Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Published by Squeeze

For many student activists, the ‘long march’ encounters a fateful challenge immediately after the graduation march.

This is when youthful idealism is tested by mainstream ideologies which many equate with realism.

The lifelong commitment to fight for social justice is suddenly put on hold. Will he resume his role in the struggle or will he submit his résumé to potential employers?

Contrary to the popular notion of the graduate as a resolute achiever who is ready to claim his place in society, this individual is actually besieged by contradictory feelings of euphoria and fear of the unknown. A kindergarten graduate is more hopeful about his success because he knows the next thing to do, which is to get an elementary education.

But what are the options of a college graduate? He thinks his life choices are plenty which includes the pursuit of graduate studies, embarking on a travel adventure, becoming an entrepreneur, and getting his dream career.

But deep inside he knows what everybody else expects him to do: apply for a job, even if it’s an endo job.

Bombarded since childhood by parental preaching that the goal of schooling is to secure a good employment in the future, the new graduate is keen to fulfill this obligation.

All his accumulated knowledge about life on this planet is deemed useful only if it generates a stable financial return.

An activist graduate is not immune from this societal pressure even if he is aware that education should serve a more holistic role in the community instead of simply reducing it as a job preparation phase in life.

He believes in social liberation even if he has yet to unlearn and renounce the feudal values that guided most of his life.

It doesn’t help that his Leftist worldview is intermittently interrupted by a self-praising mentality.

Consider the perspective of a new graduate who sees the self as highly skilled, articulate, tech-savvy, multitasking innovator, and primed for success. At this point in his young life, he is ready to declare that he is going to conquer (instead of changing) the world.

He takes a look back at his undergraduate years to understand how he became an activist. Perhaps he was tutored by an activist scholar, he made friends with activists, and supported several campaigns in the campus. His curiosity for new knowledge was supplemented by radical texts, discussion groups, immersion in the grassroots, and collective actions. Despite its conservative politics, the university provided a space for the nurturing of activist minds.

But after graduation, how can the activist sustain his involvement in radical politics?

His circle of activist friends is already dispersed, he can no longer listen to the lectures of freethinking academics, his library privileges are gone, and he is now officially not young in a place teeming with high school freshness and exuberance.

It is reassuring if he leaves the familiar comfort of the university to face new tasks with fellow activists in other sectors of the mass movement.

There he is thrust into a different environment that required him to quickly adapt, master new habits and the language of community organizing, and devote more time to planning mass campaigns while battling his inner doubts. Sometimes these personal struggles are processed during brutally frank criticism and self-criticism sessions. It helps that a group initiative is countering his vanity, but there’s always a lingering subjective feeling that he is unfairly targeted by an internal disciplinary campaign.

He begins to realize the unglamorous future that awaits him; the romanticized concept of being a radical is replaced by the initial hardships of embracing full-time activism.

His petty bourgeois angsts, which used to be a source of harmless fun among friends interested with existentialism, now appears to be irresponsibly out of place and unproletarian.

But as an aspiring radical, he perseveres. He tries very hard to disprove the popular belief that employment is the only prize for getting a university diploma. His activism is his ‘rebelling’ against a system that punishes the idealism of young people.

During this painful transition, he wrestles with the question of whether he made the right decision in life. Is it rational to spend his productive years earning nothing as an activist? Is it sensible to hurdle almost two decades of formal education just to engage in a non-paying, high-risk, and difficult work of community organizing? Is it reasonable for a college graduate to use his mental abilities for the realization of seemingly utopian political goals? In other words, is he wasting his life?

He makes fast calculations, listing the opportunity cost of choosing radicalism, and comparing it with what he and his fellow activists are doing every day.

He grapples for answers. Seeking inspiration, he delves into the classics of Marxism and later its modern interpretations. He learns more about the lives of philosophers, warriors, and other outstanding individuals who rejected transient pleasures in the fight for eternal truths.

But can these ideas and theoretical reflections ease his ambivalence?

Perhaps yes. But only after spending a substantial time gaining experience in conducting a painstaking mass work in the grassroots.

It is when she stopped thinking about her predicament that allowed her to see the bigger picture affecting her views about life, love, politics, and the prospect of happiness. That the stakes are beyond her need for validation. That the struggle is not about herself joining the Cause but the grounding of real-life consequences of linking arms with the oppressed to destroy the unjust structures in society. That activism is not about emphasizing the self but the collective endeavor to uplift the conditions of the many, especially the marginalized ‘others’.

It is when she truly immersed herself in the struggle that she understood the poetics of resistance. Farmers, workers, and the urban poor giving everything they have to win the revolution. When people act in this way, when they sacrifice more than what is necessary, isn’t this the best example of leading an ethical life?

Her grasp of history is enhanced by her commitment to work with others in changing the present to claim the future. Her political maturity rises with her intense participation in the struggle for a new democracy amid small victories and big losses. She now sees the latter as a temporary setback to achieve greater victories for tomorrow. And she is already better prepared to assume many roles in the mass movement whether as an agitator of the parliament of the streets, a dutiful public servant, or a peasant organizer in the countryside.

She never fully resolved her dilemmas in life. (And she still can’t pay the bills). But this time, her sense of balancing life issues is now rooted in the pursuit of radicalism, and her concept of the self is linked to the empowerment of the grassroots. Her crucial decision in life after college is the affirmation of progressive praxis.

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