Have you ever wondered why there are rallies calling for land reform but none that advocate for women’s right to suffrage? The answer is obvious: The first is a demand by landless farmers which is being virulently opposed by the powerful landed class while the latter is already a political victory achieved by the women sector many decades ago. We often notice the first, and some are even complaining against it, but the political significance of the latter is always overlooked. We fail to recognize that for every social issue that motivates people to join rallies, there are dozens of political topics that no longer provoke a massive public outcry. For every expose made by activists, there are dozens of social issues which are not getting proper attention. The problem is not the existence of rallies but the fact that there are few rallies addressing the country’s myriad social problems.
Let us learn from the successful campaign to recognize the right of women to participate and vote in the elections. Today, women’s electoral participation is not only widely accepted, it is also a mainstream indicator of a functioning modern democracy. But this is a recent phenomenon. A hundred years ago, the idea of women joining electoral politics was rejected by many as a laughable and unnecessary reform. Fortunately, women groups persisted and they challenged the prevailing opinion by aggressively asserting their political demand. They rallied millions of people to their cause until it became a popular concept. If women are protective of this right, it is because they fought hard and sacrificed a lot before this campaign gained widespread support.
There was no assurance of victory when women activists demanded the right of all citizens to vote. Yet it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the mass movement. This is the precious legacy and lesson of activism. We dream the impossible, we talk of the unmentionable, we fight the invincible, we journey towards the unknown.
And there is another thing: We secretly desire that struggling for our rights will be rendered irrelevant. We wish to create a world where our vision is no longer seen as strange or our views as deviant. We want the natural ‘withering away’ of activists in society because it means there is no more need for a group of people who will passionately articulate and defend the sentiments of the marginalized. We are rallying today so that rallies will become redundant in the future.
But this is different from the crazed yearning of the oppressors and their hired underlings who are openly advocating the end of rallies and militant activism. What they truly fantasize is the preservation of the unequal world minus the dissent of the oppressed. They seem to have forgotten a crucial lesson in history: As long as preventable miseries exist, activism will never become obsolete.
A rally will always look anomalous and unfashionable because it shatters the comforting veneer of normalcy that prop up the existing order. Nevertheless, a rally accelerates the arrival of the future. It is an intervention in eternity. Activists are thinking the future through their demands that seem out of place in the present. Free college education? Free health care? Socialized housing for the poor? Viewed from the perspective of the present, they appear to be irrational demands (unless you are living in a European welfare state). But they are being proposed in behalf of the future. It is an attempt to create a different future. It is crowdsourcing the worldview of the future in realtime. Today’s abstract or confusing idea can be tomorrow’s kindergarten knowledge. What activists are seeking to accomplish is to conform the present with the future. And once this is done, society can finally retire the words activism and rally because they have already served their purpose.
This is the reason why activists are among the most optimistic people in the world. They fervently believe in the fighting capacity of the masses. Their faith in humanity is limitless. And they are determined to pursue their goals despite the reactionary backlash that seek to discredit and defeat the forward march of the revolution.
The pathetic tactic of the ruling class is to ridicule activism as irrelevant and a nuisance in politics. They need to be reminded that radicalism as an idea and a political threat cannot be eliminated simply because politicians and their apologists have declared it to be passe. End inequality, injustice, and imperialism before making a claim about the supposed antiquated value of activism.
Activism is neither a problem nor a specter that requires a solution. It is a solution disguised as a problem and a specter. It is a cure to the social ills that plague society. Democracy will quickly degenerate into a monstrous regime without the potent presence of activism. Claim the future by embracing the promise of activism.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairman of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org