Saturday, July 30, 2005

Oh, we... armchair revolutionaries, couch philosophers

IT STRUCK me like I just uncovered a radiant cherry from a painfully bland stretch of desert sand. The seductive discovery amused me but it certainly didn’t make me feel elated, relieved, or rewarded. “Ah, Hooters?!” Okay, I admit—this is more acerbic jest than roadside mischief. “Of course, there’s no problemo whatsoever with lovely muses with round, voluptuous hips and flawless Meg Ryan smiles serving you buffalo wings and Corona on a Friday night... but, of course, you know what I mean.” Smiley Riley and Marta The Nicer Osborne knew what I meant—but they couldn’t care less, I guess. We have 514.13 miles of cold concrete to negotiate up ahead—to Baltimore to supervise a “Bonfires for Peace” concert in the Hampden district—on that particular February weekend. As we drove past Tunnel Rd to I-240—a bizarre, lumbering deathly dirge or backward mantra rung persistently through my eardrum... “Super Wal-Mart, Target, high-rise condos, narrowing-of-roads, Hooters, public-parks-for-rent...”
The invasion of corporate concupiscence! We are suddenly helpless, hapless ripples of spent water about to be engulfed by the rapturous high tide of multinational gluttony. Like a songwriting buddy or longtime girlfriend who’s just got sick and tired of my holier-than-thou preachings and dreamy pronouncements of a world of joy and justice, while we remained impoverished in the last three or four years of ramen noodles, frozen Banquet chickens, Boone’s Farm sangrias, and swashbuckling words-of-wisdom... my beloved Asheville has “forsaken” me for the high rollers of tinseltown. She, after all, has to survive, you know... But she’s no longer the beautiful sylph, bedecked with multicolored vigor and zest, sharing cups of herbal tea by Lexington Av or Haywood St, or the bellydancing fairy with flowing, raven hair and talisman fingertips rejoicing “Leaves of Grass” over Ravel down Pritchard Park. The feeling seemed numbed, synthetic, deodorized... So very different—this jilted feeling—from the sweet pain etched within me as bade her my fortnightly goodbyes four years ago as I flew to New York City and back in the first 16 months of my Appalachian adventure.
You see, I don’t have any problem patronizing local brews at a Hooters or partaking of two dozen of white socks at a Wal-Mart each month, I never had a problem with that. I am very much aware of the sweatshop pay, slavery toil in some third-world patch while some first-world gods continue to amass billions via white man’s gift-of-gab and silver-and-gold investment/capital, and I will always rant and rave about it... but I am not going to starve to death a martyred don quixote, anyways, if my $100/month’s winter stipend is only good for couple of extra comforters, sweat pants, and socks at a neighborhood Wal-Mart. No, I can’t afford to waste away extra dollars more to score a fuzzy-warm Kashmir jacket at a downtown indie store, I am sorry... It still requires couple of more realistic dollars to be a true-blue, dogmatic animal rights’ fighter, vegetarian guru, or anti-Waltons warbler.
“I buy $2 popcorns and $5 scarves at Wal-Mart, so what? What I save, I spend them all on telling the whole-wide-world that Wal-Mart sucks, anyways? I don’t get paid by some 8-hr coat-and-tie day job to survive an activist life—and I mean, I am having fun, man!” Some of my detractors say that’s a freakin’ contradiction—consuming Wal-Mart stuff then ditching them... Oh my, I just wish I can also walk miles and miles of muddy footwalks like Mahatma Gandhi because an SUV drive to the next organizational meeting is a contradiction. I remember Judas Escariot castigating Jesus Christ Superstar, “Why did you choose such a backward place and time... in 19th century, there’s mass communication.”
Anyways, Highland Ale or PBR taste the same, whether it’s served at Rosetta’s or Westville Pub in Asheville, or Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas or Planet Hollywood in Atlantic City, isn’t it so? But, tell me, where’d you think I’d buy 12 pairs of white socks for $10—at Malaprop’s or French Broad Coop, for cryin’ out loud? But, then, you see—I don’t think I’d travel all the way from the Pacific islands to the Atlantic seaboard to the Blue Ridge Mountains to ogle at a skimpy-clad Christina Aguilera on bright-orange two-piece holding a tray of spiced pleasantries, or score $5.50 DVDs or Brawny paper towels in America’s number one retail monster. (Of course, you get my drift...)
I love Asheville for what it was four or three years ago—with or without Wal-Mart or Hooters. And, right now, I feel like a poor, pitiful swain on co-dependency relationship.
Oh my Blue Sky God/dess! Once again, I have become my own pathetic, loud, rabble-rousing, oft-whining “freeze-frame” rebel, a suspended-on-midair liberator of humanity, an armchair revolutionary, couch philosopher. Apparently, that’s all that I can do, given the circumstances.
Remember those college days of yore, youth’s age of reason... plentiful smartass discourses in between classes, vacant hours of mischivous girl-watching by the Arts&Sciences steps—as we pondered Kafka and Engels and Camus and Marx and Mao and Stone (I mean, Sharon). “Now, I know how to save the world from the fangs of hell! It’s all written in between this awesome book! This awesome book is gonna save my soul!” I remember I never forget to end my love letters with either “Revolutionary yours” or “In solidarity and in love.”
We even had specific stylistic gear and garb that fit the anti-fascist fashionista angst. Bloodred-smeared bandannas, worn-out Levi’s or Lee, white shirts blaring with Che poster-boy print, highcut Converse, lots of exotic, ethnicized necklaces and bracelets, and a rattan-woven backpack. We got the look, baby!
Then, couple of more years after graduation—when a zillion of organizational memberships beckoned—those crazy days when one single group decision was debated, argued, committee-deliberated, reassessed, reevaluated, rehashed, restudied before we finally realize them... “Okay, guys, now that we have already agreed to eat Thai salami with cherry-flavored syrup on this Sunday’s student-coalition’s demonstration in front of the City Hall—by votation of 16 to 14, let’s meet again next week to democratically decide if we are, indeed, going to drink Pepsi or Coke, or should that be Diet? Any objections? Now, let’s hear the report of the porta-toilet committee... I heard they have uncovered some cost-cutting remedies.” Oh yeah, we all loved to talk and talk and talk.
So am I being obvious? I never liked meetings, anyways; they’re so counter-productive, so redundant, so annoyingly inquisitive. I’d rather get things done—fast, right here, right now. Surely, I fumbled and goofed and blundered and erred—but then, my commitment to my madness (may that be political, whatsoever) isn’t gonna end till I lose my nonprofit job or pro-bono tour of legal duty, or when I finally break up with my revolutionary girlfriend. I don’t think this “madness” is that shallow or skin-deep. I will continue to trip and fall and commit mistakes—but the thing is, I am not about to stop my quest, so I don’t see any failure coming. The fight is neverending—like the nth round in my life’s championship fight, it’s never over. Wobbly knees and bruised chests aren’t about to stop me—though I don’t call it my “madness” activism, anymore. I call it, having fun, just having fun.

