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July 2020: A great storm of misplaced priorities

What’s the plan now?

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Photo courtesy of Reuters

We have all managed to get past the halfway mark of 2020, but Pandora’s box has barely opened.

As infections skyrocketed and millions continued to struggle due to the pandemic, the government had arguably been taking a detour from the main assailant. While they celebrated the “success” of their recent maneuvers, the public simmered with outrage and discontent.

In true bayanihan spirit, Filipinos continued to come together in physical protests and social movements to voice their dissent and frustration towards the government’s lack of concern for the real issue and its crumbling effects. Considering how the pandemic has been exhausting hospitals and healthcare workers, many echoed the urgent need for a concrete and feasible plan as the country is a ticking time bomb. It would only be a matter of time and misplaced priorities for it to go haywire.

We listed down the events and movements that made headlines this month.

1. Harry Roque and the UP Prediction

Photo courtesy of CNN Philippines

With the country’s COVID cases tallying to 36,438 on June 29, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque congratulated the Philippines for its victory against the pandemic and the 40,000 cases prediction by the University of the Philippines. Rather than cheers, this caused a stir on social media as many expressed their dismay over the government downplaying the COVID situation to a mere “UAAP Game” statistics.

On the same day, the UP OCTA Research projected that the number of COVID-19 infections would likely reach 60,000 by the end of July based on the infectivity rate of the virus. However, the number of cases had already breached the 60,000-mark in the second week of July.

While some netizens congratulated UP for winning this round, many raised their concerns for the drastically increasing number of infections and again urged for immediate actions from the government. A recent estimate by UP researchers showed that the reproductive rate of the country rose from 1.28 to an alarming 1.75. If the trend continues to grow at this rate, not only would this result in a staggering number of cases and deaths but also overwhelm the already struggling healthcare system.

2. ABS-CBN remains off-air

Photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

On July 10, the franchise renewal battle of ABS-CBN concluded as the House Committee on Legislative Franchises voted 70-11 to reject their bid for a 25-year extension. In the 13 congressional hearings conducted, Congress cited issues on Gabby Lopez III’s dual citizenship, tax avoidance, foreign ownership, and unjust labor practices as some of the network’s violations of its constitutional provisions.

Support for the network poured on social media through the hashtags #NOtoABSCBNFranchiseDenial, #IbalikAngABSCBN, and #DefendPressFreedom, to name a few. While House Speaker Alan Cayetano insisted that the issue was not press freedom, journalists, media groups, and student organizations argued otherwise. As Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon puts it, “The sword of Damocles will continue to hand perilously over other media networks. Both the legislators and the executive can wield the sword at their whim and caprice. This is when democracy starts to weaken.”

Together with the employees and supporters of the network, various media groups and human rights organizations joined the noise barrage held at the company’s headquarters in Quezon City to voice their dissent following the said decision and to shed light on the importance of press freedom. ABS-CBN’s regional stations also took part in the movement in their respective provinces.

This week, the People’s Initiative for Reforms and Movement for Action (PIRMA Kapamilya) was launched by a group of citizens in an effort to grant the network a “people’s franchise.” The initiative, which currently has 13,000 signatures, aims to gather 7 million more to comply with RA 6735.

3. People of the Philippines vs. the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

Photo courtesy of Rappler

Amid the coronavirus health crisis, President Duterte signed the feared Anti-Terror Bill into law despite strong warnings from legal experts and concerns from human rights groups. Filipinos went on social media to denounce the law that blatantly “penalizes” freedom of speech and other constitutional rights.

On July 4, a group of lawyers and civic leaders, led by Professor Howie Calleja, filed the first petition seeking to nullify the said law. More appeals from senators, Muslim lawyers, veteran journalists, human rights groups, and church leaders followed suit. As of this writing, 19 petitions challenging the newly signed law have been submitted before the Supreme Court.

Public protests also sparked all over the country to denounce the passage and call for the immediate scrapping of the controversial law. Various organizations in Metro Manila held an indignation rally in UP Diliman while maintaining social distancing. 

