criticism is important in a democracy. Opposing the government is not a choice but a duty when the government has become a brutal tool of repression used by the elite to dominate the poor.
Activists and even citizens are not obliged to worship government officials; they are also not required to express public support to government programs just to prove that they are patriotic and responsible citizens. But they need to be critical and vigilant to make public officials accountable. Rallies provide concrete opportunities for the people to exert pressure on the government.
It is inaccurate to argue that activists are always opposing the government. No rally has been organized to oppose the Department of Tourism’s #itsmorefun slogan. No protest was reported when the government approved a law expanding the discounts given to senior citizens. Leftist legislators voted in favor of Aquino’s priority bills like the Reproductive Health and Kindergarten Law. There are hundreds of national agencies and thousands of local departments but activists are choosing to hold rallies against only the few superbads of bureaucracy.
Some are turned off by the angry chants and seemingly simplistic slogans of activists in rallies. But it’s difficult not to be angry when the government evicts public hospitals. Meanwhile, the slogans have to be short and direct to the point for easier recall. Are you expecting a thesis statement in the placards?
If the sound bites in rallies are too simple for your intellect, please bear in mind that the target audience is not just you but the general public. Activists have already authored various publications from half-page leaflets to encyclopedia-size books which you are free to read so that you won’t fall into the trap of naively dismissing the intellectual capacity of progressives.
7. Rallies achieve nothing and hence they are just a waste of time. In contrast to rallies, holding dialogue with the government brings immediate and concrete results. But if rallies are really obsolete, why did many people organize the ‘Million People March’ in response to the pork barrel expose? There are supposedly numerous alternatives to effect change in society, but why did they insist in organizing a public gathering? Some civil society groups who have become experts at lobbying and dismissing the power of rallies in recent years were there too in Luneta.
The truth is that the rally has become an unmentionable precious legacy of democracy. Then and now, it is the potent weapon of the weak and oppressed. It is the visible collective in action; it is democracy at its purest. Tyrants are ousted by people power, reforms are enacted when people mobilize, and the demands of the grassroots are recognized when they are active and united. This is the reason why those who are pampered by the status quo are fanatic in demonizing the role of rallies in society.
True, many rallies do not bring concrete and instant results. But sometimes they do like the walk out of college cadets in 2001 which led to the abolition of the ROTC. Political reforms, on the other hand, are more difficult to achieve. They require time, patience, and stubborn determination on the part of the people to push these demands. But all is not lost because in the interregnum, the struggle provides political education to the masses.
Many of the public goods we enjoy today are victories achieved through the aggressive action of the masses in the past. Labor benefits, right to suffrage, free speech, public education – these are neither gifts nor entitlements given by the state but obligations which were institutionalized through the struggle of the people.
8. Street rallies are uncreative and unimaginative. They are the opposite of virtual or Internet activism. The opposite of street activism is not Internet activism but no-activism. Activists are actually among the most consistent and effective proponents of combining online and offline activism. They recognize the political value of the Internet without disregarding the continuing validity of street rallies.
Creativity is essential when conducting a campaign. Drafting a political message that will succinctly explain the issue to all segments of the population while agitating the public requires imagination. Designing the campaign materials – the choice of icon, protest graphics, effigy, even the size and structure of the placards or streamers in rallies – is not for the barren mind. Activists spend a lot of time discussing and debating what issues to highlight in a campaign. Then, they identify a particular set of information that will be condensed and packaged for propaganda purposes. They prepare separate materials for the media, government officials, academe, and the global civil society. They carefully deliberate the launch of a campaign and the appropriate time in implementing the rest of the campaign design while measuring the reach of the advocacy and sustaining the fight.
Every rally is thoroughly planned including the songs, poems and other cultural performances that will entertain and arouse the crowd. Protest art starts in the real and dirty world before being transplanted, codified, documented, and disseminated in the virtual world.
9. Activists are great lovers. This is not a misconception. This is true. We love humanity, planet Earth, and we want world peace. It is love, not hate, which inspires activists to raise their fists in a rally. Love for others and not just love for the self. Selfless love, not love of the selfie androids. When we protest, it does not mean that we have a negative and gloomy view of the world. More than anything else, it reflects our undying optimism that yes, another world, a better world is possible. Love ignites the struggle for a new future. So spread the love, the hope, and become an activist.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org