In his recent op-ed, Bill Russell said that we are living in “strange” times. The kind of strange that is “peculiar, perverse, uncomfortable and ill at ease.” Sadly, this is the same “strange” that facilitated the gradual erosion of our democratic institutions in the past years under this administration. To be a young progressive or to be “woke” is to take on the challenge of resisting this erosion and to find alternative means of doing so. In a dynamic and increasingly difficult setting to break through, we must find better tools to cause a chip on the shield of impunity and injustice.

The streets are overcrowded by the multitude of voices offering their supplications to the shrine of justice. Some may argue that our traditional means of struggle are oversaturated. But one thing is for sure, adverse forces have successfully vilified these methods calling its participants “destabilizers” or more recently “terrorists.” They have conveniently handed us the streets so long as they occupy every other level of society. This occupation legitimizes their abuses and their efforts to discredit constitutionally guaranteed forms of expression.

This is evident in the case of Rappler and Maria Ressa where the powers of the government were harnessed to clip dissent – from investigation, prosecution, and as some would say, even the courts. The prosecution’s enthusiasm in pursuing the case against Maria Ressa provides a stark contrast from their nonchalant efforts in holding accountable known political allies like Senator Koko Pimentel and General Debold Sinas.

In an ideal world where progressive thinking leaks into every level of society, the words of Justice Malcolm would have prevailed when he said, “Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of officialdom. Men in public life may suffer under a hostile and an unjust accusation; the wound can be assuaged with the balm of a clear conscience. A public officer must not be too thin-skinned with reference to comment upon his official acts. Only thus can the intelligence and dignity of the individual be exalted. Of course, criticism does not authorize defamation. Nevertheless, as the individual is less than the State, so must expected criticism be born for the common good.”

This unfortunate example reminds us that social reform may not be achieved by living in a bubble. As such, justice reform is not possible if those in the justice department, in the offices of the prosecutors, the judiciary, and those in the penal management are not receptive of progressive notions of justice.

In the 1906 novel of Upton Sinclair The Jungle, he sought to portray the harsh working conditions of immigrants in the meat industry. Instead of sparking public outcry, the American public was more concerned with the unsanitary practices in the preparation of their food; prompting Sinclair to say, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” This unpreparedness, prevalent in our country, largely contributes to our frustrations in our advocacies. This lends truism to the fact that no progress can prosper if the institutions are ignorant to the harsh realities, let alone dismissive of them.

Further, a landscape open to reforms must also be demanded at “home.” Organizations parading themselves as progressive must ensure that their organizations are affable to the rise and cultivation of young progressives. The cliché “practice what you preach” rings true in these situation. Any advocacy for social reform and justice are bound to fail when organizations demand that we need to have better leaders and actions but disqualify internal inputs, directly or indirectly, on account of age.

As it is now, to be a young progressive seemingly entails a lifetime of disappointment. The challenge is to keep that disappointment and our sense of outrage as we occupy the spaces previously reserved for holders of power. We balance it with kindness and true concern for one another. In a society capable of social reform, we will need progressive lawyers, doctors, teachers, police and military professionals, judges, and government employees, among others. A society possessing a cornucopia of progressive individuals found in every level of society demands that we don’t simply take pride in being woke but we also take responsibility.

Photo courtesy of:

https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/06/05/2018888/ateneo-la-salle-school-heads-oppose-ill-timed-anti-terror-bill
https://twitter.com/ancalerts/status/1271224405708820485
https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/youths-protest-violence-emerging-dictatorship-philippines-duterte-seeks-extend-martial-law