storytelling: we can do no less
In the session all the workshop facilitators tried to integrate this early on by sharing our first and/or most memorable experience of becoming involved in a campaign. There I tried to recall the campaigning work that I became involved with as a student activist and I remembered the nationwide walkout for the abolition of the mandatory Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program in Philippine universities. Under the program all male college are required to receive basic military training and officer training for their chosen branch of service, through the ROTC unit at the college or university, there students become subject to four semesters of drills and lectures on military tactics as part of the curriculum which is intended to basic training for college students to become prepared in the event of war where they would be activated as reserve officers in whichever branch of military their university assigned them to.
12 years ago a campus journalist for the University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) Varsitarian, was murdered, allegedly for exposing anomalies and corruption in their university’s ROTC program. His death catalyzed the many generations of college students who’ve also had their experience of trauma from the RTOC program to campaign for the abolition of its mandatory status in university curricula. Many believed that ROTC had long outlived its purpose and had become merely another weekend drudgery that taught not nationalism but corruption. While for me it was something that was personal, it was hinged on my recent discovery of the whole concept of civil liberties, particularly its aspect of ‘freedom of conscience’ that is the freedom of individuals to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others' viewpoints.
Personally I joined the movement for abolishing the ROTC on the basis that “to live, kill and die” for our country should be founded on a choice that is informed by conscience not a government policy that requires me to train as a soldier so that in the event of war I would be required to become one at the government’s request.
I told this in front of the campaign staff and I continued by saying that my primary involvement was to become a part of a rouge ROTC unit that will lead the walk out at the UST when they hold their passing review. To do this meant also that we had to organize ourselves to learn how to do drills and to understand commands and look like ROTC cadets and doing so meant for us to practice and organize ourselves to appear as though we are a legit ROTC unit for two straight weeks. All of it paid-off though by the time we were able to execute it and everyone UST joined us in the walk-out, and a few minutes after walking out of UST we were able to join up with other ROTC units in the University-belt area walking out of their drills and joining us at the rally that we staged at Mendiola Bridge.
More importantly, the many activities that we did on the ground was but a fraction also of the work that was done by our allies in the legislative who eventually voted for the abolition of mandatory ROTC and replacing it with a program known as the National Service Training Program which was signed into law in January 23, 2002 which aims to promote the role of the youth in nation-building. As such, it aims to encourage the youth to become civic leaders and volunteers whom could be called upon by the nation in cases their services are needed, this therefore also includes community-development as an integral role in the new curriculum, hence exposing college students to many issues and problems that many organizations like Greenpeace are working on.
Remembering this story had a profound impact on me yesterday because it reminded me of why I chose to be an activist. It reminded me of how stories are powerful if they are used as invitations for taking action to address a perceived imbalance of power. Lastly it reminded me again that the power in campaigning lies in an organization’s capacity to replicate itself in the public sphere and the political landscape. Stories play a big role in that because as human beings we share stories to remind each other of who we are and how we should act because human experience unfolds in story and meaning is fashioned from places, plots, and players fused in real-time.
History is shaped by stories: Stories like the mode of production narrative of class struggle; or how the religious faithful of Islam, Judaism and Christianity find its roots in the story of Abraham who stepped out in faith to find the Promised Land; or how the Eastern religions have found ritual in struggling to emancipate their minds from mental slavery to the material realm as an intervention to end the vicious cycle of karma; in fact even our origins at Greenpeace finds itself place with seeing ourselves as the fulfilment of the Indian Cree prophecy or the Rainbow Warriors; these are stories that have for generations taught us how to become societies that pursue and look forward to a better world to come.
As campaigners we need to look at ourselves in the middle of it all, to invoke an alternative consciousness and to invite people in our struggle, to tell stories about how the world must change and how it can change if we take our campaign issues as something more than just ‘work’. It is important not only in winning but also in making meaning out of the win, because winning campaigns (especially with communities) are foretastes of how a better world for people and the planet can be made possible.
This is our call and this is our vocation. We cannot do less.