The first time I joined a rally, on President Benigno Aquino III’s last year, I felt a cathartic sensation and the possible materialization of all things deemed impossible by the current rotten version of elite democracy. It was during Aquino’s last State of the Nation Address, when he was saving himself and his legacy for the last time as head of the nation. I was 16 and fresh out of a conservative Catholic school. I would never have heard and known the cries of the marginalized sectors had I not put myself out in the streets.
Ever since then I have joined rallies, from protesting for and with the workers to condemning the Marcos burial and the impunity of traditional politicians and the police.
Recently, students of the University of the Philippines were assailed by the administration for walking out of their classes to join protests and lightning demonstrations. Inquirer Opinion columnist Oscar Franklin Tan also wrote that UP students must outgrow rallies, that such mass actions had been a method of a more glorious era of student activism, and that we have other avenues to express a more critical opposition than merely taking photos while holding placards.
Tan used words and phrases such as “intellectually bankrupt,” “superficial” and “instant gratification” to describe the supposed current state of student activism. It was as if, for him, rallies had become a no-brainer tradition that no longer required critical thinking from students, and that calls had become mere slogans and demands mere chants.
From there he listed the different ways that we could channel this generation’s “wokeness.”
But what Tan and all others who dismiss the vitality of protests are missing is the physical and immediate presence of rallies and the narrative these unfold in the parliament of the streets—the only venue unoccupied by armchair intellectuals and traditional politicians.
A rally is an act, held by the people in the streets, also shared by people from various walks of life. A rally is made public for the masses. The people talking through megaphones share their sentiments and their anxieties, their condemnation and their hope for an alternative society. This staging of a democratic narrative is extremely important, especially when the President has openly called himself a dictator. Labeling him a “diktador” is already vindicating; an openly authoritarian and fascist government must be met with a critical opposition.
It is true that rallies are not the only avenues at this generation’s disposal. We can present our stories and stands on issues through social media. We can challenge questionable claims by publishing our articles in print or online. We can make infographics that will simplify the lessons of a four-year undergraduate course to something easily digestible by ordinary Filipinos. We can do all these and yet, because of what the situation requires from us, we must still hold our rallies.
But Tan’s call for critical and intellectual discourse borders dangerously on becoming passive and apathetic. The student movement is a critical social force that, once harnessed, can bring down corrupt regimes and advance revolutionary social change. It is not merely founded on fact-checking, on “neutral, authoritative opinions,” on students critiquing issues concerning only their specialized field. This is not the mandate of the “Iskolar ng Bayan.” We promote honor and excellence. The student movement acts within the tide and struggle for systemic change. The critical move forward is to exhaust all possible means to push the narrative of the change we seek, despite our generation having to endure not only this despotic regime but also apologists such as Tan.
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Iya Gozum, 18, is a comparative literature student at the University of the Philippines Diliman and a member of SPARK-Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan.