Organized River Clean-Up by the Urban Poor Dwellers beside San Juan River

Community organizing is an amazing process in that its end products are outcome and process. Working with the urban poor for more than two decades on poverty issues, I keep repeating to myself that indeed the poor in our country are a key stakeholder in everything that the country wants to do. If onlythose in the bureaucracy will shift their view of the poor from something negative to something positive, our country will move forward faster than we have ever been. Of our 1 million population now, 75% of that belongs to the bracket of the underemployed, unemployed and all the related circumstances to underemployment and unemployment. Without organized effort the poor will just be like scattered sunlight. People won’t see the glow that their unified action will show. But with collective action, reality can just turn around at a flick of a hand.

According to Saul Alinsky, a great American community organizer, the “haves” have the power; the “have nots” have the number. Community organizing if done with rigor is a process that can unearth a lot of buried hopes by people who would have wanted to galvanize people into action but didn’t know the ropes. It is very tempting to give up on people if you don’t know how to go about the organizing process. But of course, more than the knowledge and the skills are the attitudes that are attached to a community organizer’s competence. The attitude of hard work, for instance, is not a simple tendency to just go on working with the mantra of love for people ever hovering on a community organizer’s head. Hard work is the result of a deep philosophical foundation about social justice. It is having on one’s finger tips the knowledge of how the socio-economic, political and cultural forces in society are arranged. It is also having on one’s finger tips the knowledge about the human psyche, how culture evolves, the reality of politics in the lives of people and a lot more.

So, the community organizing process facilitated by community organizers from inside and outside the communities by the river has reached a point when urban dwellers by San Juan River, a tributary of the Pasig River, enthusiastically pushed for a river clean-up that is envisioned to grow into a movement. On September 28, 2010, five hundred urban poor representatives from local organizations in Metro Manila, Taytay and Montalban will show a start-up of what is envisioned by the urban poor as a long-term effort. The poor dreams of restoring the Pasig River and its Tributaries to its original state and to do this they have signified their resolve to carry on the dream in coordination with government agencies.

The sustainability of the dream to see a clean river has yet to be seen but the urban poor has declared that somewhere, collective action has started and on September 28, they will show it with a bang. This resolve wouldn’t have been possible without the community organizing process. It is amazing to observe that only a year ago, the Metro Manila Development Authority never wanted to face the people in a dialogue. Then, the poor were viewed as the source of the deterioration of the river – clogging and abusing the river – to which to poor felt so unfairly judged. It has been more than fifteen years that the poor in Metro Manila, especially those living along the Pasig River and its tributaries have been advocating for a shift in view especially by the government – that the poor are assets of the city and not liabilities. As dwellers by the river, they want the river to be clean but the factories by the river and a poor city sewerage system make the river the way it is now and all fingers are pointed at the urban poor. On September 28, 2010, the urban poor will lead in cleaning the river.