Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Personal Is Political

I’m feeling it. The November 4 US presidential election has got me nail-bitingly excited that I sometimes find myself having to walk off excess energy around the house, my mind swirling with fabulous images of an Obama presidency and all the amazing, ground-breaking effects that will have for the rest of the world.

It’s such an optimistic time. Even for someone like me from the Third World Philippines. For some reason, this election is very personal to me, especially when I began reading Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope”. I had become quite intrigued with the charismatic African American who was giving my girl Hillary Clinton some stiff competition and I wanted to know more. (When Hillary announced her candidacy with the now famous line, “I’m IN to WIN!” I thought her nomination was in the bag.) Soon, I found out I had more in common with this man than even Hillary, whose struggle to break glass ceilings I’ve always admired and cheered on and tried to emulate. (Although I really, really think she should have left Bill; he’s the one that’s bringing her down).    

Before Barack Obama, the only other political figure I felt this personally connected to wasn’t even officially in politics yet—Eddie Villanueva, during his bid for the Philippine presidency in 2004.

As his campaign platform, Villanueva called for a “revolution of the heart”. And while many people rolled their eyes at this, wondering what the hell kind of sappy Hallmark Channel call-to-action this was, I remember a strange feeling coursing through me and ending in my brain with this thought: This guy is the real thingWe have a true leader here.

So for the first time in my voter’s life, I found a candidate who I would not only vote for but would actively campaign for. OK, maybe “actively” is being slightly off the mark here because the truth was that I was rabidly campaigning for the man. I became one of those annoying people who had discovered something “so astigtangina!” that they just couldn’t stop talking about it to anyone who’d listen—or to anyone who did not actually tell them point-blank to shut up.

And I wouldn’t shut up. I talked about Eddie Villanueva during meals, parties, gallery openings, and, when I mustered enough nerve, to some commuters on the MRT who probably thought I was some overworked yuppy who had experienced a meltdown and had gone mad. A friend and another Villanueva die-hard and I would hop in and out of MRT trains and stand outside bus terminals to hand out campaign flyers and brochures—all on our own dime. When we’d run out of campaign materials, we’d go to the Villanueva campaign office in Makati, get some more and efficiently walk out the door to continue our work. I even constructed a long impassioned letter, urging people to go to his website and read about him. I was sure that once they found out more about him, they’d feel exactly as I did.

The biggest stumbling block many people encountered about Eddie Villanueva was the fact that he was a pastor and the founder of a Catholic charismatic group, Jesus is Lord. I admit that my initial reaction to the news that a “Brother Eddie” was running for president was, What the hell--? Just when you think things couldn’t get any more bizarre in the Philippines…

But I also heard that this “Brother Eddie” accepted an invitation to a presidential debate organized by UP-Diliman and that he showed up alone as all the other candidates canceled their appearances. He could have left. And people were going to understand because he came for a debate, after all, yet there was no one to debate with. Instead of leaving, though, he bravely—and honestly, I heard—fielded questions from the notoriously cerebral, non-religious, skeptical UP student body until there were no more questions. Many in the audience were converted, I was told. (Not to the Jesus is Lord group or Christianity--let’s just make that clear--but to the idea of Eddie Villanueva as a real contender for the presidency.) One of them was my then boyfriend, an archaeologist and UP professor who was one of the biggest skeptics of organized religion—and politics--I’ve ever met. Yet when he came from that debate-turned-Q&A, it was clear the evangelist had made quite an impression on him. “Galing ‘yung Eddie Villanueva na ‘yun, ah,” I remember him saying in amazement. Which is what drove me to find out as much as I could about the man.

