An Anonymous Voice From the Left

Dear Friends, Comrades, mga Kapatid, mga Kababayan:

Activists from all over the world celebrate the Filipino people for EDSA I. It was a glorious triumph of democracy over dictatorship, of peace over violence, and of the will of the people over the force of a dictator. Yet, as Filipinos, when we hear these compliments we utter a bitter smirk. Yes, EDSA I was a triumph, but where did it get us?

As we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of EDSA I, we must look at it in its entirety and learn from it. Yes, it was a gargantuan victory as a dictator was toppled, democratic institutions were reinstalled and democratic space was won. Yet, it was also a failure, as those institutions were and remain semi-democratic at best, the democratic space that exists is too tight to allow meaningful maneuvers, and the vile social structure of so many that have so little, so few that have so much, a middle class that chooses voluntary exile, and a president who exists above the law remain well in tact.

What was the mistake in 1986? WE, the progressive forces, the democratic left, the forces for change, whatever we call ourselves, were too proud, too knowledgeable, and too ideologically pure to join in the new order. As a result, the cooperating elite forces designed our so-called democracy according to their terms without the progressive forces to mediate, moderate, and most importantly guide, which, of course, resulted in the perpetuation of the vile system. In protecting our purity, we victimized our own masa, whose interests we claim to embody.

Then came EDSA II, which was answered by EDSA III. As the “EDSA Factors” appear to be once again coagulating, it is time for us to ask ourselves: What have we learned?

As the Lozada testimony is the talk of the town, 1 public rally and 2 public masses showing support for Jun have been held in the past 5 days. These gatherings have a different, exciting character that was not present in the first 3 EDSA revolutions. These gatherings have been heavily populated by the middle classes (the steady middle class and the new middle class that depends on OFW remittances), and middle-upper classes. The centers have not been UP, but Makati, LaSalle and Ateneo. These people are not trained and hardened activists, but unorganized numbers searching for a venue to release their frustration. At these gatherings I heard several people say “I’m 43 (55, 62) years old and I’ve never joined anything like this before.”

Yet, it is this exact characteristic which the democratic left seems to be wary of. These gatherings are not real rallies because they lack aggressive speeches. These gatherings are not pure because JDV is welcome to attend. This is not a real movement because the people are unorganized. This cannot be called a mass movement because it is centered in the middle class and not in the masa. As a result, the appearance and involvement of the democratic left has been depressingly lackluster as we continue our decades-long debate about what form the revolution should take.

It appears we have not learned from the past. WE, the progressive forces, the democratic left, the forces for change, will once again be left in the dust as another opportunity for meaningful change is wasted, as magbabago ang ulo pero maiiwan ang katawan. More importantly, the masa will be left in the dust as we continue to pursue the same strategies of non-cooperation with the middle and elite classes and all or nothing that have brought us nowhere in the past 22 years.

I wish to argue that what is happening has the potential to turn into a mass movement. People, no matter what class, gathering in large numbers, not because someone is pushing them but because they believe in something, is the definition of a social movement. But whether or not you believe that argument, you must believe this, it is our role, as the democratic left, to spread this movement out of Makati, LaSalle and Ateneo, into the communities, sectors and classes whose interests we claim to live, work and breathe for. It is our role to turn this into a mass movement.

Yes, the newly mobilized middle classes are not activists. But we are activists. If they do not know how bring their message to the unorganized masa, we must teach them; if they do not know how to approach laborer/farmer/peasant/indigenous/women groups, we must show them how; if they are not going around organizing and training students, we must do it for and with them.

Why should we work with them? Because we all want the same short term goals, which are the end of the GMA administration, the reform of a corrupt system, and free and fair elections. We may disagree on our broad ideologies, but we agree that these are the immediate obstacles to our various long term goals.

But, perhaps more importantly, if there is anything we should have learned from our EDSA experiences, it is that we want bargaining chips when this is all over so that we can influence the future. And those bargaining chips only come in the form of weight of our participation and the numbers we draw.

And by the way, they’re ready. Yesterday, when I asked a taxi driver if he would join in a movement to remove GMA, he responded, with a grin, “Oo, e.” They are waiting for us to take it to them. Where are we?