I wrote this piece for Oxfam in celebration of its 25th anniversary here in the Philippines. I have always admired Oxfam, the work they do and, most importantly, its framework in addressing poverty. I am reposting this now as Oxfam celebrates its 26th with more challenges ahead as our country copes with the onslaught of impacts brought about by climate change. Next year, it would be Dakila’s turn to celebrate change as we hit a decade of fostering modern heroism.
In 2009, Dakila was just a bunch of artists trying our best to change the world, so to speak. When Oxfam approached us to help them in organizing a concert for climate action, we were more than thrilled to work with such a big time international organization. Who has not heard of Oxfam and its impressive work in the social movement in the Philippines? Little did we realize that the partnership with Oxfam would change the future of Dakila.
Organizing a concert is a breeze but more than that, we wanted to be able to make a lasting impact. What challenged us was Oxfam’s different approach to climate change. Its thesis was that climate change is the number one threat to overcoming poverty. Finally, we found a framework that went beyond the glossy posters to “save the polar bears” or “save the mother earth” which, frankly, we did not want to undertake.
So, we ventured into the TikTok Pilipinas campaign with a mission to involve artists in the movement for climate action, knowing that if we inform them enough, it will fuel their creative expression and transform the complex issue of climate change into something that the common tao would understand. With the help of Oxfam, we sat down every single artist, explained climate change and those darn jargons – mitigation and adaptation. Believe us, talking science and international policies to artists was not an easy task.
We were able to mobilize around 40 of them for our first artist gathering – actors, filmmakers, musicians, fashion designers, visual artists, models – all of whom politely listened to us talk and made an effort to truly understand climate change. Most were just willing to lend their faces to the campaign to be able to contribute. A few days after the event, Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) happened.
What seemed a still vague concept became real. Too real, in fact. Ondoy, while not really directly caused by climate change, gave face to the issue. Suddenly all the scenarios that were just then presented as possibilities of what can happen became so terrifyingly true to most of the artists.
The events that came after that all seemed to be a long march of blurry memories now: soup kitchens — celebrities Ping Medina and Alessandra de Rossi cooking arroz caldo in a remote barangay in San Mateo, Rizal; beauty queen Miriam Quiambao and model-tv host Marc Nelson discussing climate change at De La Salle University; musicians organizing gigs left and right to promote climate action; advocates creating their own viral videos to help spread the campaign; 84 artists lining up at the JesCom recording studio to wait for their turn to record the anthem and participate in a music video shoot; a concert in a city most devastated by the disaster; an ambitious collaborative medley performance for the Myx Channel; features and photo shoot for newspaper and magazine spreads. More artist gatherings.
With more than 12,000 Facebook fans after and 84 celebrities involved, TikTok Pilipinas became a phenomenal campaign.
The involvement of artists in advocacy work is nothing new, especially here in the Philippines. Perhaps, what is truly phenomenal about the TikTok Campaign is that it came at the time when the old methods in campaigning have failed to reach a broader audience and the whole Philippine social movement is at a stand still, unsure of what direction to take to cope with the changing times. Aside from popularizing the climate issue in the country, the one contribution that Tiktok Pilipinas could take credit for is that it certainly shaped a new era for social change advocacy work in the Philippines.
The climate that the TikTok Campaign created was a gathering of a large and representational segment of a generation that felt lost to old ways but had now found a voice and realized they can be involved in platforms that define their time – social media, pop culture, cool advertising campaigns, and probably anything emerging. When we say TikTok is phenomenal, it isn’t to claim that it worked as a collective generational expression of resistance or even to say that it resulted to a vast political action. Rather simply because it happened the way it did, for what it became.
In the years that followed, you now have a display of advocacy-driven photos in your Facebook newsfeed of celebrities promoting causes, artists outside the protest movement working for a project with women farmers and fisher folks, a parade of beautifully designed graphics and images instead of the usual placards in the streets. Some will argue its superficiality but one cannot debate its virality, an effect that could not be readily quashed by police action. Perhaps, the path that TikTok pursued is, at the very least, actively transforming the mainstream.
Looking back much has evolved as the campaign for climate action has given birth to other collaborative campaign efforts with Oxfam. We’ve been cracking our heads to make Filipinos shift to brown rice, if not crafting videoke worthy songs that will encourage people to wash their hands for Oxfam’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program or chasing celebrity advocates down in social media so that they retweet, regram and repost our campaign posts.
Much has also changed within Dakila. The once young bunch of idealists has ushered in newbies, hopefully much more capable to change the world, in a now more professional organization but nonetheless fueled by passion, joy and humor.
Years down the road, when the present social movement trends become boring and alienating to another generation, we will always remember the TikTok Pilipinas campaign of Oxfam and Dakila – its lessons and its significant contribution to an era in the Philippine Social Movement and how it has changed all of us in Dakila. No doubt, Tiktok created disturbance in the force. It is a disturbance born out of the residue of the rich past of activism in the country, with the tremors felt in every meeting room where NGOs are planning for a campaign. And in a weird way, Dakila probably met itself through TikTok, what the organization really is, what it can become and more importantly what its role in the whole social movement sphere is.
This digital age has indeed transformed activism but it has not diluted the messages social movements put forward or their relevance in the world. We are glad to have stuck with Oxfam as it brings us from climate change to food justice to sustainable agriculture and land use. More highfalutin’ words we believe will probably make our artists’ noses bleed.
Bring it on.