Respect for diverse beliefs is one of the prescriptions of political correctness so therefore your decision to become an activist should no longer provoke scandalous reactions. But the menacing tentacles of Red Scare and Philippine-style McCarthyism continue to wield considerable influence in our social institutions. The result is that your activism is publicly tolerated and despised at the same time. You have the right to dissent but your dissenting is deemed pathetic. Sometimes this is reflected in the social ties you cultivate. You have dear friends from school, work, and the community but unknown to you or perhaps you chose to ignore it, some of these friends of yours harbor reactionary and anti-activist views.
Or maybe you are the token activist friend. Your presence absolves the barkada of the sin of apathy; your activism assuages the group guilt induced by their secret worshiping of elitist politics; and your friendship is flaunted to prove their adherence to pluralism.
Yet you refuse to clash with them on divisive political issues. Your attitude is to patiently persuade and enlighten them about the necessity of activism. You seek to understand their politics by attributing it to the hegemony of conservative ideology in society. Can you blame them if they were systematically schooled to reject the Left?
On the other hand, it is crucial to have reliable friends who can provide a lifeline during emergency situations. If there’s a political crackdown, your support network must include friends who will not compromise your safety. These friends are not the friends who can be easily unfriended on social media if their posts annoy you.
It is important, therefore, to keep count of real friends who can become active participants or allies of the people’s movement for social change.
However, it is extremely difficult to distinguish friends who are victims of misinformation from those who are consciously denigrating your activism. But there are some hints that can lead you to rethink how some of your friends are responding to your politics.
To start with, a real friend who is aware of your activism will be naturally curious about what you do and she will most likely ask about some of your causes. Meanwhile, there are some who will sarcastically inquire about your latest anti-government campaign despite your clarification that activism is more than just a rant against politicians in power.
A real friend will readily share resources in support of a cause; others will mockingly ask about your source of funds every time you hold rallies. You initially excuse a friend’s subtle attack since he could be referring to the hakot crowds of trapos. But then you realize he is not a stranger but someone who is supposed to know better that you are capable of doing something beyond pecuniary reasons. There’s a difference between a friend wanting to know more about sustaining an advocacy and a so-called friend insinuating that activists are beholden to a sinister patron.
Related to this, there are friends who will casually point out that some activists are rich forgetting that activism is not restricted to the poor and lower middle classes.
Some will probably accuse you of hypocrisy because of your petty bourgeois lifestyle yet you earlier emphasized that activists are encouraged to live simply but, unlike church people, do not have a vow of poverty. You do not integrate with the basic masses to fetishize poverty but to study the conditions of the poor and mobilize them to end poverty and the exploitation of man by man.
Some will sneer at your ‘Made in America’ consumer goods even if you already explained that the anti-imperialist movement should not be equated with the boycotting of some Western products.
You are surprised to hear your apolitical classmate or relative praising your activist dedication while alluding to the purported luxurious life of communist leader Joma Sison in Europe. You suddenly realized how an insidious government propaganda can be manipulated and disseminated as a believable piece of information.
Sometimes you wonder whether some of your friends are naïve or simply tactless when they invite you to a charity event by reminding you to do something different and effective like giving direct assistance to the needy. They add that unlike rallies, some forms of intervention can immediately and concretely benefit the marginalized. You have mixed thoughts about this invitation: you are delighted to see your friends assume greater social responsibility on one hand; but you are also frustrated to learn that they think rallies are not helping the people on the other. You feel the urge to speak about the dynamics of social movements and how political reforms should be analyzed in a historic way but you fear you might appear arrogant and preachy. Besides, it would take more than a brief rejoinder to counter the dominant thinking that seeks to measure everything in monetary terms. Political advocacy? Did it feed the poor instantly? Did you earn something from this work?
Perhaps the funniest reaction of some of your friends to your activism is to treat you like a brainwashed victim of some mysterious totalitarian sect. In order to save either your soul or sanity, they try to convert you back to ‘reality’ by recommending a bible study or an exorcism-like spiritual session. Some would probably tease you to remember the hedonistic appeal of ordinary civilian life. You appreciate the concern but you candidly assure them that you are normal and rational. Indeed, you may sound esoteric every time you mention uncommon words like praxis and dialectics but it doesn’t mean you are afflicted with a deadly disease. You insist that activism is not a problem but a cure.
And then there are friends who will say nothing against your dream to change the world, some may even volunteer to join your struggle in the future, but they will also insist that change of self is paramount over other matters. Reform the individual first before seeking the reform of society. What a seemingly harmless and logical assertion yet ideologically biased against the progressive cause. Even politicians and the state have no problem echoing this mantra. If we focus too much on ourselves, we risk losing interest in fulfilling our citizen duties. We may inflame self-love, not solidarity. And it’s incorrect to assume that a person cannot change his self and society at the same time. When we link arms with others to build a new world, we are also transformed as individuals. Through activism, you learn the importance of remolding your old worldview and feudal habits.
To conclude, what is the proper attitude toward friends and old acquaintances as we move forward the struggle for meaningful social change? To borrow a few words from an unlikely and even politically-incorrect source, we should keep our friends close and our so-called friends closer. We need friends and allies as we raise the banner of the revolution; and we have our other ‘friends’ whose misconceptions about activism should embolden us to be more aggressive in improving our education and information-awareness campaigns.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org