Ateneo PolSci Bloggers

EDSA at 2010: Towards a Politics of Hope

In History, Politics on February 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm

by Rosselle Tugade

Throughout the unfolding of history the twin slogans of hope and change have mostly been prostituted and peddled with much ruthlessness and aggression. Underneath the skillful adornment of such buzzwords is a traitorous ambition to write an eschatological account for political life that hails the well-managed bureaucratic nation as the only imaginable habitus for politics with the free market as the only optimal structure of economic organization. Hope and Change have been the golden calves of our time with most of us uncritically worshipping the various gods they represent: a promise of inevitable uniform global progress; a prospect for a tranquil end to all political and historic conflict; and a satisfying ‘social’ existence through ‘legitimate’, ‘process-oriented’, and ‘formal’ mechanisms. The great violence that undergirds all of these is the unapologetic exploitation of the human soul’s ability to genuinely hope, communicate, and act within the context of a vibrant community.

At present, the Philippines is once again under the charming aura of an election season. Arguably, the system of free, fair, and regular elections has been significant for the entry of unorthodox voices in the arena of institutional politics. However, what is increasingly alarming is the content of the discursive map being drawn by the contemporary operators of such a mechanism: that the pinnacle of political life today is the translation of our aspirations into the singular aim of securing and/or enhancing the present order. The political contest is adjudicated in terms of who can deliver the most efficient solutions to day-to-day problems. The destination aimed at, it seems, is a society whose affairs are neatly managed by a benign Leviathan while the corresponding task demanded from the people is to lay down their arms, strip off their labels, aspire for a goal of progress, and work industriously for ‘the good of all’, whatever that may be.

What this all tells us is that our times are symptomatic of a kind of hunger that emerged after the collapse of most non-democratic regimes in the last century—including one in our very own backyard. With a collective fear of unmitigated power resting on the hands of a single person or a few people, present political efforts are expended over making sure that authority is to be distributed to ‘neutral’ machine-like and regulative institutions. Change, at the most, is to be done within the lines of predictability; hope, consequently, is to be defined as an anticipation of a factual certainty, a sense of sureness that can only be drawn from well-calculated probabilities and circumstances.

The increasing loss of faith in politics figures out well today in our commemoration of a Revolution that was once the source of strength and courage of a distraught people. The sea of yellow that once glowed brightly along Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue—as if to visually represent the radiant hope dwelling within the streets—has since then become some sort of a curious artifact encased in fragile glass which can be viewed from distance yet at the same time, cannot be held by the bareness of human hands. We find in the Filipino today a cynicism shot against beginnings—natality, if one prefers Arendtian language—out of pure distaste for the political. The dwindling number of people flocking to commemorate the Revolution every passing year is evidence of exhaustion in the otherwise resolute Filipino spirit.

What went wrong?

At best, we can only scavenge for pieces from the data of history. Perhaps the fault was in the hurried return to the politically questionable perspective that prioritized unrelenting growth and progress, thereby causing the abandonment of the democratic project once the bare institutional minimum was achieved. Perhaps the error was in reinstating into power the very same bloc that dominated the pre-authoritarian clientilist State. Perhaps the blunder was in the return to State strategies that employed both discursive and actual violence that muffled alternative voices in the ground. Or did we perhaps commit a mistake in waging the Revolution, as it was just a blanket of fictitious hopefulness for the country? Reverting to the final explanation is dangerous: it invites the notion that revolutions are mere fantasy formations conjured out of thin air—a transitory drug that sterilizes dismal conditions in order to prepare for a bigger, brighter future where there can  no longer be any faults. This perspective snatches away the interwoven narratives, experiences and struggles that lead up to a political revolution. Moreover, it relegates the animating spirit of revolutionary action into a mere mechanism of governmentality. In defining revolutions as such, we are courting the specters of anti-democracy—its ethereal charm, its powerful guarantees, its poisonous evocation of ungrounded victory—back into the polity. In contrast to all of these, revolutions are political encounters, exchanges, and even opposition by warm bodies in the public space.

In retrieving the spirit of the democratic revolution and allocating it to our own political topography, there is a supplemental need to reappraise our notions of hope and change. A metaphysics for these concepts is inspiring and a good critical juncture at best, but if we leave them hanging within the ranks of collective highfalutin phantasmagoria we betray the struggle purportedly waged in the name of politics. Freedom and democracy are far from empty words: they are charged with the baggage of history and a responsibility for the future. What is asked from us by the active reminder of our revolutionary past is a response in the form of a politics for hope—one that harks back to the past either to ensure that unfreedom will never happen again or to learn valuable lessons from it; one that toils with and for others at the present; and one that commits itself to a future that does not dictate a singular end.  The radical democratic spirit solicits much from the ethos of revolutions (though not exclusively); hence, our commitments for democracy must go beyond the realm of attitudes and structures that coddle us from the ruggedness of genuine political life so that we may bring about a transformation of the very processes that shape our constitution as individuals and as a people.

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