My first five years as a full-time activist

The author (wearing Kabataan shirt) with colleagues in the youth movement.

QUESTION EVERYTHING
Mong Palatino

bu-op-icons-mong

I joined the Center for Nationalist Studies in 1997, became an active member of STAND UP in 1998, and declared my commitment to be a full-time activist after graduation in 2000. I enrolled for a master’s degree but decided to discontinue pursuing this during the ‘Oust Estrada’ campaign.

As a full-time activist, it meant having work but without a regular salary. Our work doesn’t provide remuneration and we even have to help in raising campaign resources. Looking back, perhaps I could have done some freelance job (raket) but it didn’t figure in my priorities during that time.

We were focused on immersing ourselves in the mass movement. We were overeager students of what we believe was radical politics. And we felt that the nation’s politics at that time demanded greater attention and sacrifice. The Left was reenergizing itself through a rectification movement, a populist president was removed from office through ‘People Power’, and we were inspired by the election victory of Bayan Muna.

There’s almost no lull in waging mass campaigns on sectoral and people’s issues. After the 2001 elections, there was a vigorous movement calling for the abolition of ROTC. Meanwhile, community-based groups led the clamor against exorbitant power rates. Gloria Arroyo endorsed the ‘war on terror’ after 9/11 and expanded the presence of foreign military troops in the country. If rallying in response to these issues reflected the espousal of an anti-government agenda, then we plead guilty. But it is a simplistic and inaccurate accusation because it reduces activism into mere agitprop against politicians in power. It denies the role of activism not just in the pursuit of reforms but also how it empowers those living in the margins of society.

Indeed, protest rallies are the visible manifestation of activism and represent pure democracy in action. But activists are aware that there are also other means to advance a progressive type of politics in other arenas of struggle. If rallies are given prominence, it is because they directly intervene in politics while strengthening the collective voice of its participants and the ‘imagined community’ of dissenters.

Mong was also chairperson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) in his younger years.
When activists organize rallies, they do not just think of the logistics but more importantly, the political sense and aim of the protest. Rallies are often the culmination of a particular campaign, serving as the focal point of political engagement. Beyond the technical requirements of holding rallies, there has to be a sustained and coordinated education initiative, effective messaging strategy, alliance formation, legal preparation, and membership expansion. Activists multitask in carrying out their comprehensive political work. No work is too small or too big for dedicated activists.

It is a creative and collaborative endeavor. Repeated planning sessions, consultations, and even late-night meetings to assess the political situation and the status of our organized forces. We discuss and debate the tactical objectives of our campaigns, the methods of organizing, the means to attain our target mobilization, and the forms of our propaganda materials.

Slogans are formulated, press statements are readied, and pamphlets/flyers are prepared for wide dissemination. These are continually scrutinized vis-a-vis the intended political effect. Did they agitate the masses? Did the media quote the statements? Did state officials respond already? Perhaps the analysis is wrong, perhaps a better phrasing is needed, perhaps the font is too small.

Our critique of the social situation has to be refined for the general population. The local campaign is linked to the broader political struggle. We test ideas and our practices while aiming to retain the clarity, sharpness, and correctness of our political line. We conduct lobbying in aid of the political struggle. We form partnerships to solidify our fighting capacity. We work with various community members to learn from their conditions and establish the basis on how to implement our political education program.

It is methodical, thorough, repetitive, but never dull. That’s why those who lampoon the mundaneness of rallies are either clueless commenters, misinformed keyboard analysts, or apologists of the state.

We are not passive members of the resistance. As full-time activists, we do not just find ourselves in the middle of a raging political conflict; but the more apt description is that we situate ourselves in the struggle to master the dialectics of politics, excel in praxis, and win the revolution.

Time is both a friend and foe. We scramble for time to fulfill our duties. The day is always never enough for the many things, scenarios, encounters, and outcomes we wanted to achieve. We greet the day filled with proletarian enthusiasm but we often go back to the headquarters infected with existential disillusionment. Our scientific workplan didn’t deliver, our organizational gains are too puny to measure, our mastery of the political terrain is negligent. In other days, we fail to properly read the situation and it overwhelms us. Our source of despair is the knowledge that the tiniest of our errors translate into the prolonged misery of the masses whom we vowed to serve.

Our defeatist outlook is tempered by a collective evaluation of our work. And from this new knowledge, we develop a better plan to overcome our shortcomings, conquer self-doubt, and seize the new day. We celebrate and seek to accumulate even the small victories as we anchor them to the protracted struggle for genuine emancipation.

There was no concept of self-care or life-work balance that guided our daily routine during that time but the best of our days were spent doing politics. We viewed life and its contradictions through the lens of politics. But we didn’t wallow in abstractions because there were always practical questions that needed to be resolved. Every day was a new opportunity to shed aspects of life that embraced selfish individualism. Oh, what a difficult, painful transition. You attend parties, reunions, and family dinners hoping that you could contribute more other than your keen political viewpoints.

You do not stop feeling inadequate but you’re more at peace after surviving different types of political upheavals. In time, you will appreciate the value of friends lending support, the family as your generous refuge, and kasamas as your guide (gabay) in the struggle.

Will I do this again if given the chance to rethink the choices I made with my life? There was no certainty of success. There was no promise of reward. Only the idea that I will be joining an army of radicals and dreamers. And from the inside, we fashioned the template of resistance into something that will hasten the arrival of the future. We constantly failed, but we kept on marching forward, always and still determined to make the impossible possible. Proud that I sided with the good ones, the Natdems. The formative years as a full-time activist which gave me the confidence, courage, and progressive perspective to advance the cause of the revolution whether inside the halls of Congress, the streets of Manila, or in the interstices of the rural and urban. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: mongpalatino@gmail.com

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