The untold first mission of many activists does not involve the smashing of the bourgeois state or the ‘bombarding of the headquarters’ of the repressive government; their first instinct is to go home and confess their political conversion to their parents or guardians.
It is a delicate and difficult duty. Delicate because parents could easily misunderstand the youthful idealism of their children as naivete. Difficult because activists do not want to be a burden to their families. How will the parents react?
The new recruit may feel confident about his early exposure to radical discourse but he knows it isn’t enough to win the support of his parents. Jargons won’t impress parents who fear for the safety of their children.
The activist has to speak like a child without sounding childish, he needs to assert his autonomy without alienating the family, he hopes to remain calm and rational as he passionately plead for understanding.
But can he deliver the right words without becoming preachy, arrogant, and dogmatic?
There are so many new exotic words to use or brag but are they effective? How best to argue that she is rebelling against society and not against her dear parents, that she is proud of her family, that she is grateful for her upbringing, and that she is happy.
Can she explain the contradiction in her decision to renounce the decadence of the status quo while preserving meaningful ties with her traditional family?
How lucky the few activists who get the opportunity to talk candidly about their peculiar life choices with their families. Because for many activists, they simply couldn’t speak properly and bravely in front of their parents, the original authority figures in their lives.
All these unexpressed sentiments could linger and haunt the family for years until it only becomes an unspoken hurt between the parent and child activist. How ironic and depressing that the articulate activist has many names for the old and new world yet he has little or nothing to say at all in front of his parents
Perhaps she is overwhelmed with guilt. She feels she has betrayed a sacred bond when she chose to prioritize the collective or commune over the family. After all, her parents have sacrificed their own dreams and endured numerous pains in life so that she can succeed in the world, yet she unequivocally speaks of changing it. She mentions the struggle to build a better society when all her parents wanted was for society to recognize their child.
How sudden and strange the transformation of the child who shouts slogans like ‘learn from the masses” (how about learning from mothers?) and ‘serve the people’ (did she forget how to serve the parents first?). The child they shielded from violence is calling for a revolutionary war. The mild-mannered teenager has become a street agitator.
But while the activist is dealing with and overthinking his guilt, his parents continued to behave and act as, well, parents. The much-desired consent was not explicitly given but who needs it when the parents never disavowed their prodigal son. They silently acknowledged his activism and made sure the family will stay intact.
After some time, the reluctant sympathizers of the mass movement would become staunch supporters of the Cause. Their home, a shelter for activists in trouble. Their resources are shared with the collective. They became instant parents and counselors to many progressives.
How does the child activist repay the kindness and generosity of her parents? By proving that the decision to pursue activism is also a tribute to all fathers and mothers who wanted only the best for their children.
Like their parents, activists work hard so that no children will suffer from preventable miseries. They devote the best years of their lives battling injustice and oppression. Isn’t this commitment similar to the heroic sacrifice of parents?
Activists become activists not because they feel resentment against their parents; on the contrary, they embraced activism also in honor of their parents.
Perhaps the activist sees his parents while in the company of farmers, workers, and the toiling masses in the grassroots. He seeks the empowerment of the oppressed in the same way he yearns to promote the welfare of his now aging parents.
Activists rarely mention their parents when they are engaged in political work. But it doesn’t mean they think less about them. Behind every grim and determined looking activist is most likely a child thankful that his parents have trusted him with the freedom to choose the activist way of life. An activist who evaluates his self not only in relation to his work as a full time political organizer and proletarian cadre but also whether he continues to live up to the expectations of his beloved parents.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org