I’m going to start off my very first post on this blog by applauding myself for not using Pink Floyd lyrics in the blog title. I was very close, mind you, but as much as I love Wish You Were Here I resisted… and went for a line from Peter Gabriel’s Biko instead. Perhaps not that much resistance then.
Lucky word usage there though, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about: resistance. During our first lecture and seminar for London’s Burning (which I deeply enjoyed), I found myself thinking about my own family history and how it ties in with social movement theory. Both of my parents were activists – perhaps they still identify so, although the active activism of their youth has turned into careers heavily influenced by their politics. Not quite the ‘communitarian activists’ that Charles Tilly put forward in 1993/4, but not quite professional either – perhaps this case requires more complex and modern definitions, à la new social movement theory?
I want to focus on my mother specifically, though. She’s Filipino, and during the 70s and 80s she was heavily involved in student politics during the Martial Law era and later a member of the Communist Party and part of the National Democratic Movement. I grew up on stories of her activism in this period, some of which were (as you can guess) pretty terrifying – not only did she have to go underground to avoid arrest and execution, but many of her comrades were arrested and executed in that time. But this period is particularly famous for the People Power Revolution, which began in 1983 but was at its peak from February 22nd-25th 1986 when there was a series of popular demonstrations on Epifanio De los Santos Avenue in Manila. This revolution is particularly famous for being a successfully non-violent revolution.
Above is an image of people standing in EDSA cheering after hearing that Marcos had fled the country (taken on February 24th 1986).
So, reading Charles Tilly (specifically ‘Social Movements as historically specific clusters of political performances’, 1993/4) got me thinking about my mum and the EDSA Revolution. I don’t know the complete history of the revolution or the period around it, so any attempt to categorise it properly would be inaccurate. But the question is – can Tilly be applied to it? If we disregarded the fact that Tilly’s theories are considered a bit simplistic now, there are still other issues with them.
Most pressing of all – can Tilly be applied to social movements outside the West? We claim that his theories are less applicable to movements after WWII because of the shift in social focus (i.e. power vs. masses/workers to identity politics), but is it the same in countries where WWII had a smaller/different impact? Where do dictatorships in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East fit into that? Of course I say this as someone who has only just started the course and probably has a rudimentary understanding of these theories, but it seems to me that modern revolutions against dictatorships outside the West can still be broken up into Tilly’s populations. In the case of the EDSA Revolution, you have:
- Power holders – Ferdinand Marcos and his administration
- Activists/claimants – my mother and her contemporaries, e.g. the activists of the National Democratic Movement
- Subjects/beneficiaries – the rest of the population of the Philippines, who had suffered under Marcos during the Martial Law years and afterwards
However, this is a People Power Revolution. Millions of people gathered during the demonstrations against Marcos and his regime, which is what makes this period so unique. So is this a case of activists and subjects becoming one and the same, but with the subjects only being ad hoc activists, mobilised at one point in time? Then again, there was the Second EDSA Revolution in 2001. So were many of these ad hoc activists actually professional? What about the National Democratic Movement members like my mother, professionals for two decades who then mellowed over time, but still feel strongly about social issues and have the potential to be mobilised should the need arise?
Perhaps Tilly is a little too simple, even in this case. Sorry, Charles.
- Scott, Alan, Ideology and the new social movements (controversies in sociology) (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990)
- Tilly, Charles, ‘Social movements as historically specific clusters of political performances’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology (1993), 1–30
- IMAGE FROM: Guillermo, Emil, ’People power: How Pixar’s Oscar-Nominated Ronnie del Carmen found his village (NBC News, 2016), <http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/people-power-how-pixar-s-oscar-nominated-ronnie-del-carmen-n525911> [accessed 3 March 2017]