That was a fascinating story we had the other day about the Facebook face, or mouth, that launched a million feet. Or, as our story itself put it, about the “loudmouth” that sparked a rally. That Facebook face, or mouth, or loudmouth, is Peachy Rallonza-Bretaña, an advertising person and mother of three, who proposed the “Million People March” a couple of weeks ago. And which a multitude, if not exactly a million people, responded to with alacrity.
As Bretaña tells it, she herself didn’t start the fire, to borrow Billy Joel’s phrase, or the idea of a rally, in the social media; she merely suggested the date for it, Aug. 26, which was National Heroes’ Day. Which, not quite incidentally, highlights the importance of dates for protest actions, and why Sept. 11 sucks. The people who actually started the fire were several musicians, notably Ito Rapadas and Monet Sylvestre, who were fed up with paying taxes—specifically being forced to buy new receipts by the BIR while still retaining a good deal of unused old receipts—while public officials merely pocketed them or threw them away. They were the ones who made the call to arms.
The success of the march awed them themselves. Bretaña marveled at its significance: “It’s not beyond us to be leaders in our little group. It’s not beyond us to speak in one voice. It’s not beyond us to respect each other’s differences. It’s not beyond us to act so amazingly great.”
Her conclusion is not far off the mark. None of them is an activist or has participated resolutely in political actions before, let alone organized one. The only march Bretaña had attended was the funeral of Ninoy Aquino way back in 1983. “Loudmouth” is her brothers’ term of endearment for her, owing to her penchant for unburdening herself of her oppressions before the world, particularly in the social media. And the wanton waste of people’s money was one oppression she took personally.
It’s a good reminder of what the “Million People March,” or the furor in the social and mainstream media that sparked it, has been all about. It’s People Power in the most elemental sense. It’s ordinary folk acting from their deepest needs and instincts. It’s ordinary folk initiating an action themselves, spontaneously, voluntarily, needing only an articulator and not a leader, needing only a shared outrage and not a demagogue. It’s ordinary folk driven by an extraordinary iniquity to do the extraordinary thing.
Of course individuals and groups with agendas of their own will try to exploit a power like this for their own ends. Of course individuals and groups with interests of their own will attempt to wield a weapon like this for their own ends. It is far too tempting not to. Organized groups in particular have the means to inundate the social media with all sorts of materials pressing their causes. Long before the fury against pork broke out, the Marcoses had been trying to do that in YouTube, painting a rosy, if not glorious, picture of martial law with its apparent stability, discipline, and relative prosperity. They are certainly not going to stop now that they espy an opening with which to barge through. Nor will the Arroyo camp.
It’s something to dwell on in current discussions about “What next?” The nascent phenomenon is not a vacuum that will wait till the people who shepherded it all the way to Luneta are able to answer their own question; it is a battlefield that will see various groups mobilizing forces to occupy the terrain, to determine the outcome of the battles, if not the war. The march on Wednesday already looks suspiciously like such a move.
The new People Power is a battleground specifically for hearts and minds, and a critical one given the extent to which it has captured the public imagination.
None of this means it should be feared, distrusted, or, heaven forbid, given up because it is the easiest thing in the world to subvert. All of it simply means that the justifiably angry and completely reasonable voices that launched it into the world may not see their work as done. Of course they themselves have repeatedly said that the “Million People March” was just the beginning, but that is so in far more ways than that that march was just the first of many. That is so in that they need to defend the purity and integrity of the vision in cyber and other spaces with vigilance and brilliance. That is so in that they need to define and refine the vision, which today still remains inchoate and instinctive, before the usual suspects do it for them. That is so in that they need to make the new People Power the hardest thing in the world to subvert.
There’s much wisdom in the Persian saying “You have saved my life, now you are responsible for it.”
It’s an urgent task. The new People Power is an exciting thing, a wonderful thing, a precious thing. It’s an immense contribution to democracy. In countries that can boast of being truly democratic, or of being so in practice and not just in ritual, the people are always there. Even in representative democracies. The people are there in culture, in public opinion, in their weighing in on things in daily life. They are there in everything from writing to congressmen to venting their ire in the media making sure the reviled do not win public office again, or continue to cling to it.
This is the closest thing we’ve come to something like this. It has at least the potential to become so with no small help from the reasonable voices in the community, the ones that made themselves heard a stone’s throw from Jose Rizal’s monument a couple of weeks ago. Which is to say, from us. We all need to come together to defend it, to make it rule, to make it rock.
We all need to become loudmouths, too.