Perhaps it is time Filipino activists re-evaluate things. It is becoming evident that traditional protest movement organisers and leaders like Leftists and ‘civil society’ cliques are no longer able to inspire the popular sentiment and, as such, no longer possess the clout to mobilise the numbers and secure sufficient media mileage for their causes. For all the connections with journalists and media personalities we are led to believe these people enjoy, the results dont seem to match that perception.
Perhaps we are seeing today the effects of a prolonged case of society-wide rally fatigue. Worse, it could be more a case of the powers-that-be learning, over the past decade how best to deal with protest rallies. Indeed, no thanks to the rally overdose of the mid-2000s, Pinoy politicians are now well-appraised of the best defense against grassroots uprisings that aim mainly to attract attention but fail to demonstrate endurance – and that is to ignore them.
Unless I am missing something or have not stepped back far enough from the picture I am seeing, there seems to be no one else.
Groups commonly associated (fairly, or unfairly) with the “Left” have largely been discredited, perhaps (1) by the larger collapse of the Communist bloc which were the real-life implementations of the musings of their key thought leaders and (2) by the misguided posturings of some of their former leaders in the Philippines’ quaint “party-list” politics. Groups commonly associated with the new social media “empowered” clique of activists may have never even possessed any clout to begin with; that the clout we all thought they possessed were mere figments of a vision blinkered down to a 5-inch range by our mobile devices.
Thus, an important point to highlight is the quantifiable political power wielded by today’s activist groups. Numbers of followers, “reach” statistics, and other digital metrics don’t seem to really provide good indicators of how much digital activity translates to influence that yields real world effects or outcomes. Today’s protest groups can essentially be ignored by the objects of their protest without consequence. They present no real threat to said powers-that-be. Worse, they present nothing directly relevant to the general public.
Social media, it turns out, hasn’t really changed much. It simply democratised the proverbial soapbox, but it hasn’t changed the fundamental drivers of persuasion. In short, there still is no substitute for old-fashioned Public Relations 101. And when I say PR 101, it is not just about developing a PR plan by following a 7-step proces. Real imagination and creativity need to be applied by the truckloads — something not present in the glaringly unoriginal way activists mount protests nowadays. And, of course, the endorsement of an A-List celebrity helps. Look no further than how, in a single tweet, Pinoy celeb Bianca Gonzalez roused a Filipino public long fed-up with squatters. Of course, she eventually balked, and the fervour fizzled. Point is, there is a reason why Filipinos are hooked on and moved by showbiz — because showbiz is populated by charismatic and impressive personalities who can command an audience. Look across the current crop of activist leaders and name one who stands out along those lines. Ok then, next topic…
The other important ingredient:
The “Occupy” Movement perhaps should have taught us a few lessons. The Occupy guys mounted protest actions that lasted days. Weeks even. And these were the nice guys. The really badass ones make protests their entire way of life.
In Washington DC in the US, Concepcion ‘Connie’ Picciotto set up a ‘peace tent’ outside the White House in 1981 to protest all war and champion the cause of peace. The encampment has been there as a permanent fixture ever since — 33 years and counting!
In Canberra, the capital city of Australia, four Aboriginal men (Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Tony Coorey and Bertie Williams) arrived from Sydney in 1972 and started the Aboriginal Embassy by planting a beach umbrella on the lawn in front of Parliament House (now Old Parliament House). The Embassy was established in response to the McMahon Coalition Government’s refusal to recognise Aboriginal land rights. The beach umbrella was soon replaced by several tents and Aboriginal people and non-indigenous supporters came from all parts of Australia to join the protest. During the first six months of its life in 1972 the Embassy succeeded in uniting Aboriginal people throughout Australia in demanding uniform national land rights and mobilised widespread non-indigenous support for their struggle.
In New York City’s Central Park in 1982, one million people demonstrated against nuclear weapons and for an end to the cold war arms race. It was the largest anti-nuclear protest and the largest political demonstration in American history. And on International Day of Nuclear Disarmament protests were held on June 20, 1983 at 50 sites across the United States. Wrote Tad Daley on the Huffington Post in 2012 (the 30th Anniversary of the Central Park rally)…
The June 12 gathering was the apogee of a citizen action campaign known as the “Nuclear Freeze,” which took flight immediately after the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. It was a passionate, intense, and indeed terrified response to accelerating nuclear weapons programs, an across-the-board military buildup, and infinitely irresponsible bombast from high Administration officials — even Vice President George H.W. Bush! — about our nation’s willingness to “wage and win” something they called a “protracted nuclear war.”
Suffice to say, these guys didn’t just gather in a park, take selfies, then go home before dark to logon to Twitter and promote the latest Samsung device. These activists meant — and still mean — business. It is no wonder Filipinos are no longer able to coalesce into a national force worthy of the attention of people who matter. There is no such passion and conviction evident in this tired beaten-down society. Considering the Philippines’ most pressing issues bring its activists head-to-head with no less than the President himself, nothing short of a real kick-ass protest movement is needed to move things along. So far we haven’t seen any such worthy enough to take its place amongst the world’s greatest protest movements.
[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the Wikipedia.org articles “Aboriginal Tent Embassy” and “Anti-nuclear protests in the United States” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site. Photos courtesy DailyMail.co.uk, IndyMedia.org.au, and CBSLocal.com respectively.]
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