CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 20 July) — Most Filipinos, especially city folks, think of the grassroots as the people below, down there, out in the barrios—way off the urban divide, or some level beneath them, maybe even lower.
Actually the grassroots are just nearby. They are the masses, the working class people, the wage earners, what the communists call the proletariat.
Their numbers are legion, so many that it’s their votes that elect officials; their tastes and preferences that largely dictate what goods are sold in the market.
The grassroots are also the primary factor that determines what entertainment or other consumer goods are produced and distributed.
Like every Filipino, the grassroots or the masses live in the barrio or barangay, no exception. They’re everywhere: urban, suburban, rural, mountainous, or coastal.
They form the majority of stakeholders of the Philippine Republic, stockholders of the public corporation we call government.
As such, they are also the majority source of power and authority wielded not only by local officials but by all other officials on all levels.
Yet, despite their large number, they feel powerless. They complain about not being able to influence government, that they cannot make their wishes heard, or that they don’t even have a voice in its affairs.
Actually they’re not powerless, they just FEEL powerless. And it’s because many of them mindlessly ceded their power to vote-buyers and election brokers long ago—selling their vote to the patrons of pork and dynasty and DAP, or exchanging it with personal favors or promises.
That’s the problem with ignorance. They didn’t know that a vote is a unit of power; if you sell it, mortgage it, or otherwise compromise it, you lose power and leverage.
The more of it is sold, mortgaged, or compromised by constituents, the more power and leverage they lose.
Then it can’t be helped that a feeling of powerlessness creeps into the rest of the community, eviscerating faith in government, eroding confidence in officials.
Politicians whose corrupt practices induce this feeling of helplessness don’t take its unfortunate effects on society and government into consideration.
In turning the masses into captives in an electoral market that they can corner, trapos (traditional politicians) trash democracy and turn elections into a travesty of their making. The tragedy is, in so doing, they devalue their own personal integrity and the legitimacy of their public office.
Unfortunately, trapos are not known to be discerning, honorable, or honest. If they were, they would avoid spawning their clones, cronies, or dynasties throughout the political landscape—knowing that it will ultimately disgrace them and ignominiously cause their downfall.
So we are left with the difficult alternative of awakening the masses to the indignity and injustice being perpetrated on them by these trapos. It’s a huge challenge.
But if the cruel reality can be effectively demonstrated, the masses may well see their way into harnessing their collective power. We need to show them that it’s not necessary to go to EDSA, to the plaza, or to the hills and rebel to fight for justice and decency. A massive mobilization of their vote will do the trick more effectively and without disruption or bloodshed.
The challenge is how to bring it about. They must be made conscious of their power, to have faith in its possibility to effect change, and to bring about solidarity for the cause.
In the Poland of Lech Walesa in the 1980s, solidarity awakened patriotism among the masses and propelled grassroots-based collective action.
In streets, farms, and factories, they rallied around a common goal that translated into a national purpose. No more presumptuous manipulation by politicians or parties for them; freedom and democracy only!—they cried.
Like a battle cry, it gave voice to a national purpose that encapsulated their “political will.”
In fact, the Polish people were galvanized by the cry of “Solidarity!”—which gave birth to the movement bearing the same name. It gathered force, toppled the ruling regime, and enabled the Poles to undo what the Communists did to their society and rebuild it defiance of conventional wisdom that told them it was futile and hopeless.
Triumph they did. Gloriously!
Few Filipinos at the time, and even today, realized that the toppling of their unwanted regime in 1989 was a reprise of our own People Power Revolution of 1986. Like ours, it proved to the world that People Power is society’s best champion, that therefore, the grassroots or the masses can be our champion once more.
Just as it did in our hour of need, people power emerged in Poland and liberated their society from the clutches of dictatorship and an abusive regime. Our finest hour was mirrored in the finest hour of the Polish people.
When will we have our finest hour again, this time against the trapos and addicts of pork, dynasty, and DAP?
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. Today he is National Convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc firstname.lastname@example.org)