When ‘planking’ actually has a purpose

It is always nice to see something completely useless turn into something actually useful. In this case, it is planking — the game where you try to find the most unusual place to take a picture of yourself lying face down on in a rigid “plank” position. This trend has spread like wildfire over the Internet with celebrities such as Ellen Page, Katy Perry, Chris Brown, Gordon Ramsay and Justin Bieber also partaking in the game.

It is in the news today not because another person has died from taking this game too far, but because of its innovative use as a form of protest. Last Monday, a group of at least 20 members of the League of Filipino Students in the Philippines planked while holding signs to block traffic at a busy roundabout in Manila in a protest over the rising cost of oil prices. In a time of global political unrest, protests are not something out of the ordinary. The people of the Philippines are expecting their government to do more to address their concerns. However, some in the government are planning something different. Instead of working to solve the country’s problems, Winston Castelo, a congressman in the Philippines, is trying to enact a law to ban planking.

He argues that disrupting traffic with planking is to the detriment of commuters, dangerous and that participants are risking their lives and limbs. I agree; planking with a number of people on a busy road has all of those consequences. But, that is the whole point of such forms of non-violent protest. Whether you agree with it or not it is supposed to grab your attention. It is called civil disobedience for a reason.

The proposed legislation states that the bill should be enacted as a universal code of student conduct that strictly prohibits planking “as a form of redress of grievance” during street rallies or protests. What’s next? Are they also going to ban walkouts and sit-ins.

This amounts not only to an attempt to restrict the act of planking, but to restrict students from staging protest actions on the whole.

I have nothing but praise for these students.

The Philippines is a country with a long history of authoritarian rule, the use of martial law and the suspension of human rights.

Even as recently as December 2009, through Proclamation No. 159, the province of Maguindanao was put under a state of martial law by President Macapagal-Arroyo. And as a result, one of the most important safeguards of individual freedom against arbitrary state action, the writ of habeas corpus, was suspended in the province.

The people of the Philippines face a long and hard road towards greater freedom.

And every demonstration and protest will lead closer and closer to that goal. It is my hope that these students live to see the fruit of their labour and be able to live freely without government oppression.

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