By Jon Melegrito
“Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat, Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street.”
It was the dead of winter, but it didn’t matter. Blaring from a boom box with the volume all pumped up, the Motown hit got us all dancing and and screaming “Cory! Cory! Cory!” With plastic glasses in one hand thanks to a stranger who dropped off some bubbly we pumped our fists with the other, while TV flood lights captured euphoric grins and tears of joy. Cars cruising along Massachusetts Avenue were honking. Shouts of “Mabuhay” filled the air. Everyone was hyped for a party.
It started at 3 o’clock Tuesday morning, February 25, 1986 and ended past midnight. We had been up Monday night glued to TV, watching events unfold in Manila. It was Day 4 of the People Power Revolution. June Keithley, broadcasting from Radio Veritas<D>, had just announced that the Marcoses have fled. Elvie and I screamed and leaped upon hearing the stunning news. I called friends and fellow activists from the Coalition Against the Marcos Dictatorship (CAMD). There were no cell phones then so we relied on an old-fashioned phone tree to get the word out. We decided to go to the Philippine embassy to make sure it’s no longer in “enemy hands.”
At the parking lot, we ran into a couple of embassy staff lugging boxes and loading them in cars. No doubt, these were highly-sensitive and important documents that had to be secured from would-be looters and vandals. We expected an ugly confrontation. Instead, we greeted each other politely. After all, they were public servants, not necessarily Marcos loyalists. Yes, they said, the President and the First Lady had left Malacanang Palace.
The handful of us, heady with excitement and probably hallucinating from lack of sleep, still couldn’t believe it. We lingered in the early morning darkness, knowing that very soon the sun will rise.
Unexpectedly, embassy staffers opened the door and let us in. We knew then that the war was over. It was time to lay down our arms.
Around 8 o’clock, a few more kasamas<D> came with doughnuts and coffee. We had been barred from this red brick building for years. Endless lightning pickets have turned this place into a fortress.
Suddenly we were inside. The walls in the lobby were bare, with picture hooks indicating the spots that once held portraits of Marcos and Imelda.
“This is an open house now for the Filipino people,” my fellow activist, Walden Bello, declared to everyone who had gathered. “Today, we are celebrating the downfall of a dictatorship.”
Later that morning members of CAMD, the Movement for Free Philippines, the Ninoy Aquino Movement and supporters from the American public massed in front of the White House to thank President Ronald Reagan for finally letting his staunch ally go. That took a while, though.
That evening, we converged in front of the Philippine Embassy for a final ritual. I brought a boom box with a tape of the Motown hit. From 6 o’clock on, the crowd swelled. They came straight from work. Some drove from as far away as Philadelphia and New York. Tourists from across the country found their way to the red brick building, about 10 blocks from the White House, to join their kababayans<D> celebrate. Strangers off the street, awed by what they’ve seen and heard all day, stopped by to say “Congratulations!” One happened to have a case of champagne in his car and gladly popped a few bottles for the revelers. A toast to People Power, he said.
That night, I was Mick Jagger and Walden was David Bowie, belting out “Dancing in the Street.” Our days of guerilla theatre were over, for the moment at least, me playing Miss Piggy and Walden playing Kermit the Frog, stalking Imelda wherever she went and driving her crazy. The Dictator was gone. We were dancing in the street.
But ready for a brand new beat? That night, I just wanted to party, then close my eyes and catch some sleep. I told myself I’d save the question for another day.
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