by Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola
“We must be solidarious, meaning one with everybody, with the care of the planet, and we must be willing to accompany people’s movements for their rights, justice, peace. And so I put my education and my experience and my commitment to that service.” – Rev. Marta Benavides
I heard a podcast once about humpback whales saving a seal from an orca attack.* One of the whales swam belly up, and put the seal on its belly. When it seemed like the seal might slip off during their escape, the whale would raise a fin to guide the seal back onto its belly.* Humpback whales have been recorded saving other animals, like sunfish and seals, from orca attacks. And scientists can’t agree on why. Some speculate that they may be instinctually wired to interfere with orca attacks because, in doing so, they might save a humpback whale calf. So in their act of trying to help their own family or community get free, they inadvertently help others get free.
10 years ago, I met Rev. Marta Benavides through Churches Witnessing with Migrants (CWWM). In El Salvador, she journeyed alongside Archbishop Oscar Romero. When sharing her experiences and expertise, she would occasionally bring up this concept of being solidarious – “We must be ‘solidarious’ as one vs be ‘in solidarity’ with other’s interests.”*
In 2013, US Navy ships* ran into a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a world-renown scuba diving site where more than 1200 ocean species dwell and a place on which seabirds and sea turtles depend for their survival as they migrate the vastness of the waters* – Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines. The US Navy paid a fine for the damages incurred.*
In 2019, the Philippines was at the top of the list of deadliest countries for environmental defenders and activists.** It’s still listed in the top 3 of the world, if not #1 in Asia.* That year, I was in the Philippines, shortly after human rights worker, Brandon Lee, was shot multiple times after walking his daughter home from school. Fortunately he survived. Chinese American native-San Franciscan, Brandon, moved to Ifugao, in Northern Philippines – to be solidarious with indigenous people.* 5 years prior he was branded an “enemy of the state.”* The shooters have yet to be caught, but there’s a pattern in the incident that human rights activists have become all too familiar with.
This September 21st marks the 50th year Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines. Now the US-backed Marcos Jr. presidency is at the helm and we can expect increased damage to Creation and towards those who continue to address the root causes of injustice. The US is even giving him diplomatic immunity for his visit to New York, joining the UN General Assembly this month.* The US doesn’t have money for clean water for the people of Flint or Jackson, but it has money to back dictators, fascists, their militaries, and private militias.
The Philippine movement for national democracy, socialist in perspective, recognizes that the work of liberating the Philippines from its semi-feudal, semi-colonial conditions is a contribution to loosening one of the footholds of US imperialism in the world. Therefore, it would be a victory shared by all struggling masses worldwide that would help move all organized peoples’ efforts closer towards just peace and sovereignty.
This solidariousness – this living into and recognizing our oneness. The oneness of our struggles, of our resistance, and of our dreams. It recognizes that our deep engagement with the work of liberation, wherever we may feel called, is intertwined with the liberation of others.
I wonder if – instead of chasing productivity – sometimes just being present, conscious, educating ourselves, or lifting up and naming our shared struggles is enough. To allow ourselves to get swept up in collective grieving, anger, or joy for/with one another. Perhaps that practice, that discipline, will open us up to Spirit who will empower us towards being organized more deeply, consistently, or lead us towards strengthening and building revolutionary relationships.
May we find respite and safety as we journey amidst the tumultuous waters of our times. May we help each other find whale-belly refuge and provide that fin’s embrace if we ever find each other drifting away from the safety of our pod.
May we be solidarious.
>> Check out Malaya Movement and ICHRP US for more information on upcoming events surrounding the 50th Anniversary of Martial Law and for Filipino American History Month in October.
Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola
Rev. Jeanelle Nicolas Ablola is a Queer Trans Non-Binary child of immigrants – a Filipino/x born, raised, and living in the US diaspora. They’re grounded in the people’s movement for democracy and just peace in the Philippines. For over 10 years, they’ve led delegations to the Philippines to expand and deepen solidarity and faith-rooted political praxis. They have experience in anti-imperialist and internationalist solidarity work and activism through legislative advocacy, education, organizing, and mobilizing people of faith to take action in the streets and among the masses. They have over a decade in experience planning, preaching, and presenting at events, studies, mobilizations, rallies, and protests. Rooted in international solidarity and finding resonance in Liberation Theology from the Philippines, they have passion for making theological and political education accessible to all people and thrive in accompanying individuals in meaning-making, while exploring the relationship between individual healing and social justice. They’re the Lead Pastor at Pine United Methodist Church in San Francisco, the Co-Chair of the CA-NV Philippine Solidarity Task Force of the UMC, and a Street Scholar/Healer at Sacred Roots in Oakland. They received their M. Div. at Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley and have a podcast called “GomBurZa for the Masses.”