by Eric Santillan
The past few months, we were witnesses to protests and upheavals in the Middle East. As with all revolutions, its seeds were planted years ago when democracy was curtailed and dictators and the military took power. But the trigger for this series of upheavals can be traced back to Dec 17, 2010, when a young jobless graduate Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling from a street stall. He had been unemployed for a long time and when the police stopped him from earning a living, he burned himself out of frustration and in protest. This event sparked widespread demonstrations in Tunisia. The Tunisian President went on television days later to promise more jobs. But it was too little too late.
These events in Tunisia sparked protests in other nations. In Algeria, rioting broke out in January 2011. Similar suicide protests ala Bouazizi happened first in Algeria (Mohsen Bouterfif set himself on fire for failure to find a job and a house and then at least three more set themselves on fire to highlight living conditions and lack of government reform), then in Egypt (a man also set himself on fire in front of their Parliament); protesters went to the streets, were arrested, which angered more people and sparked more protests in Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Palestine. Finally, Ben Ali, the President of Tunisia, did a Ferdinand Marcos by stepping down and leaving the country. By the end of January, opposition leader El Barradei had returned to Egypt and predicted Hosni Mubarak’s administration to be on its last leg. And on Feb 18, just a week before the anniversary of and reminiscent of our own EDSA Revolution, Mubarak finally stepped down from power and Egypt Egypt celebrated a new dawn. [find out more in this great interactive timeline of the Middle East .]
Margaret Mead once said, “A small group of committed people CAN change the world. Never doubt that. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We look back in our history replete with revolutions and we notice something quite interesting: like mustard seeds planted overnight, people do things that trigger little changes here and there that eventually become the deluge that is seen on CNN.
Let’s do a mental exercise: Boris Yeltsin, the man who brought down communism in the former USSR, was once asked what gave him the courage to stand firm amidst pressure from his own party. He credited the electrician from Poland, Lech Walesa, who started the downfall of communism in Poland. When Walesa was interviewed and asked what inspired him he said it was the civil rights movement in the United States led by Martin Luther King. Well, when Martin Luther King was interviewed years before and was asked what inspired him, he said it was the courage of one black woman, Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the backseat of the bus.
Seen this way, I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that a brave little black woman who refused to go to the back of the bus brought about the downfall of communism in Russia.
We see a Jose Rizal bravely writing his two obras and dying in what is now Luneta Park after a short but eventful life well-lived. What is not written in history books is the story of his older brother, Paciano Mercado, who was the favorite student of an earlier hero, Fr. Burgos of the GomBurZa. Paciano was the original patriot in the family, and inspired the younger Jose to greatness.
It is encouraging–and humbling–to know that the great events that shaped our world were catalyzed by men and women like you and me, who happened to have great faith in something bigger than themselves. Some of us are Paciano Mercados—quiet in our heroism, but inspiring the people closest to us into their own brand of gallantry; others are like Mohamed Bouazizi or Rosa Parks—we do things in desperation and frustration without knowing that we’re already triggering a revolution; and then there are the Jose Rizals—who rally the rest of the apathetic population into a funneled vision, into a common goal.
In 1985, a year before our own EDSA revolution, the jailers of Nelson Mandela came to him and told him he was free to leave prison. He declined. Instead he declared to the stunned jailers that he will quit prison when he was ready, and when the whole country has been released from their own imprisonment. At that particular moment, by refusing to leave prison, Nelson Mandela took moral control of the office that he would later formally take on. It was just a matter of time and formality and elections.
When the housewife widow of Ninoy Aquino announced that she was running as President against the dictator of 20 years who had the might of martial law behind him, she had nothing but her great faith and the courage of a million signatures behind her. But she went on, and people came to make good on their promise that she won’t be left alone.
The world is changed because there are some men and women stubborn enough to try to change it—it is their tenacity to hold on to desperate hope despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and a foolish imagination that allow them to see that things could be so much better, that is their gift to humanity. With the quiet strength of their spirit, the obstinateness of their hope, the sacrifice of their lives, they reshape our world.
He replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
– Mat 17:20
Mustard seeds. That is how the world is changed. Never doubt that.
In fact it is the only thing that ever has.