“The Power of Nonviolent Resistance”
Nonviolent resistance has seen a recent resurgence in diverse countries. Its aim: to challenge personalities and policies that discriminate, exclude, or trample the rights and harm the dignity of others. By peaceably gathering and making their voices heard, people across the globe are demonstrating that the struggle for basic rights and justice truly have no boundaries. Principled in character and peaceful in manner, this form of resistance has been embraced across generations.
Strength of Spirit
Nearly five decades ago, at the onset of what was then dubbed “The First Quarter Storm,” a band of students and seminarians, out of school youth and professionals came together to establish Lakasdiwa. It was founded on the day of the martyrdom of Filipino patriot-priests Frs. Gomez, Burgos and Zamora on 17 February 1970, espousing the ideals of non-violent struggle for justice, the defense of human rights and the protection of democratic space.
Lakasdiwa drew inspiration from the immortal Mahatma Gandhi, and the principles of satyagraha (strength of spirit) and ahimsa (truth). Encouraged by the experience of the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King, Jr, and Dom Helder Camara, the bishop who championed the rights of the poor in Northeast Brazil’s Pernambuco, Lakasdiwa aimed to nurture the Filipino spirit of courage under fire in their advocacy to build a country where rights were upheld, greater equality advanced and the twin ills of impunity and exclusion addressed.
Defiant Civil Disobedience
It’s signature campaign consisted in accompanying the plight of the vulnerable which culminated in protest action inside the halls of Congress then called, “Operasyon Tuligsa sa Kongreso” –undertaken after nearly one hundred days of protesting the rights of farmers to the land they tilled which the members of Congress systematically set aside. Singing the national anthem inside the halls of Congress in an act of peaceful defiance and mass civil disobedience unprecedented at that time, members of the organization were hauled in army trucks to Camp Crame. At another time, they occupied the office of the Secretary of Justice demanding justice for 17 farmers of the Federation of Free Farmers who were unjustly detained.
It likewise assisted in organizing and mobilizing the residents of Sapang Palay, in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan who were unceremoniously dumped there from Intramuros without adequate provisions for livelihood, shelter, water and electricity. Together, they marched 42 kilometers to Malacanang on 5 October 1970 in a demonstration of solidarity to speak truth to power. In another instance on February 1971, the youth linked arms with people in the streets in the historic 1971 jeepney strikes which took place in the midst of police brutality.
In today’s context, pushing back against the rising tide of intolerance and indifference, resistance lives! Our so-called millennials are in the frontline of protests against attempts to revise history and to bury the truth with the remains of the dictator on hallowed ground.
In concert with veteran street parliamentarians who had put their lives on the line and citizens concerned that principles and values they had fought for in the past had been set aside, this emerging alliance continue to explore more imaginative ways of principled nonviolent resistance.
In this digital age with the proliferation of social media, our youth are tackling the tasks of the hour and creating coalitions of conscience, learning to demonstrate their courage in diverse ways, taking single steps to explore a new way of doing politics; a brave brand of citizenship.
Lakasdiwa was a form of principled and militant non-violent resistance then; today, our people, particularly our youth, have to discover the most effective ways of exercising citizenship with courage to craft the kind of country we aspire to live in and the shape of the future that we wish to build.
17 February 2017
(The author was one of the founders of Lakasdiwa in 1970)
Ed Garcia is a human rights activist. He is a Parangal Lingkod Sambayanan recipient and a distinguished Ateneo alumnus.