An Ordinary Person

Meditations on the Death of a Working Class Folk Hero (Part 1) | July 5, 2008

Recently deceased Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran is introduced in Wikipedia:

A Filipino politician and a labor leader. A staunch critic of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, his imprisonment in 2006 and 2007 on disputed charges of rebellion and sedition drew international attention. As a member of 13th Congress of the Philippines with the Anakpawis or the ‘Toiling Masses Partylist’ and former chair of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a militant and progressive labor movement, he was a major figure in contemporary Filipino history.

According to the Kilusang May Uno web site:

Crispin Beltran is … the epitome of militancy and progressive lawmaking in the country. He [was] the Chairman of the national political party Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist and is its re-elected Representative in the Philippine Congress. Having been an activist for over fifty long years, Ka Bel is esteemed by laborers, peasants, urban poor and other marginalized sectors as a true defender of the toiling masses and staunch critic of privatization, deregulation and other destructive policies of globalization.

A recent Youngblood column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer provides a glimpse into his credibility and how endeared he is among ordinary people-the “masa” or masses in Philippine society:

I did not bother to haggle anymore. Then I handed her a piece of paper on which I had copied the epitaph my father wrote: “Pagpugay sa dakilang anak ng uring manggagawa, Ka Bel; Ang buhay at alaala mo’y titis ng pag-asa sa pakikibaka ng uri. – Kas. George.” (In honor of a son of the working class. Ka Bel, your life and memory is an inspiration and hope of the struggle of the working class – Comrade George)

The vendor was shocked by the long message. I figured that she was used to writing only “Condolence and sympathy” on the ribbon. But she talked so loud that the other vendors came over.

“Santissima! Kay Ka Bel mo ba ibibigay?” (My goodness, are you giving it to Ka Bel?) a vendor of Lego-like toys asked.

I nodded and smiled.

“Diyos ko, Mare, huwag mo na singilin!” she told the flower vendor. “Kay Ka Bel naman pala eh. Kapatid natin iyon sa pakikibaka.” (My God, then don’t charge her. It’s for Ka Bel. He is our brother in the struggle).

Liberal Arts Dude sez:

I racked my brain trying to think of who in contemporary American politics would be the American version of Ka Bel-someone who is not only a champion of ordinary people in the arena of law and activism but also someone who is beloved by those whom he championed and is widely and highly regarded by the working class as one of their own. Someone who is widely and nationally known, highly esteemed and respected as a genuine working-class folk hero. Much to my chagrin I could not think of anyone.

Tony Mazzocchi who tried to organize a Labor Party is the closest example that I can think of. Or perhaps Jim Hightower.

Otherwise it is to the past that I delve into: Eugene Debs, Robert La Follette, Mother Jones, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X.

I feel sad and disappointed that in contemporary U.S. politics that I have to really think long, deep and hard to find a true American counterpart to Ka Bel. And that I had to go to the distant past to do so.

This brings to my mind two conclusions:

  1. There are no working class heroes anymore in contemporary American society and that is both sad and bad for American society
  2. There are working class heroes but they toil and do their work in obscurity. This indicates something both sad and bad about American society

I’ll delve into what these mean in Part II.

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2 Comments »

  1. [...] – bookmarked by 4 members originally found by treyd1 on 2008-07-29 Meditations on the Death of a Working Class Folk Hero (Part 1) [...]

    Pingback by Bookmarks about Liberal — August 20, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

  2. [...] wrote in my first essay on this topic of working class heroes that there is, in America, a lack of popularly celebrated working class heroes and that they either [...]

    Pingback by Studs Terkel (1912-2008) « An Ordinary Person — November 1, 2008 @ 3:10 pm


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