“Inchoate” means imperfectly formed or formulated: formless, incoherent, the Merriam-Webster dictionary says, to which the Cambridge dictionary adds, “not completely developed or clear.” When Sanjoy Chakravorty, professor of global studies at Temple University, Pennsylvania, called the fever of street protests around the world in 2019 “inchoate displays of anger,” “inchoate” can only mean futile and desperate.
The Guardian, in its Oct. 25 issue, cites experts in academe on political science, speaking on the long-playing “protests in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile, Catalonia and Iraq as well as in Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and Albania… the UK (against Brexit), France (yellow vest movement), and Spain, in the restive region of Catalonia. The Middle East has convulsed with so much dissent that some are calling it a second wave of the Arab Spring. In South America, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela have experienced popular unrest.” The article asks, “Protests rage around the world — but what comes next?”
The question can only be rhetorical. The academics in The Guardian agree that the protests are paradoxical in many ways. The protestors are in the millions. In Lebanon, around 1.3 million people, or 20% of the population, were estimated to have attended the largest demonstrations so far, the weekend before last. In Hong Kong, the protestors normally number 500,000 to 1,500,000 at its peak; and in Barcelona, an estimated 525,000 people gathered on Oct. 18. The protests are long-running — not like the weekend protests of a decade ago, but lasting for months, like in the unbelievable but true, five-month massive youth protest that has paralyzed communist-owned but “autonomous” Hong Kong, a financial and trade hub of the capitalist world.
In all these, the core protestors are young people. In Hong Kong, they are mostly university or secondary school students who were initially concerned about extradition laws that would bring transgressors of the law to trial and judgment in Mainland China — an intimidation perhaps not earlier considered, in their young minds. In Lebanon, the protests started with young people angry about a 20-cent tax on WhatsApp calls, a seemingly small issue for civil society, but a grave concern for the tech-savvy younger generation. In Santiago, Chile, the youth-led demos protested a rise in metro ticket prices, which the authorities said was a reaction to fare-dodging and vandalism of the youth themselves. In the month-long protests, the fights mutated into civil society anger for civil and human liberties transgressed by the autocratic governments.
For Catalona, the half-million protesters on the streets of Barcelona were mostly young, mainly in their teens and 20s. Their anger was triggered by Spain’s Supreme Court judging nine Catalan separatists leaders guilty of sedition and misuse of public funds over their roles in a failed push for Catalan independence two years ago. Even in Iraq, protests were mostly driven by young and unemployed people, later joined by the older citizenry angry about the lack of jobs and poverty suffered by nearly a quarter of the population. Curiously significant is that in almost all of the long-running, angry protests to date, the youth lit the fires that raged into the conflagration of demonstrations by the greater society who saw the bigger picture of democracy and human rights being threatened by autocratic governance.
The protests by the youth are against autocracy. Thierry de Montbrial of the French Institute of International Relations says in The Guardian: “The traditional system of enforcing power from top to bottom is increasingly being challenged. There is a social revolution with a growing demand for participatory democracy.” Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, Social Change and Conflict professor at Vrije University in Amsterdam adds, “It is also easier, in a digital, globalized world, to know how the other half (or the 1%) live… There are not just new streams of information, but streams of people. Those youngsters in the Arab spring in all likelihood knew at least one person living overseas, and it creates a kind of relative deprivation — ‘I want to have that too’.”
Relative deprivation now demanding participatory democracy: that is the trigger for the youth-led surge in “inchoate displays of anger.” Still inchoate, the social analysts say, because these mass protests are worrisomely leaderless. “The leaderless nature of many of the protests makes them harder for authoritarian governments to quash, but it may also make the movements more difficult to sustain,” says Chakravorty in The Guardian. What will determine success and closure to an issue protested?
“(Yet) the data shows that the amount of protests is increasing and is as high as the roaring ’60s, and has been since about 2009,” says Stekelenburg. The Guardian says, “The protests raging today and in the past months on the streets of cities around the world have varying triggers. But the fuel is familiar: stagnating middle classes, stifled democracy and the bone-deep conviction that things can be different — even if the alternative is not always clear.”
Are we Filipinos even touched by the humongous effort and the conflagration of passion in the protests around the world, shrugging — what will become of these protests — when “the alternative is not even clear”? We Filipinos are pathetically “seguristas” — we want to be sure we will “win.”
And so shall we just take it, that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos has been formally accused in our justice system and in other concerned jurisdictions around the world of human rights violations, killings, and plunder, but many of these high crimes have been cleared by our own Sandigan Bayan and Supreme Court, often for lack of evidence beyond reasonable doubt — down to the suspicious excuses of “missing documentary proof” or “lost” originals. The “taking it” crept into Filipino mores in the years after the big protest of the 1986 EDSA Revolution, when Marcos was finally ousted by the Filipino people who had been intimidated in the 14 years of martial law. Then we allowed another dictator to intimidate us — the chilling gigantism of “the numbers game” that has chopped to its suppliant knees, our system of checks and balance in ethical and moral governance.
The “numbers game” grew from the polarization of those who benefitted from the ouster of Marcos, and those whose collateral benefits from Marcos were lost or decimated. Perhaps in the fight for maintenance of status and influence, lines were crossed in politics, and in economic and social status, until a generally more pure “pro-democracy and rights faction” (not necessarily aligned to the EDSA/Aquino/yellow group) seems now to be barely surviving over the more numerous “non-aligned to the other group” (probably more self-centered, and attached to current powers-that-be). Then the groupings are canted more to the majority aligned with present influence and power by the forgetfulness of history and some active revisionism of historical facts by some with self-serving objectives.
In our pathetic ecosystem, there looms and lords the ubiquitous “numbers game” in the Judiciary, the Legislative, and, above all, in the Executive branches of government. That is what has manipulatively killed whatever noble incentives we Filipinos might have to protest, in our own fight for the “stifled democracy.”
Creeping autocracy is the same obstacle for those protesting peoples in the rest of our troubled world.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.