Poverty and the Blogger
Today is the 2008 Blog Action Day, where bloggers from all over the world write about a pressing issue once a year. This year, the bloggers of the Philippines (through the initiative of Bloggers’ Kapihan) will write about something that strikes home: poverty. Rather than turn this into a sob story or a sweeping generalization, I’d like to keep my little contribution to this initiative more introspective and personal: what can writers and bloggers like myself – and yourself – do about poverty? What is our share in the issue of poverty?
That, my friends, has very little to do with writers experiencing poverty firsthand, and bloggers becoming “poor” because only expensive coffee shops have stable wi-fi.
The responsibility of a writer is more than just to transcribe words and arrange them together into coherent sentences. As writers, it is our responsibility to take what are seemingly ordinary, mundane, and taken-for-granted and turn them into narratives. We do more than just write: we articulate. Society itself is ordinary, mundane, and taken-for-granted. The same goes for its problems; in the Philippine context, those descriptions apply most especially to poverty.
I’ll be the first to say that it is very difficult to write about poverty. Poverty appeals to the most basic of things that make us human beings: our hunger, our repulsion to smells, our abhorrence of eyesores, the list goes on. What makes it even more difficult is that writing about poverty demands some measure of drama; it’s always very tempting to write about the struggles of a pedicab driver, the emotions of a beggar, or a child whose lifelong dream is a meal at Jollibee. You can’t write about squatters’ areas without describing in detail the rotten stench of the estero, the cheapness of salvaged GI sheets, or the simple meals of munggo at dilis shared like feasts. So much so that the subject becomes grating, boring, and perhaps even tired and drawn-out.
I’ve always believed that writers are activists, in the sense that one does not only write and advocate, but acts on words and advocacies. We cannot simply “write:” the fact that we write demands that we turn our words into practice. You have to act on – and act for – what you believe in. Even if that act itself is writing. The writer must always situate himself or herself in society; in a greater, more important context that himself or herself alone.
If it behooves us to change the world, let it be through our writing. Writing is not just for the sake of emotional satisfaction, but for the sake of social change. As bloggers, we’re not expected to always be political, or have an expert grasp of socio-economic issues. We may represent a minority in the forum of public opinion, but we must have opinions, views, and advocacies.
That, at the very most and the very least, is what we can do as writers, as advocates, as citizens, and as people who are entitled to opinions.
As writers, we need to situate ourselves in the poverty before us, and draw our inspirations and views from there. No matter how grating and boring it is to read and write about the poor amongst us, we are obliged to. At the very least, we should be bloggers for those who cannot blog: not because they don’t have computers or Internet access, but because an oppressive system finds it profitable to shut them up. We should fight for justice, equity, and their well-being.
In closing: Plato, in The Republic, speaks of a quality called ἀρετή, which roughly translates to “excellence.” We must live up not only to the full potential of blogging, but also to live up to our full potential not only bloggers, but as writers. We must advocate for the causes of economic equity and social justice not just on occasion, but whenever we can.
Yesterday I had this depressed episode where I kind of questioned why I write, and why I advocate, if it’s not lining my pockets full of cash, much less taking me to nights out on a regular basis. Somehow, that all changed; if I can just influence and change the thought of one person – just one – to fight for a cause, even if it’s just through the spontaneous, cathartic-sometimes-stressing act of writing, then there is some hope to look out for: that there is, and always was, room for the writer in the struggle for social change.