“Empowerment is both a means to an end and an end in itself” (Beteile, 1999, p. 590). The term “empowerment” can be considered fluid, allowing itself to be used in different situations. Its meaning is usually based on the context and not with a theory. “Where one might have said in the past that women, Adivasis, or even agricultural labourers were disadvantaged, one is more likely to say today that they are unempowered” (Beteile, 1999, p. 590). Citizen empowerment or people empowerment is generally concerned with the citizens, social transformation, and power. Empowerment, as viewed by the intelligentsia, has been a way of addressing problems like inequality and oppression. Through empowering the people, they are given the courage, ability, as well as power that can alter the perspective of the public on them. Empowering the citizens is essential for the government in order to create a bond that can help increase their service efficiency. Patel (2011, p. 405) emphasized that the citizens and the government should work together to achieve their goals. However, it can also be viewed that citizen empowerment does not necessarily equate with equality. Power has the tendency to be distributed in an unequal manner. Power that is equally distributed is rare, limited, and often unstable (Beteile, 1999, p. 592). When one is empowering the people, it is not simply rearranging the power, it is also a matter of trust and confidence in what they can do. Menike (1993) elaborated that in empowering the poor, they should believe in what they are capable of and respect their conditions. She pointed out that the government, as well as NGOs, should be able to give solutions that would really empower the people by consulting them in the planning, designing, and implementing of their projects. They need to be absorbed in their situation instead of simply instilling new practices that would only cause harm and confusion to the community.
Resilience, on the other hand, has been a vague term linked to empowerment. From ecology to sociology, it is usually referred to as “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances” (Langeland, Manheim, McLeod & Nacouzi, 2016, p. 5). It has also been used in psychology in the 1940s and 1950s when they were finding out how people are able to cope up with their personal hardships. The term has become widespread since then. Although the term can be used in diverse ways, its array of specific definitions has clouded its general conceptual clarity and practical relevance. In political science, resilience can be a matter of trial and error in case of risk management and public policy (Langeland et al., 2016, p. 5). Furthermore, resilience can be categorized as either general or specific. “Specific resilience refers to the capability to maintain mission functions during and following a specific threat or other event. General resilience is a measure of the ability to maintain operations over a range of unanticipated threats and events” (Langeland et al., 2016, p. 7). There are also three characteristics that can be observed when understanding resilience. First is its coping capacity that involves surviving unexpected turmoil as fast and as reliable as possible. Second is the adapting capacity referring to the “proactive and long-term adaptation of structures, processes, or modes of behavior to present and future vulnerabilities”. Lastly is the transformative capacity in which there exists a gradual radical change in the society (Hanisch, 2016, p. 3).
In this sense, it can be observed that citizen empowerment affects the resilience of a community. As mentioned earlier government projects that may need long-term preparation should involve their citizens by including them in the planning, designing, and implementing in order to ensure that it will truly benefit the people. In addition, albeit resilience can only be further improved through trial and error, it does show that through empowering the citizens, one is able to come up with specific and better solutions even for unanticipated events and not simply band-aid solutions. Patel (2011, p. 405), stated that there are three key ingredients for people’s empowerment: active citizens, strengthened communities, and partnership with public bodies. The people should voice their thoughts in order for them to communicate what needs to be improved in their community as well as to criticize if anything has not been done right. In addition, before the government or NGOs conduct their projects, it should be their priority beforehand to have the budget. This can be achieved by requesting and by partnering with public donors who will be willing to sponsor projects yet also accept the flexibility, avoiding too many limitations that can hinder the success of the project itself. There are also certain factors that lead to resilience. Social, economic, political, or public health disasters can trigger the people to develop and improve their resilience. Having resilience cannot only be based on how one would be able to cope after the disaster but also how they would manage to prepare and survive the phenomenon. The characteristics of citizen empowerment along with resilience can range from being innate to being learned. For instance, it may be innate to have the characteristics that will enable them to feel empowered and resilient, like a community having active citizens, a strengthened bond, and enough budget, yet the community that does not utilize it to empower the people, even if they already possess these characteristics, they would need to learn how to utilize it to benefit all. If they fail to do so, it may lead to disempowerment of some groups or the whole community itself.
