Vow of poverty. Activists are encouraged to live simply, but unlike priests, they don’t have a vow of poverty. They don’t fetishize poverty; instead, they work with the poor to fight the structures that engender oppression in society. Indeed, activists renounce material riches and the glorification of wealth but it doesn’t mean they can no longer indulge in simple pleasures like going to movies, eating in restaurants, and singing in videoke bars. Also, activism is a duty and way of life that can be embraced by all sectors, including those who belong to the middle classes and even the rich.
Pro-China. Some accuse activists of being rabid anti-Americans who ignore the transgressions of China. They want activists to stop burning US flags and instead hold demonstrations in front of the Chinese consulate. These are inaccurate and unfair assertions. Activists are not anti-Americans; what they denounce are the destructive policies of the US government. Activists have not been remiss in defending our sovereignty against foreign intruders whether they involve the US military, multinational mining firms, or Chinese bullies. Activists read Mao but they are not supporters of China’s leaders today. In fact, they describe China’s government as revisionist and even anti-Mao.
‘Silent’ activists. Every time there is a public scandal or national crisis, some will complain about the supposed silence of activists and their alleged complicity with the dark forces in society. How ironic that those who reject rallies are egging on activists to protest in the streets against this or that issue. Those who rant against arrogant activists are condescendingly commanding others to carry out a political action. What their sentiments truly reveal is their own political impotence. They seem to forget that they can organize their own protest with or without the participation of activists. But either they can’t do it because they have no organizing work or they refuse to act because they are more comfortable preaching in their virtual worlds. Tragic that they need to outsource political commitment.
Bad citizens and lawbreakers. Activism is not a crime, joining rallies is not against the law, protesting against a government program is not rebellion. Only the state and its clueless apologists will spread the insidious propaganda that activism is disruptive, inutile, illegal, and anti-Filipino. On the contrary, activism embodies what it means to practice responsible citizenship. What better way to inculcate responsibility among the people and especially the youth than to encourage a group of citizens to work together and establish solidarity in order to challenge the wrongdoers and push for reforms in society.
Professional rallyists. Man does not live by bread alone…and rallies. Some think that activists earn their living by organizing rallies. This is another blatant government-sponsored lie. It is wrong to equate activism with mere participation in rallies. It is also wrong to assume that activists spend most of their time attending and coordinating rallies. Activists devote greater attention to talking to people, studying a social problem, lobbying with officials, conducting education and information-awareness campaigns, integrating with the masses in the peripheries, and planning meetings. A rally is the most visible manifestation of what activists are doing but it doesn’t really capture the comprehensive political work of activists. The term ‘activist’ is also half-complete because most have professions. Many are teachers, doctors, artists, writers, government employees, entrepreneurs, lawyers, priests, scientists – nearly every sector in society has a dedicated group of individuals who organize themselves in order to become activists. Some become full-time organizers in urban poor and rural communities. They are like volunteer individuals in charity groups whose advocacy is gratefully acknowledged and supported by their adopted communities. Some turn to freelance work to pay the bills while others rely on the political and financial support provided by their families and close friends. No activist depends on rallies to survive precarious living. No one becomes rich by joining rallies. But everybody becomes ‘richer’ and more fulfilled in life by wielding the weapons of activism to hasten the emergence of a better world and brighter future.
Blind followers. Let’s specify the criticism: Blind followers of an obsolete ideology; and uncritical, robot-like followers of communist leader Joma Sison. What ideology are they referring to? The ideology that unmasks the system of exploitation and mass poverty? The philosophy that combines theory and practice so that the ‘best of all possible worlds’ can be rendered knowable by all? Any critique to the existing system is deemed invalid by those who think we have reached the ‘end of history’ and the only rational action left for us to accomplish is to improve life under the ruling order by demanding some doable, tangible reforms. Hence, the indifference and even ruthless hatred against those who continue to insist that no less than a revolutionary upheaval is needed to uplift the conditions of all. As for Joma, his ideological enemies assume that the Western propaganda against the cult-like following of Stalin and Mao can be used to demonize the revolutionary struggle in the Philippines. It is a standard red-baiting tactic. True, activists read the writings of Joma and they serve as useful guide to better understand the interplay of political forces in Philippine society. But the strength of the people’s resistance in the country is not attributed to how well activists are subscribing to the doctrines laid down by Joma. The National Democratic movement thrives and is even resurgent mainly because of the heroic contribution and sacrifice of its ‘organic intellectuals’ immersed in the grassroots and building real democracy and political power from the countryside to the cities.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org