Note on Activism, by Raffy Aquino

Talk before the Forum on the Student Movement
UP Padayon and SAMASA Alumni Assoc, Inc.
The Nameless Project
CSSP 30th Anniversary Celebrations
Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 1:05am ·
20 Feb 2013, CSSP, UP Diiman
I entered UP in 1979, when the country was still neck-deep in Martial Law. As I was a Poli Sci freshman, most of my classes were in this very building, which was then known as the College of Arts and Sciences, or “AS.” I remember walking along the AS first floor lobby one day when I happened upon a TV news crew from the government station interviewing this chain-smoking teacher in jeans and a blue polo, right in the middle of a student “sit-in.”
The interviewee was Professor Dodong Nemenzo, then newly-installed dean of the college, and so I stopped to listen to his staccato English that was both impeccable and Cebuano-accented. I vividly recall the TV anchor ask Dodong, smugly and with this half-smirk on his face: “What can you say about the problem of activism in UP, now that you are a dean?” Without missing a beat, Dodong retorted with his own question: “so what’s the problem?” And because the reporter could not seem to come up with a rejoinder but just stood there with mouth agape, Dodong continued: “if there is no more activism in UP, then that would be a problem.”
The bell rang and I dutifully proceeded to my next class. But all throughout that day, and throughout the following days and weeks, my mind kept returning to those words I had overheard - “If there is no more activism in UP, then that would be a problem.”
But what is “Activism” in the first place? I would define “activism” as the habit of trying to change things in society through social action. This is a simple definition, but it has at least five (5) important implications.
FIRST: The activist is not an occasional adventurer. His activism is habitual, sustained, disciplined, and purposeful. He keeps at it despite reversals and defeats, and he does not rest upon victories but constantly learns from them and builds upon them. The activist is not the socialite or the politician who attend rallies only to be televised, or to secure for themselves some short-term political advantage. The activist is in it for the long haul.
SECOND:   The activist is outward looking. He looks to his neighbors, to his community, to his people and the society they live in. He realizes that the affirmation of his own humanity ultimately depends on his taking part in building a society that would allow everyone else the same affirmation.
The person who is consumed by angst over his floundering career or his failed marriage will have no time to look outward, will have no energy to help uplift the human condition, and will probably never become an activist; and society will probably never have any use for him either.
THIRD: The activist acts. He does not simply wring his hands in anguish over corruption in government and rising unemployment, and he does not simply offer novenas for the Supreme Court to strike down the Anti-Cybercrime Law. He writes, he teaches and lectures, he emails, tweets, and shares in FB, he attends meetings, joins organizations and forms organizations, and in general, actually intervenes in social reality. And because such social action is most potent if undertaken by many people moving in the same direction at the same time, the true activist is almost always an organized activist.
FOURTH: The activist is instinctively normative, forward-looking, modernist, and progressive, dedicated to moving things in society from what they are to what they ought to be. A person who is committed to the preservation of existing social structures, no matter how moribund, is a reactionary, and a reactionary can never be a true activist.
FIFTH: In seeking to change society, the true activist has no choice but to try to understand the nature of his society, its afflictions, the roots of these afflictions that often lie deep in history, the strengths and weaknesses of his people and their culture, and the experiences of other societies, other cultures, other histories. Then he will have to define what human society should be in the future, figure out what he wants for his people generations from now. And finally he will have to clarify his activism’s line of march, and define his route from what is to what may be.
What this means is that the true activist should also be a observer and a philosopher, a theorist and a thinker. And if he is not yet these, he strives to be so by reading, listening, studying, and learning.  To be sure, the activist should never lose the capacity to be outraged by what is outrageous, but as important as the fires of emotion is the certitude that one is on the right side of history – and this certitude is attainable only through intellectual struggle. Passionate buffoons will never make good activists.
The activist as thinker is of particular importance if the activist happens to be a UP student.