“WHAT DO YOU hope to accomplish in doing all these things?”
I am always asked that question. I could readily, zestfully respond to that question—ten or fifteen years ago. I feel like I have aged many many generations past... I haven’t seen activism in any other country like I have experienced it in the Philippines when I was in my teens until I gave up in the middle of the 90s... got wounded, ostracized, punished, hurt—forcibly made to relax and chill following a lung surgery. But then, as I repeatedly pronounce my weariness and laying-low tact, I seem to contradict my observers when they see me as always untiringly on-the-go, always pushing, not giving up.
Although I can still feel the painful memories of many years under a despotic military regime back home, I felt my bones and mind have already given way to a more sedate, less complicated existence—exactly, the very reason why I am here in a relatively “white” community far away from my own people... I knew that after almost 25 years of unmitigated, uncompromising, no-holds-barred, romantically gung-ho adherence and allegiance to anything against the dictatorship, my day was done. My day was done when I finally saw the collapse of a ruthless government and the departure of the US military bases... I have given my 25 years to the struggle, and even though true freedom and sovereignty from superpower dictate is yet to be realized by my people, I feel I already earned my medals of honor. No one can take those away from me... Time to pass the torch, I need to enjoy my moondance now. I need my peace.
I was a tired warrior at age 38, burned out. But my little endeavors—I knew and I am very proud of it—have contributed significantly to the demise of a genocidal one-man rule. We had a different “sociopolitical/ideological” education back home, it’s just different... activism, militancy, radicalism, non-conformity, anarchy—we didn’t read or hear them from the gilded mouths of heroes, burning recitations that echo like thunders on springtime midnights, or debated every midweek afternoon jousts.
Few years ago, as I witnessed Western North Carolina’s virulent sea of peace-loving souls massed in thousands in such a tiny downtown park, I couldn’t help but relive my past. I wish that the energy spreads through across the oceans, sending out concrete messages against Washington’s vaunted foreign policy... but I need not be cynical anymore. I have seen it sacrificed, waged, accomplished before—it wasn’t easy.
Come March 19 and 20, I know I will again see an angry mass of protesting humanity calling for the end of war... in this beautiful mountain-city that has fast been enveloped by the very world-order and economic might that make war-mongering and global brinkmanship just another day-at-the-office. I feel the excruciating sight of wrathful elegies and mournful pronouncements bouncing back—back and forth—as they meet deadend among four walls of gargantuan corporate structures that continue to mushroom in my midst, faster than the activist community gets to plan out their next public rally...
I can’t say, “Americans should suffer the pain of being a non-American to be able to understand what really is poverty, homelessness, and hunger.” It is not, never, as wily Wall Street economists mouth—ushered by GNP situations and cost-of-living vis-a-vis cost-of-labor-force. It is plain and simple—as food-to-mouth, remedies to a gaping wound, shelter to a 7-year-old child. It’s as basic as that—a Dell microchip assembler in an Asian production-line who’s paid this amount, equal perhaps to a $6.50 wage-earner in Salisbury, NC under US living standards, isn’t going to score paper towels or spring water on salary day, and strawberry sherbet while watching a rented VHS on a Sunday afternoon... the person is going to ensure five kilos of soiled white rice, a dozen of un-fresh, red-eyed fish and chicken entrails for a week’s dinner.
As we fight the mighty, peerless hand that signals war for a grander goal of greed, we should also fight the mightier, more peerless hand that summons and dictates those that signals war and death.

ACTIVISM, for me, isn’t gonna fly unless we get results—otherwise, it’s all a sad freakin’ fad, a cool dalliance that we all cower to because we didn’t get our tax refunds on time, or that we suffered racist or sexist slurs at the workplace, or that, our relationships and marriages have been so nasty and hateful and demeaning that fighting for the rights of the oppressed humanity is our only sure pathway to vindication, revenge, or redemption.
Few years ago—amidst the plasticine sham of Madison Av in NYC, a throng of placard-wielding young Filipino-American activists on Fendi scarves, Prada shirt and Armani dress pants called for justice and freedom back home... These kids are definitely better than those midtown bleached-skinned Manhattan clowns who dye their hairs brown and wear blue contacts to camouflage their true native colors, but then, the question is—why do we really disagree, why do we protest? What’s the use of dissent, of civil disobedience, if society remains what it is?
When we were battling the Marcos dictatorship, we were also fighting nuclear energy intramurals by such giant powers like Westinghouse, artistic freedom and media censorship, big business monopoly in the countrysides, bastardization of our women around the US bases... To be an activist doesn’t simply confine you to fight for peace or against the war, you are also duty-bound, or humanity-bound, to fight for the protection of your community’s well-being — fight for your own business space against the fangs of gentrification, fight for your local musicians’ right to perform in his own town and city, fight for better wages while outsider capitalization clogs the streets, fight for better air and more pleasant sound of mountain living...
Fight for your peace—whether it is anti-war, or anti-Republican, or anti-logging, or anti-women, or anti-Wal-Mart. Peace can never be faked or sugar-coated or turned into a bloodred-smeared bandanna or a hippie, gypsy-donned merry prankster girth. Peace is humanity... it should be protected and guarded also for those who choose not to march in the streets or die in the desert.
Ah, Asheville has become the place where we all, fearless activists and warriors of wisdom, rest up, load up, refuel, then set out again to do battle... never mind, if they own our city, we own the world.

HERE I GO AGAIN. Why can’t I just enjoy the world’s cheapest intoxication, Boone’s Farm sangria while imagining that my would-be girlfriend sings like Eva Cassidy, Joss Stone, or Norah Jones... Life is never easy for me, I guess.
We are again all-set to negotiate 514.13 miles of cold concrete for another road trip to Baltimore and Washington DC as I beat the deadline for The Indie’s March issue. But, you see, I was really serious when I boasted to Marta The Nicer Osbourne and Smiley Riley that I plan to visit Tunnel Rd’s Hooters one of these upcoming summer nights... I always love watching women, beautiful women with flawless, healthy bodies and winning, so-peacefully cheerful smiles...
Life is so beautiful, after all... Asheville, my wounding, hurtful, flirtatious co-dependency relationship in the last four years, has been looking the other way around lately. So need I mope? I don’t think so... You see, uhh, I was told that we will be performing with Rhythm Insurgency, an almost all-women spoken word/drumming ensemble as The Traveling Bonfires makes a stopover show in DC on March 11. I won’t miss Asheville that much I am sure—neither Hooters on Tunnel Rd—no, I won’t.
An activist’s life is always fun. I never got tired of it, never...


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