Beteille (1999, p. 592), has mentioned that there is a zero-sum approach to power. This kind of power is exercised with force, domination, or manipulation to the point that as one party accumulates power, the less power the other party has. In this case, empowerment goes with disempowerment; in order for some to be empowered, others may be disempowered. In the text of Menike (1993, p. 176), that explains empowerment through the people’s perspective, it says, “The word ’empowerment’ is not unfamiliar to us. It implies that we, the Poor, lack power to improve the quality of our lives”. The text implies that empowerment is familiar with them considering that they are being lifted from disempowerment. It was further emphasized that the government and some organizations do try to “empower” them yet it often leads to destruction and not empowerment. On the other hand, The phrase ‘learned helplessness’ was “first used by Overmier, Seligman, and Maier (1, 2) to represent certain unexpected features in the behavior of dogs after they had been given inescapable shocks in learning experiments” (Lennerlöf, 1988, p. 207). When some think of the disempowered, there is the common notion that it is their fault since they do not do anything to improve themselves. For instance, Menike (1993) has emphasized that the poor do not try to empower themselves not because they are ignorant nor inexperienced but “because they have a deep experiential understanding of their own real” (1993, p. 176). They cannot risk it all, instead, they take it step by step.
In relation to disempowerment, Blacks in America have a long history of discrimination and inequality. It was considered that half of The United States’s economy was greatly dependent on slave labor. African slavery was considered an institution similar to that of the government or religion. It was an institution slowly developed through conscious decisions based on property rights. “The rise in tobacco production, which required a considerable labor force, led to a rapid increase in the slave population in the early 1700s” (Aiken, Salmon & Hanger, 2013, p. 384). Slavery was banned only through the Thirteenth Amendment, yet the past has greatly shaped the present. There was also the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA), the outcome of several forces such as major historical events, social movements, and federal legislation. The CRA “prohibited workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (Aiken et al., 2013, p. 383). However, racism is still rampant and existing, being an implicit foundation of some major institutions. Even with the creation of CRA, discrimination throughout America is still a major problem. It is almost as if the CRA is nonexistent. “It is impossible to see the impact of effective laws when the conditions that led to their passage and implementation are forgotten or minimized. Indeed, effective legislation creates the false impression that it is no longer relevant today” (Aiken et al., 2013, p. 384).
In 2012, the shooting of a Black seventeen-year-old named Trayvon Martin followed by the acquittal of civilian George Zimmerman, the person responsible for the shooting, triggered the Black Lives Matter movement (Allen-Taylor, 2017, p. 22). What started as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) created by California and New York-based organizers, Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi in 2013 on Twitter became a contemporary rights movement as well as an organization (Rickford, 2016, p. 35). Although it had its “first front” in the 2009 shooting death of Oscar Grant by a police officer from the Bay Area Rapid Transit at the BART station in East Oakland (Allen-Taylor, 2017, p. 22). Its second wave, Black Lives Matter, is now referred to either the organization or the general movement itself. Some have considered the goals of the movement as “radical” under white supremacy. “In just over two years, the young movement has reinvigorated confrontation politics, giving voice to a popular and righteous rage, establishing a new touchstone of grassroots resistance, and ending the acquiescence that has crippled progressive forces in the age of Obama” (Rickford, 2016, p. 35). It is a mass struggle that has also addressed not only the misconduct of police but also of the bigger issue of social inequality. Internal struggle within the police is also happening. Among the police officers, they have what they call, “blue wall of silence” in which police officers are bolstered that if they see their fellow police officers break or bend the law, they should not ‘rat’ them out to the public. Because of this, some officers would even go to the extent of falsifying reports or testimonies to help fellow officers. This only showcased that even if there are actually police officers who would want to expose their co-officers, they are greatly pressured not to do so because of underlying consequences. Furthermore, although there are already textbooks that guide police officers as to how to handle different situations, it is still up to their own judgment as to what they would consider as right or wrong, endangering the rights of other people. For instance, “OPD officers still managed – as we have seen – to search African American men during a traffic stop at a higher rate than appears necessary to protect the safety of Oakland” (Allen-Taylor, 2017, p. 26).
From online protests to physical actual protests, protestants usually, at least in Oakland tend to address not the police officers themselves but those who are in power. They voice out their opinions based on relevant facts to the district attorney, chief, as well as mayor. They usually protest on highways, intersections, sporting events, retail stores, malls, campaign events, police stations, and municipal buildings. They have organized “dieins,” marches, and rallies in multiple cities, viewing creative disturbance as a means of dramatizing routine attacks on black life (Rickford, 2016, p. 36). Through these, it has made the Black minority group empowered and has further provided a shield of resilience against racial discrimination. Although it is still an ongoing battle, it has made its progress in changing the lives of the Black in their day-to-day living, along with aids given by the organization into providing service for the Blacks. There are also other organizations not only the Black Lives Matter that pushes for equality and empowers the Blacks. In addition, Several police officers are being held accountable for their misconduct proving that the voices of the people, empowering themselves and through the help of others are heard loud and clear. It is important to remember that in order to achieve these changes, several of the underlying culture, institutions, and practices need to be changed. Hence, solidarity is needed to achieve such a goal. Nevertheless, the Blacks have remained resilient throughout time even if they still encounter challenges on a day to day basis.
