Commentary: Beyond politics: The Social Functions of Protest


On the 23rd, Monday, Typhoon Jocie, who had been dumping bodies of rains in Luzon (especially Central and Northern Luzon) over the weekend made a needed exit. Perhaps used clothes have been piling in every house corner; spin dryers have become a gift and laundry shops confused about having to go to work and peeking at the prospect of profits. It was also on the 23rd that what was already expected to be an eventful day in national politics became even more striking when Gloria Arroyo, who over a decade ago said Hello to Garci, said Hello (even with the audio system off) to the seat of the House Speaker.

Stretched and tension-filled minutes later, President Duterte delivered his third State of the Nation Address (SONA). All over the country, people from various sectors gathered together to embody their own version of the state of the nation. Lovely and symbolic: how the bureaucrats in Congress were apparently having an on-cam (yet audio-off) bickering/literal shuffling while large groups of people are openly displaying their solidifying and in-process unity. What I witnessed is a nation dismayed and angered at a President whose policies have increasingly became more anti-people (TRAIN law, jeepney modernization, Oplan Tambay, continuing contractualization) and pro-elite (selling Philippine assets (i.e. the Chico Dam) to China; the closing of Boracay among others).

In the Capital region, via social media, I saw throngs of people trudging together—thankfully they did not have to weather a literally angry weather as participants from Baguio did. Or, more romantically and rosily put: their understandable rage did not have to compete with the weather’s anger. In Baguio, what I witnessed first-hand were just parts of the program; Jesa and I were not able to join the solidarity march. When we arrived at Igorot Park, someone from the Transport sector was giving his speech. Expressing his opposition to the jeepney modernization program which will cost the livelihood of many, the mass leader earned the support of jeepney drivers in the nearby terminals. As we were proceeding to Igorot Park, we heard Bakakeng and Campo Sioco drivers telling each other to honk. Even this tiny expression of support outweighs the aloofness of passersby or the growing malice in whispers like “magkano binayad sa inyo?”

The rain would bluster at some point in the program while we were there. I just had to step on the mini-stage at Igorot Park to see the entire number of people participating—fifty is a generous estimate. This sharply contrasts with the scene in Manila: one likely had to walk up a footbridge or be in any elevated spot to take a good representative photo of the rally’s huge attendance.

I imagine my more immature self: grumbling about the quantity of participants. The phrases are worth-mentioning: unti ang napalabas (napa-walkout), manipis ang hanay, di naabot ang target etc. I caught myself regressing to that previous self when I saw the tons of participants in Manila’s People’s SONA. In my head: Grabe ang dami nila; habang kanina sa Baguio… Good thing I was able to prevent any further regression. I was quick to check myself. It is okay to have rallies with no thousand participants. Having a huge mobilization is definitely good but we know that the work does not end there. More work is needed in maintaining such amount of membership: solidifying commitments, continuing everybody’s education, understanding the depth of what we do. In a way, such thinking helps us not to be bothered by the perennial “Puro lang kayo rally” comment precisely because our often-fatigued bodies but indomitable spirits know that marching on the streets is just one of the many things we do.

This is not to condone small attendances in mass actions or bypass evaluation points regarding them. Even though Jesa and I were late and it was raining hard and the few people who attended were getting drenched, I still find many positives in the People’s SONA here in Baguio last week. Attending that mass action made me reflect about the other functions of rallies like that. Aside from being an occasion for political articulations, rallies also serve as a venue for social gathering. Activists from different sectors are able to meet, perhaps secure a schedule for a long-postponed meeting or two; old-time colleagues or friends who have drifted apart for some reason—someone had to work elsewhere, someone was assigned to a different area—can chancily see each other, say Hellos and exchange quick life updates.

I saw B, no longer from the youth but now the trade union sector. Together with other cultural workers-activist-friends in the house of one of us where fog reigns, I listened to B recite his poetry. I also chatted with Kuya J, now affiliated with a BPO rights group; I last recall him being part of the teachers’ sector. I even asked him about A, his constant buddy when both of them were still in a teachers’ organization. Incidentally, together with his son, A would appear towards the end of the program and we would shortly talk about job applications.

In Facebook, I would see the selfies Mam L took with friends during the activity. I liked the smile I had in my heart; just like the pictures of the swarm of people in the Manila rally, those selfies made me feel reassured about this movement I still identify myself with. There are rallies that make your heart well with the sheer mass of people, mostly sharing your indignation at the way things are but also sharing the joy that you are working together to change them bit by bit. But there are also rallies that may be humble in size but not in terms of reminding us of our connectedness with others.

Mark Fisher titled the second chapter of Capitalism Realism as follows: “What if you held a protest and everyone came?” Contra this scenario, I would prefer a protest where there are just fifty or fifteen or five of us—so long as we know that we share our causes and that we will be continuously working together in the future, and not just seeing each other for a one-time huge affair. #


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