When asked to write about collective power, my initial thoughts take me back to how I experienced collective care during my childhood. When my mother became sick from cancer and was paralyzed on her left side, my grandparents and aunts from the Philippines came to live with my family here in the U.S. to take care of my mom, my siblings, and myself. Before my mom got sick she worked as a nurse, and in many ways my identity of caring for and desire to be in community with others stems from her and my upbringing.
Fast forward to 25 years later when I joined GABRIELA: I was living in Seattle in late 2008 and had heard about this local organization of Filipino women doing powerful things with arts and political activism. When I reached out to learn more about getting involved, they had just put out a call for artists for a theatrical production, highlighting and celebrating the legacy of Filipino women who resisted oppression throughout history. I was involved in music and theater for all of my life, so I jumped right in. In this space, I learned about the connections between forced migration, exploitation of Filipino women including sexual violence, economic violence, and systemic violence, and oppression from a corrupt government in the Philippines where the majority of people remain poor. Through the collective act of singing and performing together, I began to understand how caring for each other, music, and community—big parts of my identity—were rooted in the deeper struggle for a free Philippines.
What drew me to community organizing was a deep longing to be with my people—in particular, progressive Filipinos. I found that it wasn’t just about joining a new social circle within the Filipino community but also being with fellow kasamas (comrades) in a political organization fighting for our people.
Before organizing, I never thought of myself as political. But with GABRIELA, I found my political home; alongside the women in my chapter, I deepened my understanding of the root causes that contribute to Filipino people’s conditions in the Philippines and abroad, including the US, and the solutions to change those conditions and resist oppressive forces that exploit and perpetuate violence against the majority of Filipinos. Through this grassroots movement and in these spaces, I’ve learned how to use my love for singing and theater to create cultural pieces about the conditions of Filipino women to move people through stories and songs. A recent example is when GABRIELA members sang at an anti-APEC rally this past summer in Seattle. The song entitled “Mother’s Day Song” addresses issues women and mothers face in the midst of war and militarization, and how we must fight against state violence.
When I joined SJF’s Gender Justice Giving Project in 2014, it completely changed my outlook on the power of funding our movements as a donor, fundraiser, and grantmaker. By working as a collective we learned so much about our own individual capacity to give, to make asks, and to contribute to making grants for amazing grassroots organizations in our region. I loved this process so much because it was a collective effort where we learned and made decisions together. I continue to use the lessons and skills from the Giving Project today in my own grassroots organizing, and it’s had a ripple effect where I’ve had the privilege to share what I know with others in their own fundraising efforts. I never thought I would hold a finance and fundraising role in my community organizing spaces, but garnering resources is linked to our political work and ability to push our movement forward; because of my experience in the Giving Project, I had skills to share with my community. When we are well-resourced—which includes paying for food at meetings, sending donations to the Philippines, travel expenses to meet in person, funding our mobilizations, and investing in the people power to recruit more members—we can multiply our inherent power so many times over.
Singing in a choir with other members of GABRIELA is a beautiful experience, but it’s also about struggle. Being in a collective means choosing to be with others over choosing yourself, alone. I could be doing something else, but choose instead to be in that long meeting or on those weekly phone calls, at a mass mobilization, and tabling at an event. Everyone can relate to that to some degree—as a Giving Project member, a community organizer, a committee member, we learn things about ourselves with others that we couldn’t alone. People who value collective power are people who want to belong to and fight for something bigger than themselves with others who hold similar values.
Everyone, given their conditions and abilities, has something to contribute to the overall story, mission, movement. When I stumble into thinking “What is this movement, what is the organization giving me?” I remind myself and shift my thinking to “What can I contribute of myself, of my talents, and how can my contributions serve the overall goals we are fighting for?” Living within a capitalist political system and culture, we’re alienated from each other and the power we can hold together. Big corporations and those at the top make individualism enticing so everyday people don’t realize how strong we are together and the much deeper joy of struggling in a collective and feeling the love and strength of a community around you. In our values, SJF defines collective power as, “power that is shared by many people instead of just a few through collective decision making, mutual encouragement, and an abundance of pathways for growth. [Collective power] is key to working toward liberation because it distributes and creates more power instead of limiting it arbitrarily or unjustly.” Collective power is creation: creating the music I make with kasamas, creating the possibility of a liberated future, and the creation of the family of activists who will surround my son as he grows up. Collective power is the only way to create the world all of us deserve.
Get involved with anti-imperialist organizing: learn more about the No 2 APEC Coalition