Around five years ago, I passed the UPCAT. It was one of those moments that made me feel a lot of things – joy, dread, narcissism, relief, etc. Relief was what I felt the most ; the waiting for the results, making resolutions to not judge or kill myself if I didn’t pass, or trying to relax while my siblings made mean jokes about me being stupid – it was finally over. Little did I know that I’d be worrying about bigger things once I got in.
My tuition fee would be more expensive than any of my siblings, but we said that we’d make it work. We had to. UP eh, sayang. I was going to the place where my parents met, fell in love and got married. It was my turn. Maybe not to find romantic love exactly, because I hardly believe in marriage, but to find something I’d hold important.
Something so important that I’d fight for it.
The “fight” has always been a background theme during my stay in UP. From friendly UAAP games, fighting for more state subsidy on education, fighting for human rights or against “neo-colonialism”, to more personal battles on grades, friendships and heartbreaks, the university becomes the context where we are basically doing what we were meant to do: grow up.
I grew up knowing that UP had activism, and If you’re from UP, you’d know that there are a multitude of opportunities to join a protest. Have a GE class in AS and I guarantee you that at least twice in the semester there will be an announcement/interruption about “Black Shirt Day” on Thursday. You can ditch your class, go to Mendiola or Congress and scream your lungs out. Most professors I know are okay with that; some of them even join the rallies themselves. Conviction is a lesson in real life more palpable outside the classroom.
As a UP student, I am ambivalent about rallies.
Never mind the fact that “UP student” is synonymous to “Tibak” or activist to so many people. I am ambivalent because I feel that rallies still have a place in fixing the world, but I know that they’re also overrated. Armchair activism definitely is. You get a bunch of “socially-aware” hipsters talking about state-subsidies while sipping coffee at Starbucks, all the while knowing nothing of the social realities they think they’re fixing.
Of course, not everybody who writes about the problems or about the government’s bullshit is pretentious. That would make me a hypocrite, because I occasionally do that and I do believe what I write. It’s almost a dead end deal though – who am I amongst all those who have an opinion? If it counts, and I know it doesn’t, I don’t blog in Starbucks. If it counts, I’ve seen poverty up close. Writers often over-estimate their words, protesters their tantrums.
I chose to discuss written conviction first because it is a realm more familiar to me than the theatricality of rallies. I joined only one rally in my whole life. It was when the government threatened to cut more of the already inadequate budget allocation for State Universities and Colleges (SUCs). I’m actually a fan of lobbying to legislators, but at that time, letting the government know that I was angry was something I couldn’t ignore.
I know that bitching about it on Facebook or throwing rocks on policemen won’t really fix things. Until the solution is talked about, written on paper and actually acted on by people in government, we’re just going to have to wallow in the injustice of it all. An angry “hashtag” or a well-aimed PET bottle is poor bargaining capital.
I doubt that all protesters know what they’re fighting for in the first place.
The problem is that we do not have perfect knowledge of everything or even a bare minimum of it a lot of times, but we have the capacity to do things. We can abuse policemen, destroy public property and lie about it being peaceful, but still come up as the martyred victors – democracy on our lips.
I resent rallies because it becomes an avenue for ignorant self-righteousness and vanity. You want to be beaten by policemen or get fired on with a fire hose because it makes you feel noble as a person. But getting battle scars for the sake of getting battle scars is stupid, especially when the battles could have been averted.
Romanticize it all you want with it “being worth it” because “the nation suffers a great deal more.” Play the Jesus card. It’s about sending a message, you say, but what message is it really? And would the government really give a damn about you when you’ve condemned it anyway?
The mutual damnation is just delicious, isn’t it?
I respect the principle of protest rallies because a mass showing of emotions is powerful. Have a rally and the government knows that its people are angry, that there’s something wrong. But does it end there?
We can’t just kick and scream to get what we want, or say words like “fascism” and “communism” without knowing what they mean. We talk about abuse as if we were there when they happened, then abuse policemen as if it’s justified.
It’s pretentious, not progressive. We cheapen the principle in the process.
We desire revolutions without giving a thought or chance for reform. We’re angry and we can’t see anything else but red. What happened to lobbying and temperate discussions?
This is a picture of activism and activists which I hope we’re not becoming as UP students or as Filipinos. I’m not saying that all activists are like this, but most of the time this is how they’re seen. Therefore, whatever they do doesn’t work for change. It might as well be soft-terrorism and, on the issue of abuse, hypocrisy.
We are told that we should choose our fights, and it is important that we do. A lot of times, we don’t know or we forget what we’re fighting for.
In the end we just remember the pain.