Archive for December, 2011

December 7, 2011

day 2 attempt to occupy

by Melissa

The second day and the police have upped their violent response.  I worked today with TIGRA but decided to head back down here to Mendiola after work with a friend.  We got off at Legarda Station and passed the Mendiola archway on our roundabout way to the campout spot in front of a church…    Arriving in a market, the street was bustling as it likely always is- but with a twist.  A few tents and many more young people, workers, activists lying down resting on protest slogans.  New banners in the painting stage, people grouped in tight circles talking or playing music.   Most people seem to be with their organizations, the first sign of Occupy the Philippine way.  Thirty minutes later there is short program comprised of pep talk from UP student leaders including one who was beaten by the police and still wears the bloody jeans to prove it.  There are a few solidarity messages from sectors in solidarity including local unions and indigenous people from the Cordillera region.  The dominant message tonight seems to be budget cuts to education although there is also a candlelight vigil going on for overseas Filipino workers on death row.

I had a few interesting conversations with folks here about how the Occupy movement in the US differs from the current campout.  One young student suggested that in the US people are still searching for an alternative-  that it is enough over there to start with a call of unity- to come together as the 99%.  Whereas here, there is already a crafted alternative to current conditions-  Bayan is already the movement of the 99%.  I asked a few people whether there were people here who were unaffiliated (with Bayan).  The easy answer is no.  “Maybe they would be intimidated.  But for sure they wouldn’t leave without an affiliation.”  Another young artist answered the question with a little anecdote about yesterday-  how at Plaza Miranda there were food vendors who were engaging for the first time, giving gifts of food, listening.  They support but they are not affiliated. They are still massa.

The more complex answers is not noticeably.  There were a couple of masked musicians, playing quietly outside the safety of the cordoned area, letting a few local kids play with their percussion instruments.

I have a few camera phone pictures I’d like to post- but for now, in this internet cafe with disabled USBs and gaming galore,  I have to be content to paint a mental picture.  I feel blessed to be part of this-  to be welcomed into this occupied space by friendly, curious faces.  There is much courage here.  At some other point I’d like to unpack the ways Occupy Philippines will be necessarily different from what’s happening in the First World.  Tonight, I want to trust that its all the same struggle.

Check out this facebook page for updates:

December 6, 2011

occupy philippines

by Melissa

Today I joined the student march to Mendiola, the classic place to protest in the Philippines.  According to this call out  students and youth were to start off the occupy event by marching to Malacanang and camping out.  Over the next few days, we were to be joined by other sectors-  migrants and their families, trade unions and workers, urban poor.  However, plans have changed.  The police and two firetrucks (crowd dispersion techniques here include water cannon…) met us on at the intersection of Recto Ave and Nicanor Reyes St, about 3 blocks from Mendiola.   For the first time since Noynoy Aquino took office, a political rally in Manila has been met with force.  After nearly four hours of holding the intersection, the people decided to move to Plaza Miranda to camp for the night.  Tomorrow will be another day-  perhaps another march to Mendiola.

I was genuinely surprised to see the police in riot gear beating back students.  Many of us lost our tsinelas (flip flops) in the first water bomba but we managed to hold our ground.  A barefoot young woman in a school uniform laughed with her friends.  First time in a rally and look what happened!  A few times we locked arms again, we seemed about to charge the police and advance to Mendiola.  But it was impossible to force our position.  They were preempting a movement growing into a problem.  They hope to stop the energy, the analysis, the indignation that might inspire a Third World Winter, like an American Fall and an Arab Spring.  Winter doesn’t exist here-  but its almost Christmas and the idea of unpacking a global revolution stirs my spirit.

A month ago, farmers camped out at Mendiola for 3 days.  They were allowed to be there.  Based on what happened today, something about the campout message has pushed a button in the halls of power.  There have been some news articles here about how Occupy is unnecessary or misplaced in the Philippine context.  This is far from true.  Wealth concentration  in the Philippines is well-known and long-standing.  Land tenure is a big issue-  as there are feudal relations (tenant farmers and huge haciendas) that continue to hamper agricultural development.   Business is monopolized by several well-know family clans  and the conglomerate structure of the economy has largely promoted a service-based economy (including overseas labour).  And of course, there is outside influence- foreign banks, multi-lateral “aid” organizations, foreign governments like the US, which have undermined genuine democracy for decades.  You only have to walk a block in Manila to notice the disparity between rich and poor, to see that gated subdivisions and urban poor communities live in constant spatial negotiation.

I am excited about the campout for several reasons beyond the above.  Yes, in an abstract sense, I think the conditions are ripe.  But of course,  I also want to participate!  I have also been following the Occupy Everything movement closely through friends and independent press in New York City and Toronto-  two places close to my heart.  My blood has boiled watching videos of the UC Davis pepper spray incident.  Sometimes I feel I am missing the most important thing to happen in the US in my lifetime.  Other times, I convince myself that wherever I am (the Philippines!), the struggle remains.  So I have been attempting to talk Occupy with people I meet here.  And of course make  links between remittance economies (the topic of my research) and debt crises (now and in the 80’s in particular).  I am excited about the campout because I want to occupy something:)

I also am excited about the campout because I see it as an opportunity for openness in organizing.  One of the things most endearing about the Occupy moment is that it attempts to remain open, participatory, and inviting.  Part of the Occupy model includes the General Assembly, which makes decisions about tactic, strategy and analysis.  It is a forum where different views come together to make collective decisions.  Direct democracy.  It is also a movement open to different targets-  occupy the bronx, occupy foreclosures, occupy the park.  I think this kind of openness is important to stir the hearts and minds of those people who are not about to submit to recruitment, militant education and consolidation.  I feel, in a way, I am one of those.  It is difficult to really organize me because I’m bound to disagree.  The thing is-  its better to be able to critique from the inside.  To be able to say-  I love you and I disagree.  Otherwise I might fail to see our unity, the way we are the 99% together.  I hope a campout model invites participation and engagement-  where the curious can come and see.

I desire Occupy to become a worldwide movement against capitalism.  It already brags to be worldwide and yet the gaps are telling. Some suggest that the Philippines is unconnected to finance capitalism.  And while it may be true that collateral debt obligations and the toxic debt crisis in the US did not noticeably effect the Philippine financial sector or that the Eurozone crisis might have a limited effect on the Philippine status quo, the Philippines is nonetheless implicated.  Perhaps even a seasoned, practiced, hardened recipient of  neoliberal maneuvers now rocking the First World.  The Philippines is not “unconnected” to finance capitalism, but in fact differently connected.  We still need to work out what these links look like.  Here in the Philippines I think the classic calls for Land, Wage, Work, Education and Rights remains incredibly important.  I think its important to track state abandonment of social services not only to corrupt local leadership but also to a debt crisis of the 80’s (capitalist crisis) that continues to bankrupt Philippine development.  We need to build solidarity between “anti-outsourcing” in the US and call-center workers  in the Philippines who studied engineering in college only to spend their nights on the phone with US customers.  We need to understand our material conditions. worldwide.  And push to value labour both here and there.

I hope that tomorrow we will take Mendiola, set up camp and really get to know each other, our struggles, our dreams, our power.