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When revolutions devour the children

August 13, 2019

When revolutions devour the children 1
ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

I HAVE seen all kinds of activists. There are those who regard their activism as a rite of passage, as part of a brand, something that they will grow out of. And then there are those who consider it a lifetime commitment.

I know of many young people who died fighting for the cause, of friends — dormitory mates, classmates — who just left without even saying goodbye, armed with their commitment to fight for what they believed in — and I never saw them again. Others resurfaced alive from the underground, some still fighting for the same causes except that they now had fundamental differences with the movement they joined, while others became vocal critics of the movement they used to be part of. Some of them have used that episode in their lives to define their everyday politics, while others have even used it to build a career in electoral politics.

Still others just moved on with their lives, totally becoming different people from those placard-wielding youths who were full of fervor to free us from the shackles of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism. Some now move around in the corporate world, aiding the very same institutions that they wanted to dismantle. Others live in the comforts of the diaspora, in Canada and the US, in Australia and Europe, where they benefit from the very same system they once demonized.

But many others remain true to the spirit of rebellion, as artists and writers, as professors and development workers, both here and abroad. Others have kept faith with the movement, either with those who wanted to affirm its ethos, or to revise it.

Rebellion, while dysfunctional, is a normal occurrence in the course of history. Many of the freedoms we enjoy now are because of those men and women, many of them young, who rose to bear arms and fight oppressive power. This is precisely why those who derisively demean these people they label as troublemakers have to be called out for their almost pathological hatred of those whose struggles bore fruit which we are now enjoying through our entitlements to rights and freedoms. Many lost their lives so that we can enjoy what they fought and died for.

But certainly, revolutions have victims. Someone even said that revolutions devour their own children. This adage of revolutions eating their children was originally meant to describe the post-revolutionary period, when the victors eventually end up turning on each other. It is seen in the reign of terror that arises from the desire of the victorious revolutionaries to exorcise society of the remnants of the old regime. It is in this episode that we saw the brutality of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, or the violence inflicted by the post-revolutionary states in France, China, Russia and Vietnam, among others. This does not mean that it can’t happen during the revolutionary struggle. For example, the revolutionary Left in the Philippines underwent a bloody purge of its cadres even if the revolution was far from being over and successful.

The reference to the revolution devouring its children may also apply in the sense of political violence — which includes armed struggle, rebellion and revolution — victimizing the very young. Children are at the receiving end of its terror, seen in the suffering of the internally displaced children who are brutally snatched from the normality of their homes, schools and playgrounds to live in refugee camps, as part of the collateral damage brought about by the war waged by armed groups against state forces. Others end up being conscripted to become part of the child armies of both rebel and state paramilitary forces.

And you do not have to be in an actual combat to realize how children suffer when adults engage in political warfare. You see this in the eyes of children separated from their parents as US President Donald Trump wages his war against illegal immigrants, or of children orphaned by President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

The recruitment of the youth to join leftist organizations in university campuses has attracted more attention recently. Sen. Bato dela Rosa even conducted a Senate hearing on the issue. Any parent can easily sympathize with the agony and pain of the mothers who testified at the hearing, whose children who are senior high school students left home and are now deeply involved in leftist organizations. At the end of the day, this will always be the burden and the challenge of parenting, as we will always be hounded by the fear of losing our children to drugs, crime and even to a revolution.

The young, with their idealism, will always be ripe for the picking by rebellious causes. Instead of cracking the whip, what needs to be done is to seriously attend to their needs, and listen to their voices. Parents should balance the desire to over-protect their children with the need to walk their paths with them and actively hear their thoughts before judging their actions.

It is also important to structure the curriculum and the learning environment to cater to the needs of the youth for critical inquiry and social action, to offer them a more functional, and authentic, alternative to joining rallies, and leaving school and family to join a movement. This would mean enabling them to harness their critical minds toward a social activism that would be functional, without diminishing their need for critical thinking. Service learning is an example of this, where addressing the problems and serving the actual needs of communities are integrated into the design and delivery of the curriculum.

Thus, the solution should be developmental, parental and pedagogical, and not martial. Sending in the police and militarizing campuses are not the best solutions, as these could paint the image of a draconian state and further intensify the anti-establishment sentiment that is already nesting among the young.

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