The rise of the middle class

Ricardo Magno

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The middle class has finally realized that one does not to be part of the masa to feel the need to fight back

IN WHITE. The crowd for the anti-pork barrel protest on August 26, 2013 at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila. Photo by Rappler

To be honest, I’m not one who usually participates in rallies.

It’s not that I don’t care about national and political issues. In fact, I make it a point to keep myself up-to-date with what’s happening around the country.

I read the news. I like engaging in conversations (and do I dare say, discourse) about where I stand about certain matters, but going to the streets to voice out these thoughts to whoever will listen–to actually actively protest in public spaces–is something I haven’t done before.

At least, not until the Million People March to Luneta.

Growing up, I have been part of the citizenry instilled with the belief that there are other avenues to voice out opinions. I have been taught that there are other ways to trigger change in the system. These usually tend to start internally–small-scale, if you should say–with the hope that my actions will create enough ripples to slowly affect those around me.

But on National Heroes Day, I decided to march to the streets. For the first time, I told myself, I will take a more drastic leap toward triggering change in the system. For the first time, I will join the many other silenced voices in protest, hoping that our collective muffled cries will be heard by those who pretend not to hear.

That’s what I thought, at least. When I finally started marching along Roxas Boulevard, I saw the flood of white shirts slowly making their way to Quirino Grandstand. I expected a frenzied mob shouting and hurling criticism (and possibly, objects); but, instead, found families and tourists trudging along the boulevard. There was no frenzied mob, but more like a thousand middle-class families walking to the grandstand for a picnic, all in white for solidarity.

Finally reaching Quirino Grandstand, the expected placards and chants were there, but the response of those in protest was what was unexpected: cameras and tablets held up, taking videos of what was going on. Anti-pork barrel merchandise was being sold. Food and flags were peddled side by side. Picnic mats were laid out on the grass.

It’s a different kind of protest, where a large chunk of the Million who marched (I just call it a “Million” because of the meme that went around social media, though it didn’t feel much like a million) were only bystanders who partly decided to join the rally, but also partly decided to document the event to post on their own Facebook pages. It’s a peaceful kind of protest, safe enough to have a few foreigners going around, as if one will go to the Philippines to see rallies that double as tourist attractions.

FAMILY PICNIC. Hundreds of families gathered at the Quirino Grandstand on August 26, 2013 for the #MillionPeopleMarch. Photo by Rappler

Social media coup

I guess this is how the middle class protests. No objects were thrown, but a lot of selfies were uploaded. Then again, the germ of this march came from social media — shared, liked and commented on. It’s only logical for it to end up on social media sites again, sharing and liking one’s participation in the actual event. It’s always interesting, however, to see a different crowd rallying in a different way: fists pumping in the air, clutching cellphones and cameras.

Makibaka, huwag magbaboy!” was the mantra of the Million. Lyrics were also flashed on an LED screen, to the tune of Jessie J’s Pricetag, and soon enough, everyone was singing “Kukurap sila du’n sa left, kukurap sila du’n sa right…” and the protest quickly became a concert, though a concert calling for change, nonetheless.

These do not render the protest invalid, of course. It’s just different. It’s a much harder battle to fight, because the people were not against a single dictator or a concrete image, but an idea — a system that does not work for them, a culture that is becoming harder to erase. “I pay taxes, they take my hard-earned money,” the middle-class worker says, “I won’t let them steal from me anymore.”

And so, the middle class has found its voice. The Million People March wasn’t so much a rally fighting to change a broken system, but more a way to convene and unite in a space more concrete than the internet. It wasn’t so much a cry for help, but a way to listen to each other’s disgruntled voices.

The middle class has finally realized that one does not to be part of the masa to feel the need to fight back. They have realized that while they can still eat 3 times a day, it is also their right to unite and find their collective voice when they are not given the governance they deserve.

There wasn’t a need to be part of a larger organization, or to be an aktibista. This was a rally with no single organizer. And so the people led themselves in protest, individuals fighting about their individual concerns, being accountable for the kind of country that they want to see.

Uploaded with the selfies were individual opinions about the matter. It was only fitting on National Heroes Day to see the people realizing they need not wait for a hero to die for them, but instead to become heroes for themselves.

My Facebook wall is now flooded with more photos and status updates. The middle class has finally found its voice; they have finally found something to fight for.

But what happens next? –

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