Recently, I ran into a friend at a wake, also a fellow writer. We talked briefly about the world’s fascination with “super heroes”, epitomized by the recent showing of the final installment in the Avengers’ series, Endgame. Although I am no comic-book geek, I lined up for an hour-and-a-half to buy tickets to a screening and thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. On the smaller screen, Endgame’s counterpart for me was the final season of Game of Thrones. I’m a fair-weather fan of the show at best. I haven’t seen all the seasons, but I committed to finishing the entire eighth season. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here. Nor is this an in-depth analysis of plot or prevalent Jungian archetypes in media. I am hardly the expert.)
What jumped out at me about the popularity of such shows and movies is the premise that there are easily identifiable forces of darkness and light in the world, and that the forces of light are a small group of elite individuals whose characteristics and “powers” make them somehow responsible for the vanquishing of evil from this world. Yes, of course we are shown that these individuals are more complex than just being “good” or “bad”, or else these franchises would hardly be believable. But what bothers me sometimes is the “final solution” that is being touted in the story, which seems to be the total destruction of the forces of darkness or evil. When you look at human history, the progress or destiny of civilizations has hardly rested on the shoulders of merely one man or woman. The world’s plot lines aren’t seamlessly sorted once the villain or protagonist is defeated or triumphs. As we gazed with amusement at Thor’s dad bod and video game addiction, we saw the frailty—and power—of our own human emotions, how they literally influence the shape of things, both present and future.
Simultaneously here in the Philippines, we experienced the 2019 national elections for 12 senators, a party list and congressman, and on the local level, mayor, vice mayor and 12 councilors. My Facebook newsfeed had a mix of those campaigning for government-backed personalities as well as the opposition. There was a sense of “good versus evil”, with supporters of both parties claiming the other was the more evil choice than the other. Now we know the result, that the 12 senatorial spots have been claimed (or snatched, as a national broadsheet cheekily claimed) entirely by the government-backed candidates, reducing the possibility of more balanced governance. On the LGU level, results were more mixed, with dynasties felled by newcomers and mavericks.
In real life, credits don’t roll up on a black background. The loose ends of a story line don’t magically line up. Dragons can’t lay waste to corrupt politicians or a sick political and social system. There are no Avengers who will create a time machine so we can change our past and improve the fate of our country. No, the story goes on, with the requisite consequences of past actions and faultily (though I’m sure, well-intended) chosen mindsets. Like it or not, the buck stops here. For better or worse, we are the ones we have been waiting for.
Recently, my uncle Ed Garcia penned an article for Rappler entitled “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds!” Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Ed has worked with non-violent social movements all his life, beginning with co-founding Lakasdiwa in the 70s. After Ninoy Aquino’s assasination, he returned to the Philippines after years of self-imposed exile in South America and Europe. Upon his return to the country, he joined Ka Pepe Diokno, JBL Reyes, Randy and Karina David in the formation of KAAKBAY. He was one of the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Later he worked with Amnesty International and International Alert.
Ed has seen first-hand the dangers of strongman rule and the suppression of human rights. He has devoted his life to “waging a just peace.” In his analysis of recent political events, he cites a landmark study conducted by a Harvard University researcher, the political scientist Erica Chenoweth, assisted by the researcher Maria Stephan of the International Centre of Nonviolent Conflict, entitled, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of NonViolent Conflict”. Based on a review of literature on 323 civil resistance and social movements around the globe from 1900 to 2006, the study concludes that when 3.5% of the people engage in serious protests in a country, then change becomes possible. Although success is not always guaranteed by the 3.5% rule (as in Tiananmen Square in 1989), civil disobedience is “not only a moral choice” but can be “the most powerful way of shaping the world.” Ed asks, “Can we really bring about profound social change by peacefully coming together; or bring about a peace that is just and durable by peaceful ways?”
As he muses this point, he shares this insight which many of us may share. “…this is my personal anguish: most of the political upheavals that fall under people’s power movements tend to end up with the power of the citizens usurped by traditional politicians, that is, unless people exercised ‘eternal vigilance’. Unless the people muster a laser-like focus on the ways of governance, then the return of the old despots or the emergence of new so-called ‘leaders’ with the habits of the old politics are hastened. In other words, there is no such thing as a ‘free ride’ when it comes to the journey of building a nation.”
My uncle has seen a lot in his 76 years of existence, but even I have experienced the vicissitudes of life in my relatively short 45-year stint on earth. As a 12-year-old in 1986 who prayed that her parents would not die in the People Power revolution, I remember being filled with hope that things could truly change. I had witnessed the toppling of a dictator, miraculously without bloodshed (except for the thousands who were killed, disappeared or tortured by the murderous Marcos regime). Yet with the passing of years and with each successive changing of the guard, the cold, painful truth was hard to avoid—that the culture of corruption and impunity simply continued to grow, and grow more brazen, to be further entrenched in our institutions and our society.
Though I am sometimes tempted to just write the whole thing off and live in a bubble, people like Tito Ed give me hope, that we are not chasing some pipe dream in hoping and working for equality, propserity, and a just peace, that change in the right direction is possible, that we must continue envisioning the best that humanity can be. We must “Hold the Line”, be open to and continue dialogue on the national, local and personal levels, tell our own stories and sing our own songs, dance to the rhythm of our own heartbeat. In the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s words, we must “live the questions”, and how we choose to rise up to life on a daily basis can become our peaceful protest against the ills of the world.
About two weeks before election day, a meme popped up on Facebook, a photograph of Tito Ed wearing a backpack and distributing Otso-Diretso flyers to commuters lining up for the bus somewhere in Makati. The caption read, “Hindi lahat ng super hero ay nakasuot ng kapa. Yung iba ay naka backpack lang.”
We can all be heroes in our every day: When we teach our children to love themselves and be kind to their kapwa. When we engage in dialogue with those whose beliefs differ from ours, and find common ground for the common good. When we exert efforts to lift up marginalized sectors of society. When we recognize that we truly are, as the Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said, “spiritual beings having a human experience”, and develop our ability to see Spirit in each other’s eyes (even a tyrant’s eyes, or even a criminal’s eyes). When we see Nature as Beloved and treat her as our kapwa as well. When we do each act with love, with hope (even our anger at injustice can come from a loving place). When we realize that we are the seeds being planted in this beautiful Earth garden, experience our fertilizer, enlightenment our blooms.