Obviously, what I discovered had me hooked. A former labor leader who resorted to armed struggle, he was on Marcos’ hit list, which drove him to the mountains. It was while he was in hiding that he began to question everything that he was fighting for, as well as the means by which he was trying to achieve them. Cliché as the following may sound (again, hello Hallmark Channel), but this is when he began to “turn to God” via the words of the Bible. He took those words to heart and because it was those words that “saved” him from his despair and sense of hopelessness, these were the words he wanted to save people with. And with the same energy that I imagine he must have shown when he tried to free laborers from oppressive labor practices, he went on and tried to free people from their own oppressive, limiting mindsets and their crippling fears. Indeed, as I once read, no one exhibits more zeal than the convert.

So when he spoke of the need for a “revolution of the heart”—or, as Gloria Steinem once put it, a “revolution from within”--these weren’t hollow words; they weren’t just a campaign strategy the way that most pronouncements during election time are nothing more than weightless words--I knew that he knew exactly what that meant. He had lived—and was living—those words. He embodied them.

Which is why I completely understood people’s skepticism about him—an overwhelming number of people who pepper their words with “God” or “Praise Jesus”  or “Amen” (sans irony) do not embody their words. They’re the ones at whom so-called “thinking” people roll their eyes exasperatedly. Their thoughts, words and actions have nothing at all to do with one another. They say one thing, mean another and do still yet another thing. The same goes for politicians--which is why nobody who isn’t on their payroll really trusts them. Eddie Villanueva’s running, then, seemed like a double-whammy.

Many of my friends and family questioned my choice of candidate, especially when there was another intellectual in the fray—the late Senator Raul Roco, a close friend and admirer of Eddie Villanueva. Both men took the same stance on most of the important issues (not that Philippine politics has ever been about issues; perhaps it was in the very very distant past, but certainly not when I was old enough to vote), but, at least, Roco was NOT an evangelist—and this last word was usually spat out, in disdain.

I’ve never seen the wisdom is separating my politics from my personal life. I believe that what you do in your daily life even when no one is looking is what you stand for, and what you stand for—that’s your politics. So when someone who shares what you stand for runs for public office, that’s who you should vote for. Not because of what the surveys or your religious affiliation or your family says. Michelle Obama, soon-to-be U.S. First Lady (please, Lord!) said in a magazine interview that “if folks don’t like what we stand for, then they shouldn’t vote for us.”

Between Roco and Villanueva, it was what the latter stood for that I loved and related to more. To my mind, electing him into office would bring to government everything I most value: decency, a healthy self-esteem, a belief in individuals—and individual growth and transformation--as the basis and driving force of any country’s growth and transformation, thoughtfulness and introspection, an openness to new and unprecedented things (a willingness to step outside convention and conventional thought), independent thought, a commitment to go out there and do what needs to be done, sacredness, living or practicing what you preach but never requiring anyone else to believe in what you believe.

This has once again affirmed to me that the ties that really bind people go deep. They go deeper than gender (I am a woman but I do not relate at all to our current woman president nor to the female vice presidential candidate of the US Republican party), than race (Barack Obama is African-American, so is Oprah Winfrey; Angelina Jolie, my girl, is white; yet I totally relate and connect to these people), than social and economic class (I’m middle-class and, obviously, the above three people are way out of my league in terms of economic status), than religious affiliation (I was raised Catholic, but the spiritual leader I most love, along with Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, is His Holiness the Dalai Lama). It’s shared valueand dreams and vision that most holds us together.

Politics, I believe, should be as intensely personal as that. 



Treksi said...

Hi Tweet, I am for Obama too! I really like that he dares to speak about the ‘human potential’. Anyone who makes me believe in my own ability to make a positive difference has my vote. Sana talaga he wins. :) Re Bro Eddie, wow. I lost faith in Philippine politics a long time ago, shortly after Roco’s (my president) passing. Pero this post has sparked a renewed interest in the man ha, is he running in 2010? :) Thanks Tweet, this was a nice read…

Lami said...

Hi, Trix! I don't know if Eddie V is running--I hope so. The roster, so far, of presidentiables doesn't look too promising ;(. Kakainggit nga the Americans, eh, they have Barack ;). Galing nya, noh? ;) Read his book, you'll love him even more.
Thanks, too, Trix! ;)