HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I have been caught up in the US presidential race lately. It is easy to see why this election is so important. The US — still the world’s largest economy — stands on the brink of economic disaster, and could take the rest of the world with it. But while the economic picture is of the most immediate emergency crying out for a solution, I believe there are a lot of other issues at stake for America’s future and its standing in the world.
The battle is beginning to look classically and mythically symbolic in many aspects. There is the angle of the new and the young standing up to the old and increasingly irrelevant. There is the angle of the rich Senator John McCain (who owns 13 houses and is worth $100 million) versus Senator Barack Obama (who owns one house and is worth $1 million).
There is also the race issue. Is America really ready to vote for a black man as president? I really wonder about that. The election results will speak volumes about where America is now and how much of what it preaches about the American Dream is actually possible in America.
My main interest in these elections is how Obama is presenting the idea of change and how this can be applied to the Philippines. Obama has presented new alternatives in the way of handling his campaign, from fundraising (where he chose to go directly to the people instead of relying on federal funding) to the way he has presented his ideas and inspired people with his message, using not just the traditional media but also the Internet. His campaign has been unique and the response has been unprecedented.
Our own elections in the Philippines will happen in 2010 (unless the politicians manage a coup via Cha-cha), and no one who has positioned himself or herself as a candidate has excited nor inspired a lot of people, including myself, one bit. All these wannabes have done well in our political and economic system that is broken, corrupt and dysfunctional. And their pronouncements on issues and the way they have conducted themselves in public show no fundamental difference from one another, much less any hint of a new vision or paradigm that could bring change to our country.
I have been meeting with different groups for some months now, people who are impatient and aching for real change to happen in our country. Some of them are veterans of the two EDSAs, or people long steeped in NGO culture and work. Some are young, idealistic politicians themselves who see no real hope for things to change unless some new people with fresh ideas are voted into power and initiate a new national conversation that will impel us into a new trajectory.
I have seen too many reformers take on the political scene with the aim of changing it only to be rebuffed by the system itself and the very people they wanted to help. It is disheartening to see, too, many Don Quixotes bleeding by the wayside while the bad guys continue to win. And I often ask myself why they have not succeeded. Most political observers will give the easy answer and say that what these defeated candidates lacked was money. Perhaps they are right.
But then, I don’t recall the Cory campaign in 1986 as having even half the funds that the Marcos campaign had; and yet she managed to pull it off and win the presidency. So as much as money is needed, there may be other factors that are equally important.
Everywhere I go, whether here or abroad, I hear Filipinos talk about the near hopelessness they harbor about the quality of our leaders. Everyone is upset at the present dispensation and they feel that there is no leader in sight to replace the present, and worse, that the next elections will result in more of the same type of leadership and lack of good governance.
While this can be downright depressing, one thing is clear: there is, in this country, a constituency for change, though it is seemingly passive right now. People are really quite fed up with the situation, so much so that they are opting to migrate and live elsewhere. If only someone could harness this discontent into a vibrant movement that will sweep the country and demand real change, perhaps we could really get somewhere as a nation.
Living through the ‘70s as a young man and up to the end of the Marcos regime, I saw the cultural shift that occurred which made the end of the dictatorship possible. The spread of new, bold and frankly subversive ideas coming from the left was enough to fire up the First Quarter Storm generation to imagine new possibilities. And many of them were cultural and social and not necessarily aimed directly at the political jugular. The spread of Pilipino as the national language, the birth of OPM, the new political jargon that encapsulated and simplified the explanation for many of our problems — terms like burgis, feudalism, imperialism, fascism, etc. — became political catchphrases. To be fair, many of the definitions from the left were over-simplifications but they managed to insert themselves into the national conversation and pushed many people to act.
The new reformers who wish to join the elections have something to learn from recent history. The arena for the changes they want to achieve must go beyond the political. They must engage the electorate in many other aspects. There are cultural, social and environmental problems that must be addressed, and it must be done in a novel and engaging way. The battle for the hearts and minds of the electorate must not only be a political battle but a culture war as well.
If it took the opposition against Marcos so many years to state their case to the people, it will take the new politicians of today much less time with an aggressive media, plus the Internet, cell phones and other ways of communicating.
The leaders that this new constituency is looking for are those who do not only have fresh ideas that will impel the country to change, inspire its citizens to sacrifice and act for the common good, but also are willing to die if need be to achieve the necessary change. Incorruptibility, decisiveness and the ability to harness opposing energies into common action will also be needed. The new leaders will also have to have the guts to stand up to the traditional institutions that stand in the way of progress.
In turn, they will need to demand that the people do not just go along passively but actively express support for programs that are meant to have far-reaching consequences for the common good.
It will not be an easy task.The road is long and hard and reaching the desired destination is not guaranteed. But it’s a step in the right direction.
In one of the meetings I attended, someone pointed out that for our generation (baby boomers, mostly), this is the last chance to effect real change. Either we succeed in 2010 or we fade away and spend our last 20 years on golf courses, or in retirement mode. While looking at the faces of my friends, I recalled the line from Dylan Thomas: “Do not go quietly into the night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Oddly enough, in a world that has long been described as belonging to the young, this may be the moment for aging Baby Boomers to live out and pursue what really matters.