June 10, 2009. After a deep, heavy drag, the cigarette butt felt the crushing movement of my foot. From where I was standing, the smells of steamed peanuts, grilled dried squid, and corn on the cob were tempting. Yet just across the street from SGV, I could hear the drums beating, feet marching, the chants and shouts. I could see the flags and banners waving in the wind.
From a short distance away, at Ayala Triangle, a throng of people gathered. “No to Con-Ass!” was the common cause. I was expecting the crowd to be bigger, but I’ve never seen this many people in a rally.
For this smoking mountain boy, who joined and led rallies of a few dozen – perhaps a hundred, on a lucky day – the crowd looked huge. Those were the days that I used to carry flags, sulô, the ocassional megaphone, or marshalled the lines. For those who call Manila their home, the June 10 throng is a rather thin crowd. To me, though, it had all the makings of the secret longing I have for a big rally.
As I made my way to Insular where my friends await, I took a good, long look at the people I was going to rally with. There were the society folk; those who came with face powder and moisturizer. There were the farmers and urban poor; a man who had just one slipper bummed a cigarette from me as I picked my way through the people in the crowd. Some familiar flags were somewhere along the crossroads of Paseo de Roxas and Ayala Avenue; flags that reminded me of earlier times, when I still had the gall to frontline a rally and face police officers if need be.
I’ve long since admitted to myself that when you convene at the Parliament of the Streets, don’t expect perfect attendance. As a friend of mine says, all people need is a trigger to go out to the streets and support a cause with fervent passion and unbridled rage. It’s never about instant results, no matter how dismayed you can be at first and depress yourself with the idea that you probably didn’t do your share. The point is that you’re never alone when you’re rallying; people took time out from their lives to hang out, to watch, and for many office workers, give a thumbs-up and leave, braving the difficulties of a re-routed commute.
There we stood at Ayala. The calls for justice, the clamor for accountability, and the demand for explanations and justifications. There were those who expressed their dissent by defacing portraits of Congressmen, there were those who scrawled their anger in chalk at the sidewalk just behind Tower One. There were those who screamed, shouted, chanted. There were those who gathered on the streets to discuss the issues. Democracy, dissent… just like I imagined it to be.
I lit another cigarette. For that one day, dissent lives in the streets of Ayala.