Living, locating one’s politics
We rarely come by our ideas in a vacuum and yet, very often we are soaked in them without even knowing that we have them. So, how did you arrive at your politics? Where did it come from? Were you taught it by the books you read, or did life school you? And both are valid, by the way. But tell me, what has your lived experience taught you about your politics?
When I was still teaching political theory years ago, I found it instructive to begin by drawing the political spectrum on the board with simple descriptions of Left, Right, and Center. I would ask my students to locate themselves in that spectrum on the basis of their experience and their understanding of the political.
A few of them fashioned themselves Liberal and Marxist in theory but held Starbucks cups and craft beer in practice. Others had a more conservative upbringing but would now and then raise points about women’s liberation. A hand or two would also be raised in defense of communism—just for its novelty. “What if lang naman, Ma’am, what if?” Even if it’s historical and factual.
And yet another would espouse communitarianism because “You know, Ma’am, we can govern ourselves naman and where I’m from in the barrio, we don’t see the government so much, anyway.” After a lively discussion on locating one’s politics, we would then talk about the relationship of theory and practice as a context to study the different ideologies that emerged throughout history. We would learn about why certain movements emerge as a response to their times, and often my students would be intuitive enough to question why they could believe one thing in theory but do the opposite in practice. “Ma’am, this is what it means pala to be a walking contradiction. It’s hypocrisy but it’s also life, right? Hayy.”
By the end of the semester, we would return to the spectrum and I would ask them: Have your positions changed? Are you still where you were at the beginning of the sem? What’s different? What’s the same?
More often than not they would tell me that they have changed their minds. We now have a shared awareness of how our politics is shaped by history and context, and by experience, too. If you are poor and awake, you are likely to resonate with the Left as the system grates consistently against you. If you are rich and comfortable, then you are likely to be conservative and Right on the basis of maintaining your status quo. “And Ma’am, it changes pala—my politics, I mean. Sometimes it is even a matter of conviction.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Eh ma’am, I cannot deny that I am born into the ‘elite,’ but I can imagine naman (because of my exposure and immersion in communities) what types of policies we will need to create a more just world.”
I was 23 years old when I heard my student say this, and after class I sat down alone in the classroom and wept. I had been schooled better than I could ever teach, and in these challenging times, I return to this story, faithful to my experience as a young teacher, and know that there’s much to hope for.
When you go to any rally, when you mobilize in communities—please, please trust the process. Ask the difficult questions and be curious, not about the political organizations that we can sometimes find ourselves a part of. Ask instead about how the other person came to occupy one stand over another. Be honest enough to do your own soul-searching. Where are you on the spectrum? Are you there as a matter of indoctrination by friends, family, and community? Or are you where you are because of your lived experience—because you’ve chosen to be aware of how your personal theories relate with your practice in daily life? And are you satisfied with your position?
If not, let me tell you: You can always change your mind. You can enlarge the scope of your understanding and harness the true essence of politics. It is, after all, still the art of the possible. We are equipped with the agency to shape the kind of world in which we feel like we belong and are valued. That is empowerment. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is either desperate or a despot, and in our democracy, neither of them ought to represent us.
Nash Tysmans, 28, is a teacher and community worker.
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