Some years just have a way of being confluent. Of binding the sparks of restiveness around the world and stoking them to one huge fire.
The year 1848 was one of them. It was the year when the sparks of ferment in various European countries culminated in a world revolution, the world then pretty much revolving around Europe. That was the year that saw Karl Marx writing his “Communist Manifesto,” to this day a brilliant piece of polemical writing however one may now dispute its core message of class warfare and Darwinian (r)evolution of society: Social orders that had outlived their usefulness perished before the advance of new and fitter ones. Yes, 1848, although the Manifesto would not see publication until much, much later.
The year 1968 was one of them. That was the year when the sparks of ferment in Europe, the United States, Latin America and Asia led to one giant explosion of world revolution. Pretty much the whole of Western Europe was afire, Jean Paul Sartre stalking in the frontlines of the strikes in France and commenting that the world was learning to push back the limits of the possible. Huge demonstrations swept across the world, the demonstrators waving the iconic picture of Che Guevarra with his famous cry “Venceremos!”; and at least in the more eastern parts the very eastern face of Ho Chi Minh smiling serenely at the world.
The year 2011 is one of them, or at least it threatens to be so. Or it is probably but a prelude to bigger, grander, more apocalyptic things to come.
This is the year that has seen the sparks of restiveness that had been crackling over the years burst into one grand flame that is engulfing the world. Those sparks include the protest against the governments of the rich countries, notably the United States, turning a deaf ear to the cries of a dying planet, a completely suicidal stance that has grown more patent every day. They include the protest against the rich countries continuing to pillage the poor ones through arrangements such as GATT, a protest that led to the “battle of Seattle” some years ago.
And they now include the protest against greed, as Biblical, Koran-ic, Zen-like a remonstration against a root of evil as you can get. It’s a protest against the thing that brought Wall Street, seemingly the solidest of all walls, seemingly the proudest of all towers, crashing down, and with it the hubris of a nation, and with it the hopes and dreams of the small folk.
I myself had been wondering when the explosion would come. Over the last few years, I’ve been to the United States several times and each visit always leaves me more depressed than the last. The horror stories the Filipinos there tell beats anything Halloween has to offer. Many of them have lost not just their jobs, not just their lifetime savings, but the very roof over their heads. In part by their own folly, buying their homes at bloated prices from the lure of easy loans and having to give them up when the bubble burst. Many want to come home but dread even more the prospect of doing so broke and shamefaced.
For those of us who live here, however, particularly those of us who have occupied space on this earth for quite some time, “Occupy Wall Street” gives off a strong feeling of déjà vu. That was how things were in the late 1960s. That was how things began, though they would end quite differently for us, which would see the birth of a homegrown revolution that would last till today. It began with protests over the Vietnam War which grew into protests against US imperialism, yesterday’s version of the greed of nations which led to belligerent acts like the occupation of Vietnam. An instinct for survival, quite apart from an inclination toward greed, that beats powerfully in the heart and mind of the United States to this day.
“Occupy Wall Street,” for all its seemingly sedate beginnings, has as much power to spread “like a prairie fire” on local campuses as the activism of the past. Indeed, probably more so. The issue this time is far more palpable, far more bituka, far more desperate. Greed now takes on the most life-and-death dimensions. It comes along with hurricanes and tornadoes howling in various parts of the Pacific, it comes along with tsunamis devastating even seemingly invincible countries like Japan, it comes along with storms and floods laying low the already low, or agricultural countries like the Philippines. It comes along with signs of a planet in peril.
Not quite incidentally, for those who believe in these things, it comes along with a Mayan prediction of the world not getting past December next year. A date some batty religious cults have been trying to advance much earlier.
It comes along with that same planet now harboring 7 billion souls. With the denizens of one part of it throwing away food and complaining of being overweight and another living off the streets and sniffing rugby to forget the hunger pangs.
It comes along with the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of the poor countries yearning to breathe free and pouring en masse into the rich ones, or trying to, only to be stopped dead, often quite literally so, at the borders or struck down by harsh immigration laws. It comes along with the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of a once rich and powerful nation camping out on the fringes of a once-impregnable and granitic Wall Street, weeping and gnashing their teeth at their impoverishment and the greed that brought them to that pass. It comes for us in the desertification of a once lush land, in the hunger that continues to stalk its inhabitants, in the awe-inspiring pillage of what remains of the nation’s wealth, adding whole new and cruel meanings to the word “greed.”
In the Philippines as elsewhere, it is a recipe for:
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