UP provides ready-made structures for critical inquiry, social research, and intellectual labor in general, and also provides access to an amazing body of scholarship and theoretical knowledge. In short, UP provides the activist excellent opportunities to transform himself into an intellectual, and by all means the activist should exploit this - for two reasons:
FIRST: The activist must exploit UP’s academic opportunities and resources because he is morally bound to train himself for that time when he finally leaves Diliman, before he inflicts himself and his activism upon the rest of the country. Activists have always been in love with the mantra SERVE THE PEOPLE and it would be a crying shame, as observed by someone in the faculty in the ‘80s, “if the activist, when he finally goes to the people, would have nothing between his ears other than a big mouth.”
SECOND: The activist must exploit UP's opportunities and resources to build ideological sharpness and intellectual adeptness, because these are his only weapons for survival in UP, and hopefully beyond that, for domination. Just like any other school, UP is an ideological institution. Ideas are its currency, ideological contention is its core activity, and intellectual accomplishment is its most important hierarchy. There is simply no room for equivocation or qualification in this matter. If the activist is to dominate in UP, the activist must be ideologically confident and intellectually superior.
But why is it so important for the activist to dominate in UP? Why shouldn't activists just coast along, fulfilling minimum course requirements, and devoting most of their time to political campaigns on national issues? That would be fine if UP was not important in itself. But the reality is that UP is vital to Philippine activism in so many ways and on so many levels.
UP is, by design, the ideological center of the Philippine political elite. It is in UP that the future managers and drivers of the Philippine state are educated and trained, where the future policymakers and decision makers of the country are schooled on how things are to be preserved, how order is to be maintained, and how the people are to be kept in line. In this sense, it is in UP that the social system replicates and perpetuates itself, in all its inequity and inhumanity, with all its fractures, irrationalities, and anachronisms.
But UP is a duality. While so obviously reactionary in its institutional intentions, UP also managed to serve as nursery for the second wave of Filipino activism, of the inheritors of the legacy left by the first generation of activists that forged a new nation and led it against Spain. From these halls emerged the rebels and revolutionaries of the modern age, the greatest dissenters and the most accomplished radical scholars this country has ever seen. And if UP has produced generations of political leaders and bureaucrats dedicated to defending the status quo, it has also sent out to the world generations of activists dedicated to assailing that status quo and taking it down.
It is this duality that accords UP a special national prominence, and its institutional voice, a special national resonance. UP has long been part of the national discourse, whether through its students, its faculty, or its graduates in government, in civic organizations, or in the central committees of the various rebellions and revolutions in the country. Formally or informally, UP shapes policy, influences national thinking,   and determines national directions.
Specifically then, it is imperative for the activist tradition to thrive and dominate in UP for three (3) reasons:
FIRST: Only by dominating in UP will the activist tradition ensure its own continuity and perform its role of supplying the institutions social movements outside campus with its cadres and ideologues. But since the brightest minds are in UP, the activists themselves have to be as bright if they are to entice and recruit.
SECOND: Only by dominating   in UP will the activist tradition be in any position to confront and interdict reactionary thinking in the very arena where it is most aggressively peddled – in the classrooms of UP. The UP classroom is indeed the activist’s first battleground, and it is often the classroom that is conceded to reaction by silent activists unprepared for ideological combat, or who are simply absent because of their preference for other non-academic pursuits.
THIRD: Only by dominating in UP will the activist tradition ensure that the voice of UP continues to be heard across the land, and that it would be a voice conveying the activist message and no other.
In sum, UP remains vital to Philippine activism because it is both its recruitment ground and training facility, because it is where activists directly engage and contest reactionary thinking, and because UP’s voice that the nation listens to, must be owned. But in order to remain in UP and to realize its full potential to activism, UP activists have no choice but to become thinking activists.
So, to the question of whether activism is still relevant, my answer would be this: It is not a question of relevance, but a matter of necessity. If activism did not exist in UP, we would have to invent it.
Indeed, as Prof. Nemenzo was already telling us in 1979, if there was no activism in UP, then that would be a problem. And it would be a problem not only for us in UP, but for the country itself.
So if you want to “Serve the People,” do not wait for graduation. Become an activist – now.And if you are already one, develop your activism and become the best activist you could be – now.