Working this year in this new office space signals the beginning of a new chapter in the collective life of 350 Pilipinas as it now operates in a new and relatively different environment.
We have always imagined the office space as an experiment of exploring new ways of organizing around a shared space.
Our first attempt at holding residence on our own office space in Magiting Street, Teachers Village happened at particular historical conditions that informed much of the choices and risks we took: Duterte’s War on Drugs, the heightened state of siege, the bent of political consciousness towards authoritarianism under this current regime.
In the more than a year of occupying the spot we planned and did our most daring actions; held over a dozen volunteer orientations; hosted discussion groups for different collectives; provided safe spaces for both radicals and reformers, and played a role in fostering the birth of new youth-led climate movements.
The office was sort of a field trial in redefining space in the context of change-making.
It means answering difficult yet practical questions: how can we share limited resources? How can we be sustainable? How could we make it inclusive? How can it be a safe space? How can it be more gender equitable and friendly? Should we invest in CCTV cameras? Do we ask the landlord if we can set up solar panels? Should we build bike racks? Who should take out the trash once work time is finished? What about zero-waste? Should pets be allowed in the office space?
Like in many tests, we aced some but likewise flunked on some, and in the process, we learned a lot about ourselves and each other, about the tedious task of organizing, and for myself about what privilege is and how it must be recognized and kept in check.
The curveball of a pandemic was thrown in last March 2020 and made it difficult for us to keep holding space while following minimum health and safety protocols. The move was as controversial as it was also necessary.
What I learned after being deeply involved with the volunteer space is that it doesn’t matter how many books you have read describing how the world could and should be like. It is by being part of the work laying the groundwork for our collective vision of the kind of world we want, that you begin to feel what it could be like and that experience will always inform you going ahead.
For me being in the midst of those two studio units was really an example of not just modeling the world we want to live in. But it is more importantly an exercise of being actively involved in building it.
The office space was where I was able to shed the naivete of my ungrounded idealism as I came face to face with the complex realities of change-making in a microcosm of a space.
The interesting thing about history is that it only moves forward–and that is how it all began. It was also around this quarter in 2018 when 350 Pilipinas decided to find its own space after spending 3 years being hosted inside another organization’s office space.
We wanted to define our collective identity apart from the organization that hosted us and now we are back at doing that again this time because circumstances deem it necessary.
As I bid my final glance at the space that was once our office I looked with eager anticipation at opening the door and working again on the new one. Hopefully made wiser by the bittersweet lessons learned from our tiny space in Magiting Street.