Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. The piece is a belated tribute to GS 68, which celebrated its 40th grade school graduation anniversary in late 2008. It was published in the in the March 23, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 and S1/5.
I am being transported back to the late 1960s.
I just finished reading a novel titled My Revolutions, written by Hari Kunzru. I didn’t intend to buy books—I couldn’t even find time to touch a heap of books purchased through the years that are now gathering dust. But the sale at A Different Bookstore was enticing. Despite a resolution not to buy books that would add clutter to the home, I succumbed to the 30 percent discount.
The novel is about the post-1968 life of a middle-aged Brit who has not revealed his true identity to anyone, including his wife—a stylish, successful businesswoman—and stepdaughter. He was once a peace activist who turned radical and later embraced revolutionary terrorism. He disliked the methods of violence, but he was already deeply integrated into the underground group. More, he was madly in love with an astonishing, enigmatic comrade—a free spirit—who was second in command.
I had high expectations abut the novel—the book’s cover contains blurbs from British newspapers—The Guardian, for example, as well as from Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground. But even before the novel’s conclusion, I was already complaining to myself about the thin development of characters and how incredulous it was to pack the principal character with so many spectacular life experiences. He developed from being a peacenik, a student radical, a terrorist, an acid tripper, a wanderer who journeyed to Asia’s most exotic and most dangerous places, a drug addict and trader, to being a Buddhist monk in Thailand. Rehabilitated from substance abuse but disillusioned with the monks, he returned to England, found a wife and settled as a homemaker dad. But his past hounded him.
Yet, the novel captures the moods and the details of 1968 and the immediate years that followed. The ex-student activist and the ex-hippie can find resonance in Kunzru’s narration of collective life, criticism and self-criticism; free love, lots of f_ _king and voyeurism; quotes from Mao and revolutionary chants; peaceful demonstrations turning violent; pigs, fascism and decadence; smoking joints and popping amphetamines.
The next novel I will read, something that I have just pulled out from the stack of unread books, is Flower Children by Maxine Swann. As the title suggests, the story revolves around the children of “devout hippies,” who rejected convention and Ivy League and turned to the world of communal living.
I also plan to replay Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, a story about unconventional love, friendship, and cinema, with Paris, May 1968 as the milieu.
The period of the late 1960s and early 1970s fascinated me. The peace movement and Bertrand Russell. Civil rights, Black power, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The student uprisings, Kent State, Columbia, and the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter. Vietnam, the Tet offensive, and the wars of national liberation. The irreverence of Gonzo journalism and Hunter Thompson. The chic of non-conformism and the hippie, bohemian zeitgeist. The music of the Beatles, Blind Faith, and the Bluesbreakers.
My being a rebel was indirectly influenced by the events of the late 1960s, with my Malay cousins as the models of rebellion en vogue. Two of them, Bobbie and Badi, then students at Sorbonne, witnessed and participated in the 1968 Paris uprising. They didn’t bring the revolution to the Philippines. As revolution became fashionable all over the world, Kabataang Makabayan was gaining strength at home, and Jose Maria Sison was rebuilding the Communist Party of the Philippines.
I am attached to 1968 for a more personal reason. A few months before Joma Sison established his ragtag Party, my pals graduated from grade school. I was a year behind GS (grade school) 68—but a number of them were my playmates, bus mates and neighbors; their parents were my parents’ cohorts or friends.
In high school, the grade school class of 68 was at the vortex of woolly activism, fighting against everything: dress code, rules on haircut and smoking, pre-military training, hike in oil prices, dirty elections, US imperialism, Marcos’s corruption and fascism.
Fast forward to the 21st century: from this batch emerged the new activists—yes, activists who are in their 50s—determined to fight Gloria to the end. Chito U., one of the batch’s officers, put it nicely: “I intended to become an activist upon retiring and reaching 60. But Gloria hastened the process of my transformation into an activist.” To illustrate Chito’s commitment, he cut short his business activity in the province and drove all the way from Quezon to Ayala to beef up the ranks of anti-Gloria protesters.
Nolo A, like Chito, does not mind sacrificing business to participate in collective action and attend strategy meetings on how best to mobilize people versus Gloria. Joining hard causes is nothing new to Nolo; it’s in his blood, genes inherited from his loveable, lovely mom.
The list of the new type of (middle-aged) activists from batch 68 is long, for example: Skip S., the foodie, provides the reliable tsismis or confidential info culled from various sources. Tony R., the passionate one, is non-sectarian and sees the wisdom of a united front that encompasses the Reds and the followers of Erap. George F., who calls himself the obese one, has carved out a space for his politics even as he works long hours and attends to a seriously ill wife. Atoy B., widower and devoted father to two good-looking grown-up daughters, has the charms to convince not only classmates but also an elegant apolitical lady in stilettos to join anti-Gloria rallies.
It’s been several months since I joined them in political action. And I missed the homecoming to celebrate their 40th grade school graduation anniversary.
But recently, I received an email from Mike L., inviting me to be a Facebook friend. I am a stranger to Facebook, but I couldn’t ignore the invite of a pleasant, friendly guy. I’d like to ask Mike how he has maintained a youthful appearance. He’s no Dorian Gray though, so the answer might be about his familiarity with spa treatments.
So now I’m in Facebook (FB), thanks to Mike. In a Facebook message, he said FB is a medium to propagate our causes.
Indeed, bigger battles still have to be fought, and we need to deploy new weapons like FB to fight an intractable enemy.
Based on the inputs from informed people, Global Source, “a network of independent advisors” thinks that the Gloria Arroyo administration is considering all options to remain in power after 2010, from instituting Charter Change (slimmer chance of occurring) to taking a “less peaceful route,” by imposing martial law.
We must thus remain vigilant. We must fight.
One lesson from 1968 is that dreams can come true. The ideals of the 1968 movements shaped Barack Obama. The revolutions of circa 1968 have undergone dramatic transformation—the Left parties, especially in Latin America, have seized political power through peaceful elections.
We, too, shall overcome. I look forward to seeing again GS 68 pals at the frontline for what might turn out to be our biggest fight.