Notion towards empowerment and resilience manifested by UPB Community in response to COVID 19 pandemic
In the case of the struggle of the UPB Community against the pandemic, most of the narratives I saw on social media are pushing for mass promotion and that a deferred grading system is not justifiable considering the pandemic and other social, political, and economic issues at hand. They have emphasized that it should be solidarity and compassion that should prevail. Various groups have pointed out that no student should be left behind in the decisions that will be made. These groups as well as individual sentiments of some UPB professors have intended to empower the students by defending them into having an education that considers all. I was able to see that there are students not specifically from UPB Campus that have shared how difficult it is for them to keep up with their online classes and requirements. Some would even go to the top of the mountain or travel long distances just to get a signal to send their requirements. It was disheartening to see others in that situation especially now that they should be focusing on how to be well and alive instead. Although I do see the importance of studying, it is not the top priority and where the focus of students should be. In relation to this, the University of the Philippines Baguio Student Council conducted a survey on April 9, 2020, on the preference of the students on how to end the semester. 408 out of 841 students voted the option to End the Semester.
I was one of the students who was able to answer the survey and opted to end the semester and pass all the students. Although I myself have access to an internet connection and have my own gadget to make the requirements, it would be unfair and unjust if I will only consider myself in my decision. I am aware that not all of my classmates and schoolmates have the same resources that I have. I am conscious that some of them are greatly affected by the pandemic, having relatives who have been working as a frontliner and had already been infected with the COVID 19 virus. Hence, even if some do have the proper resources, not everyone is in their proper state to give quality work, defeating the excellence that UP education exemplifies to achieve. Based on my knowledge of my peers, some have difficulty in accessing resources for their specific requirements especially in their major courses that need primary references.
Most of my professors for this semester have been open to us, their students. They have given us their opinion on the situation and have assured us that their decision will be for our betterment. They have shared what they think of the current situation. They have provided us with options as to how we would want to continue the semester. They have been transparent with their decisions and have continuously made sure of our safety. I do, therefore, see the compassion that they give to the students. It is the compassion that knows what they are for and not simply saying that they have compassion. They provide the context into coming up with solutions. In my opinion, I do think that the dominant narrative that I see on social media depicts the opinions of my current professors although it still ranges per accuracy. Nevertheless, almost all of my professors have vied to end the semester and pass all the students.
Indeed, the whole process of how the semester ended was vague. So many things have happened in a span of one month. However, because of the whole pandemic, I was able to see the solidarity of the teachers as well as the students in facing adversity. The professors, since the pandemic, have consecutively updated the students as to what will happen. All of my professors have reached out to us students, asking how we have been and if there is anyone who has been stranded in Baguio. Furthermore, donations from organizations, alumni, and others have helped students who were stranded in Baguio in providing them relief goods. With only these, I was already astounded at how the UPB community has handled the situation. Compared to other universities that I heard from peers, who did not receive any news from their own university. Through the pandemic, I felt the empowerment bestowed to us when the professors asked us our own preferences and not simply giving us instructions on what to do. We, as students, were given the responsibility to help decide for ourselves; our opinion was being weighed on how they will decide. Through this, the professor was able to make sure that whatever they will provide for us will be the best option for our learning and for our health. Working in solidarity has also empowered the whole community in overcoming the challenges of the pandemic.
However, we felt disempowered that although the professors and students have continuously voiced out their opinions and suggestions to the higher-ups, it seemed unheard. Hence, I believe that the BOR decision does not reflect the opinion of most of the community of UPB as well as of other campuses at least based on the posts I have seen on social media and on my peers. It felt almost useless that although students fought for what they believed in, it was heard, yet not considered, hence, leading to disempowerment and a feeling of helplessness.
In conclusion, empowerment and resilience is needed in arriving at a solution for problems in the society. However, achieving both is not as easy as it looks. The people who will be empowered should be included in the process of empowering and creating a resilient community. It cannot be achieved overnight. However, through the solidarity of the people, communicating with each other, it is not impossible. Hence, it is only through working together, can we overcome disempowerment, discrimination, and a pandemic.