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The revolution will not be live-streamed

The revolution will not be funded by grants, nor will it be live streamed. Activists shouldn't be made to export organizing resistance against powers that maintain the status quo as a product.
The revolution will not be live-streamed

Originally published 10 Sep 2021

Once upon a time, there was a fifty-seven-year-old grandmother with kind eyes. She was loved dearly in her community for leading the charge against a coal stockpile in her neighborhood. In her spare time, she manned her family’s karaoke bar and joked around with her eighteen grandchildren.

One night, just before eight in the evening, a gunman slowly walked inside and unceremoniously shot her dead.

This man will never be caught, and the moment he straddled his masked companion’s motorcycle will be the last anyone will ever see of him. The case will be dismissed for lack of suspects. The plethora of all the other things that went wrong that night would dawn on everyone too late only to sear themselves into the memory and perpetual regret: the frantic chase that ended when the perpetrators turned off their lights and went into the night undetected, the failure of the police to set up checkpoints, the shrapnel that grazed the shoulder of a child who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, like she was.

This is the story of Gloria Capitan, the leader of Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Lucanin (SNML). In March 2015, Capitan led a petition addressed to the Lucanin village council, the government of Mariveles and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to shut down the coal facility. She had no known enemies and had no other political activities other than campaigning for a healthier, safer home for her and her family. For many environmental activists, her story is an all too familiar tale following years of intimidation, of death threats and of bribe attempts in exchange for silence set against a dark time of impunity making the daily headlines.

The Philippines was named the deadliest in Asia for environmental activists in 2017 by London-based watchdog Global Witness, putting forward an even steeper price on activism against environmental degradation, such as the country’s continued reliance on coal-fired power plants. But Capitan’s fellow activists in the Coal-Free Bataan Movement continue her legacy, up in arms still against existing and new coal plant projects in the region.

“Why won’t we fight?” the activists say. “It’s our lives.”

Much has been written about the new CBS reality show called "The Activist" in the last few hours since Twitter took notice. The show's premise, featuring celebrity judges Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough is "to bring meaningful change to one of three vitally important world causes: health, education and environment."

According to Deadline: "Activists go head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes, with their success measured via online engagement, social metrics and hosts’ input. The three teams have one ultimate goal: to create impactful movements that amplify their message, drive action, and advance them to the G20 Summit in Rome, Italy. There, they will meet with world leaders in the hope of securing funding and awareness for their causes. The team that receives the largest commitment is celebrated as the overall winner at the finale, which will also feature musical performances by some of the world’s most passionate artists."

If this sounds like a joke to you – don't worry, I honestly thought I dreamed it when I woke up, and then I questioned the very fabric of reality when I checked the news again after breakfast then realized it wasn't. A group of very powerful people thought it was actually a good idea to gamify activism and make movement work a competition where impact can be measured by likes. It's like Black Mirror meets that Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad.

Some part of me thinks this can be a meta-critique of the non-profit industrial complex and/or purported digital activism by influencers, and honestly I will likely be tuning in to see if there's any chance at all this circus really comments on these things. A bigger part of me, however, knows that this is likely another diabolical way to co-opt advocacy, and to borrow from Anand Giridharadas, an elite charade that claims it is changing the world.

Branding dissent to make it palatable for mass consumption and making organizing a spectator sport dishonors much of the ground work activists from all generations have done to uproot systems that perpetuate exploitation and abuse. Commodifying this exercise in a ridiculous show that turns our people's trauma, hurt and struggles to be part of some sort of opression olympics all in the name of profit legitimizes how complicit the media, funding foundations, and celebrity culture are in perpetuating capitalist abuse.

The revolution will not be funded by grants, nor will it be live streamed. Activists shouldn't be made to export organizing resistance against powers that maintain the status quo as a product. Movement work and collectivizing care for people and planet are never competitions but downright honest work. They are arguably the very best of what we have to give as human beings, as our sites of resistance are inevitably also our sites of love.

I don't remember my high school days vividly, but lately I've been thinking a lot about the one day our well-meaning Values Education teacher asked us to share what we wanted to be when we grow up. It seemed like an innocent enough exercise aimed at nudging us to think about the future a few days before graduation, but of course me being my usual self, I thought it was the perfect morning to go through an existential crisis I didn't even have a name for at the time.

To be honest with you, I think I'm still in the middle of said crisis, eleven years later. I simply did not know how to respond. I still don't know if I responded well enough. I remember, however, everyone else being so decisive about the future. I remember my classmates rattling off dream titles and job descriptions from the center of the room one by one as the rest fidgeted in chairs arranged by the teacher to surround the speaker, reinforcing the glorious spectacle of it all.

When it was my turn, in a moment of pure edginess which I now interpret to be wildly prophetic, I gave a whole speech about simply wanting to "make a difference however I can". I was met with, predictably, a confused, awkward silence that haunts me to this day.

It's now 2021, and eleven years later, in interviews or other engagements, I'd say "making a difference" has become my go-to answer when some variation of the question of what I want to do with my life makes its way to my inbox. These days, though, it's usually met not with indifference but with curiosity, and I'm beyond lucky to be able to articulate to a this-time-willing audience the various ways I try to show up to do just this.

I'm typically labelled as an activist, a youth leader, a credible speaker on the intersections of climate and gender justice. Fifteen-year-old me would be proud, I think, but would likely wonder what all these really mean, the same way I struggle with feeling like I don't really genuinely hold any of these identities, much less the combination of all of them.

I live in one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an activist. I struggle a lot with feeling not enough to comfortably deem myself one because my position still allows me to be able to fully express myself or risk opportunities without fear of sudden poverty or persecution. I can just as easily walk away from movement work – as I've done for about six months in 2018 and again last year for a full month when things got a little bit too much – without compromising mine and my family's security. I can likewise just as easily wax poetic about it all and dwell on said existential crisis because my rights, my land, and my community are not directly under attack. I am a woman with a disability, yes, but a very privileged one still at that that my privilege functions as a cloak to make my vulnerabilities virtually invisible because I can throw money at my limitations enough to make life not just bearable but incredibly comfortable.

It feels egregiously indulgent then to call myself an activist, when I know so many people who risk their lives everyday to resist without necessarily going through this am I or aren't I monologue. They have no choice but to show up, and they show up everyday, at much cost.

"For us, this is not a 'program' or a 'campaign'", a community organizer that I really admire once said. "Activism is our way of life."

Featuring photos from Soc Amon and early reporting from the now-archived Climate Stories website.