Days have passed since I marched the streets of Paris from Nation to Republique, yet I can still remember crystal clear how it felt. It is such a liberating feeling to be one of the 7,500, still a conservative count, who walked 3.0 kilometers in protest against police brutality, murder and state racism in France. And after four days, despite busy schedule due to work and school, I can still vividly recall what happened in the manifestation.
The French demonstrators said police brutality has claimed the life of at least one person in Paris every month in the last 40 years. These brutalities have taken many forms, from beatings, tasers to bullets. Most of those who participated were disillusioned with another round of election campaign promises when repression of police brutality victims, workers, hunting down of migrants and those who support them have continued and escalated since 2015.
About this March 19 rally, I always read that this concerns all of us. In the rally, it is what I hear. Mostly, it is what I felt in that community of people standing up against a war against poor, against migrants. It is a fight for human dignity, and yes it concerns all of us.
It is an amazing thing that a lot of people were actually noticing Filipinas in the midst of all different organizations present that day. All people of different colors from all parts of the world converged to voice out their demands. There were a number of people who generously smiled at us, some even engaged in small talk while others were bold to come near us, give a tap in the back and say ‘Bravo!’ The cherry on top was the interview by a French freelance journalist. And once again, an eye opening one. I am able to experience the French culture, one so open and welcoming in sympathizing with demonstrators like us fighting for our rights.
Who can imagine that OFWs tagged as sans papier (without paper) would be able to voice out their convictions and freely assert their rights and express their demands for a just community where they belong now? There was actually larger group of people present in the manifestation called Sans Papier. This may be a proof on how safe it is for even undocumented immigrants to join manifestations of the French people.
In the society that we live in today, hate sparks in one flick of a finger, judgments cast in a wink of an eye, hatred arises easily and fear is effortlessly used to silence people, divide them and retain the status quo. This is the very reason why it is important to be present in manifestations such as these to magnify love and oneness among the people. To send a strong message of solidarity to our various demands and to show strong resistance to anti-people policies.
People may have different views in organizing and taking part of such actions but as for me, it is one of those magical moments I will surely treasure. Having been able to go beyond the fear of how people may perceive me to be an outsider and arising beyond it for a just cause and in hope that a better society is possible for all for as long as we all take part in collective action to make it happen.
I cannot help having comparisons and think about our country, the Philippines. On how protesters experience endless black propaganda to detach the real issues from the people who suffer them, and the whole lot from the viewing public. When a strike or a protest happens, mainstream media tend to highlight only when peaceful assemblies were dispersed, that there were blood and a lot of action, rather than the root causes on why people are organizing themselves and protesting. It diverts the essence and context of such actions and downgrade the discussion to the protesters being traffic-causing nuisance. It even made us forget a lot of the things that the present and future generations have benefited through centuries of the poor and oppressed fighting for their rights—higher than slave-like wages, 8-hour work, social benefits, among a few in a very long list.
Most recently, the action #OccupyBulacan by urban poor communities wanting to have housing of their own have been among the most vilified, with the media even using the sentiments of other poor people against those who occupied, mostly for having not gone through the application to be approved.
The poor, homeless working people led by Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or KADAMAY occupied a total of 5,208 idle housing units in five relocation sites in Pandi, Bulacan. This resulted after experiencing years of tedious process of the government’s housing program, many only to be disapproved, and because they lack income build own homes or buy their own lots, incomes not even enough to provide food on the table. On a much wider scope, in some developed countries such as Dublin and London, activists and supporters occupy building and housing to provide accommodation for the homeless. This is also how the poor in the industrialized, first world countries asserted their rights.
And now after #OccupyBulacan erupted, various organizations are calling on investigtion of corruption and criminal negligence of the National Housing Authority in the time of then-president Noynoy Aquino in wasting billions of public funds in abandoned housing units in the midst of homelessness.
It gives a little relief to know that Malacañang reversed its decision to evict the urban poor occupying the idle houses. I am one of many that still firmly hopes the Duterte administration would be able to dig deeper on how to address the issue and hear their plea to free and mass housing, which is also the mandate of the government. As a close friend of mine once said, not all people have the same lot that is why it is the government’s duty to serve the people especially those in need and not only the business interests of a few ruling elites.
A fight for human dignity–this concerns us all.