This episode, we talked to Lidy Nacpil-Alejandro, a truly legendary activist fighting for justice to this day. She played a part in bringing down Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. She’s fought inequality for over forty years and is on the front-line of the fight against climate change. She’s described as “one of the busiest organizers in the world”. From the Philippines, Lidy is the Coordinator of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Co-Coordinator of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, one of the Founders of the Fight Inequality Alliance among many other roles

We start off by digging into her history and what led her to the fight. Lidy takes us on her journey saying, “…I am from one of several generations who started our activism and our involvement in many social issues at a time when the country was placed under Martial Rule…the build up to that was…years of many protests over many social issues and inequality was definitely one of those issues because in the Philippines you can see very vividly the huge difference between rich and poor; …so, that was, I guess, my main motivation from the beginning. I was perplexed why this was so and it had a very huge impression on me that this was such an unjust situation and that there should be something that should be done about that.”

So how was the activism of those days, fighting against a dictatorship? She explains, “…Any kind of open gathering was not allowed. All the school papers and organizations were closed down. All kinds of organizations were closed down… So, it was an effort to try and break through that kind of situation…a lot of that activity came from youth and student organizations where I was from. My very early involvement was first to try to distribute leaflets protesting increase in prices and demanding a rollback of prices of basic goods. This was in the 70s. We were trying to break through with this kind of demonstrations or protests that you’d take for granted today and trying to make sure that our voices would not continually be repressed; …We went from that to organizing what we would call “lightning rallies” because you had to do it for 5 minutes and then disappear… and then we graduated because people became more embolden to holding rallies and mobilizations where tens of thousands of people participated. Until right before Marcos fell, we had millions of people on the streets… Working from that I would say zero level, to a level where we had millions protesting. And that for me, is very much part of what I am today and what I do today because I think that was a very rare opportunity for our generation to be tempered and strengthened by that entire experience.” Lidy then shares what was the most “devastating” yet “important” moment for her. Amid a wave of emotions, she says, “…I was 27 years old and had just got married a year and a half earlier and had just given birth. My baby was about 6 months old when my husband was assassinated by the Philippine military…I knew the eyes were on me and if I showed any kind of fear, that would not be good for the morale of many people in the Philippines because that was the whole point of the assassination. My husband was the most well-known, but he was part of 43 leaders assassinated in a matter of 6 months. That was the point. They wanted to scare us. They wanted to quell our movements and our unrest…in the hopes that we could die down. I knew that I had to do the opposite!” Nadia notes how hard that must have been as a new mother to which Lidy responds, “Partly, it helped that I had a baby because there’s no way (I could) let myself drown in the grief and fear because (I had) to be strong for someone else,…(my) baby…but one of the greatest pain is to know that she was going to grow up not really knowing her father.”

Drawing inspiration from her story we ask how she went from that to fighting global issues and how her fight in the Philippines shaped her fight for broader fights today. She says, “…You quickly realize that you cannot solve it in your own country alone. All the problems we have, have a global dimension and you cannot fully solve your problems if you just concentrate on one country.”

Based on that and her involvements in the fights against debt, for climate change and inequality, we ask about her perspective on the #InequalityVirus. She quickly responds, “One of the statements I’ve heard…is that COVID-19 is kind of like an equalizing issue because everyone is affected, rich or poor. It really makes me uncomfortable because…whatever major problem the world has, it always affects the economically dispossessed and those who are suffering discrimination…much, much more than all the rest. For the millions of Filipinos in Metro Manila who live in a small space shared by 5 or 6 families, what does social distancing mean? …This is the reality and I think we need to keep repeating that because a lot of people take for granted that there’s a whole different world for those who are dispossessed, for those living in poverty, for those living with lots of other layers of problems because they’re women, black or indigenous people and so on…”

So, what does she see in the aftermath of the pandemic? Does it present any opportunities? “I see this situation as fraught with a lot of threats as well as opportunities…There’s a lot of threats because in a crisis everyone is disoriented and kind of desperate for measures to bring back the normal…but…It’s also an opportunity because we’re all…in a quandary in terms of what to do. So, we must seize this opportunity, not just to recover and go back to the old ways, but to actually have a re-boot; a re-set of the system so that it is a different system that we’re going to set up and build up.

Speaking of new systems, recent protests against racism seek to do just that. From her experience, how important does she think understanding the historical relationships around racism and colonialism is? She answers, “I think it is so essential…I don’t know why it is so for new generations now, but it seems to me that there is a little less value now for appreciating history. That was so important for us…because it opened our eyes to looking at the world in a very different way. In a more empowering way. All sorts of explanations to why we were poor and why our countries were poor were so disempowering… I’m very happy that these protests are happening. I’m so sorry about the unfortunate, tragic incidents in the US for instance, that led to these recent open protests (but) I think it is a truly good thing that there are these (protests) and hopefully it translates into something that is more sustained rather than just a temporary outburst of frustration.

So, where does she find hope and strength in the fight against inequality? Firmly, she answers, “I think two things: –
1. I think I’ve lived long enough and been involved enough to see that we have won many important victories. That really affirms the power of people and people’s movements. I mean, we brought down a dictator!…

2. …I’ve seen … so many really good people just persevere. They have given their lives; either literally dying before their time; or spent the best years of their lives and continue to spend their lives in service to change and to people… How can I do any less?

If you would like to hear Lidy’s inspiring voice, please Listen here .We highly recommend it 😊

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