Dignité Pour Tous

Riot police fire tear gas canisters at yellow-vested protesters gathered on the Paris’ famed Champs-Elysees Avenue in France. Crowds of yellow-vested protesters angry at President Emmanuel Macron and France’s high taxes tried to converge on the presidential palace, some scuffling with police firing tear gas, amid exceptional security measures aimed at preventing a repeat of last week’s rioting. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
To partake in the body politic of the nation, each national must rise and remain in constant rebellion against himself.   — Hannah Arendt, “On Revolution”

France, May 1968. It was the month of the Paris riots. The massive protest actions, which led to a countrywide revolution, was spurred by France’s leading newspaper, Le Monde.

Fifty years after the first stone was hurled and the first effigy burned, the New York Times reported, “Just six weeks after France’s leading newspaper, Le Monde, pronounced that the country was ‘bored,’ too bored to join the youth protests underway in Germany and in the United States, students in Paris occupied the Sorbonne, one of the most illustrious universities in Europe.

“The day was May 3, 1968, and the events that ensued over the following month—mass protests, street battles and nationwide strikes—transformed France. It was not a political revolution in the way that earlier French revolutions had been, but a cultural and social one that in a stunningly short time changed French society” (Allisa J. Rubin, “May 1968: A Month of Revolution Pushed France Into the Modern World,” The New York Times, May 5, 2018).

The crucial role of French newspapers in prodding the people to action in France was reminiscent of the publications which spearheaded the French Revolution of 1879.

The French Revolution, dubbed by historians as an “epochal media event,” took the revolutionary ideas of the era and spread them to the common man. One such writer was Jean-Paul Marat, a former physician and underground journalist of the newspaper, L’Ami du Peuple.

Smaller, more modest village newspapers also took the lead in spreading dissenting ideas to farmers. One such publication was La Feuille Villageoise where a Jesuit named Joseph Cerutti reported on the uprising in Paris in dramatic detail.

Fast-forward to 2018: the “Les gilets jaunes” or the Nov. 17 yellow vest protests in France. The reason: the nearly 20% increase in diesel fuel cost and a planned tax hike the French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier in the year.

A report by Al Jazeera says: “The ‘yellow vests’ want further concessions from the government. Their demands include a redistribution of wealth as well as the increase of salaries, pensions, social security payments and the minimum wage. Some say they will not settle for anything less than the President’s resignation (Rokhaya Diallo, “ Why are the Yellow Vests Protesting in France,” Al Jazeera, Dec. 11, 2018).

This time, it wasn’t the press per se that instigated the riots, but a more powerful engine of dissemination: social media.

Based on Agence France-Presse’s timeline posted by France 24, an online news website, the unrest was sparked by a viral video:

“On October 18, an accordionist in the Brittany region, Jacline Mouraud, posts a video taken in her living room assailing ‘Monsieur Macron’ and asking him what he’s doing with taxpayers’ money. The post quickly goes viral, propelling Mouraud to the fore of the nascent “yellow vest” movement, named for the high-visibility safety vests drivers are required to keep in their cars. She lists the grievances of drivers in the face of fuel price hikes, and demands of Macron: ‘When is this hounding of drivers, which you’ve pursued since your arrival, going to end?’ A petition to bring down the price of fuel is quickly posted online, and garners tens of thousands of signatures.”

In the midst of the unrest in Paris, which has spilled over into Belgium and the Netherlands in a matter of days, prompted many Filipino netizens to ask: why not in the Philippines?

The continuing erosion of social and political protections in the almost three years of the Duterte administration should’ve already sparked massive protest mobilizations the likes of which could parallel, or even overtake the upheavals in France.

Why the seeming “boredom” and utter indifference of millions of Filipinos to recent tax hikes (TRAIN law), rising criminality and assassinations, the wanton murder of children, total disregard to human rights, police brutality and rapes, rampant misogyny, impunity, and a change in the Constitution that allows no term limits, among many unacceptable things.

What is driving Filipinos to such levels of indifference?

The German philosopher and author of “On Revolution,” Hannah Arendt, made some startling observations as to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Maximilien Robespierre’s reasons for massive social upheavals: compassion.

For Rousseau and Robespierre, it seems, compassion was “the one force which could and must unite the different classes of society into one nation,” which basically meant “the compassion of those who did not suffer with those who were malheureux, of the higher classes with the low people.”

If only to stress the need for weapons which require money, Dr. Jose Rizal himself, in a conversation with Pio Valenzuela in Dapitan, stressed the importance of the assistance, if not the leadership, of the wealthy in staging a full-blown revolution.

While at first glance, compassion may provide reason and impetus to propel a united front, bringing the poor and rich together, it leaves us with one question: will society forever wait for the decision of the higher classes to revolt against the status quo? How much should the poor suffer before the rich cast a compassionate eye on the marginalized and destitute?

An even more compelling question: how much torment can an oppressed people tolerate before they cry out and raise a fist–without the help of the wealthy–against a continuing campaign of tyrannical oppression?

In my humble opinion, the Filipinos’ so-called indifference to the injustice and abuse which mark a dictatorial regime is not so much spurred by a lack of compassion (I believe Filipinos, regardless of political affiliations, have a more than ample supply of compassion) but a divided belief in our idea of what constitutes human dignity.

While I will not presume to know what others believe, human dignity for me constitutes equal levels of respect for the human in each one of us. Any attempt to disregard that humanity is an attack  and an open declaration of war against all people–rich or poor–and not just against the marginalized and the destitute.

The day we all recognize that humans are heirs to their individual and collective dignity is the day we march against all forms of violence and impunity. It is not so much compassion as it is recognition of our humanity that marshals and sets in motion all that is revolutionary in us.

To partake in the body politic of the nation, each national must rise and remain in constant rebellion against himself, Arendt once wrote. That rebellion must begin where the idea of our dignity lies–individually and as a collective.

Filipinos possess a resiliency that works both in our favor and against us. Against that sort of resiliency that renders us indifferent to the struggles of others we must learn to fight. To first wrestle with ourselves in this regard before wrestling with the powers that be: we all must realize when enough is enough.

The French people carry in their DNA centuries of revolutions and upheavals. These uprisings have taught them what they are worth. G




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