In another protest in Cabuyao, Laguna, 11 members of Karapatan, Gabriela, Pamantik KMU, and other youth organizations were arrested. Kyle Salgado, a member of Karapatan ST, stated that they were not informed of the charges against them upon arrest. “Free Cabuyao Eleven” then trended on social media, demanding the immediate release of the captured activists.

4. The call for an academic freeze

Photo courtesy of 8List

As the coming academic year shifts to other modes of learning, the future of Philippine education came into question. Last week, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones stood firm by her decision to open classes on August 24 despite the constant plea of students and teachers regarding the lack of resources. Likewise, CHED Chairman Prospero de Vera III said that universities and colleges are “ready to open classes this August” through the implementation of flexible learning.

While many students and teachers understood the importance of learning, they feared that this would further compromise the quality of education to be delivered and the academic competence that the students will gain. On a socioeconomic stand, effectuating an “online and offline” mode of learning would aggravate the digital divide among students and burden families to pay for the delivery fees of modules and requirements. 

With face-to-face classes still being far from reality, students and youth groups urged government agencies to initiate an ‘academic freeze’ which would require “a flexible academic term, calendar, and curricula to lessen the school days required, lower the number of course requirements, and reduce tuition and other fees.”

5. SONA 2020

Photo courtesy of The Summit Express

Despite several invitees testing positive for COVID-19, President Duterte pushed through with delivering his 5th State of the Nation Address at Batasang Pambansa. Only 50 officials, mostly Duterte’s allies, were present to physically witness the annual tradition, whereas the usual attendees were present through Zoom.

The incumbent president opened his speech by assuring the Filipino people that a vaccine is “around the corner” and thanking the frontliners for their sacrifices. He then spent the next minutes to praise his administration’s “success” in the 30th Southeast Asian Games and Senator Bong Go for his work on several bills filed in the Senate.

Duterte called on Congress for the quick passage of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act, and National Land Use Act, among others. He also sought for the creation of government agencies for OFWs, protection of online consumers, support to provide accessible food for every Filipino, implementation of “e-governance,” and the revival of the death penalty for drug convicts.

Although he raised measures to improve the country’s healthcare system, there was no mention of a concrete and detailed plan to address the current health crisis—a point which Malacañang officials said he would lay down. Instead, he detoured and went on a tirade about tangential matters like fire trucks and telecommunication services and his grudge towards the “oligarchs” of ABS-CBN and Senator Drilon who “defended” them. Surprisingly enough, the enactment of the highly debated Anti-Terror Law was not brought to light in his penultimate speech.

6. #SONAgkaisa: The unified resistance

Photo by Mark Demayo/ABS-CBN News

As with previous addresses, this year’s SONA was met with protests from various groups and organizations in the country. Thousands of people from all walks of life marched to UP Diliman to condemn the government’s response towards the pandemic, the signing of the anti-terror bill, and the franchise denial of ABS-CBN, among others. Issues on human rights, education, livelihood, and freedom were also raised.

Unlike past protests, the traditional burning of an effigy was done through a stop-motion video shown during the program. Along with the iconic singing of ‘Bayan Ko,’ a Filipino rendition of Les Miserables’ ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ titled ‘Di Niyo Ba Naririnig’ was also performed.  

During the protest, veteran journalist Ces Drilon spoke out on how ABS-CBN’s shutdown would negatively affect the press as many might fear to report the truth. Likewise, it carried the warning that anyone who reports on them may be shut down next. Meanwhile, when asked to rate the president’s performance, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said that he could not give one since the president himself insults human rights.

A focal point at the unified protest was an urgent call for the government to realign its priorities in responding to the COVID-19 crisis as millions more will suffer if trivial matters are attended to first. Placards raised during the event highlighted the resumption of operations for jeepney drivers, environment protection, mass testing, red-tagging of students and indigenous people, and the call to oust the president.

This year’s protest drew attention not only for its cause but also for its creativity. Artist-activist Mae Paner who went viral with her iconic Debold Sinas look in last month’s Grand Mañanita, dressed up for this year’s protest in a swimming attire while carrying inflatable dolphins as a reference to Spokesperson Harry Roque’s trip to Subic Bay despite the strict quarantine protocols.  

Along with wearing face masks and social distancing, the event capped off after a few hours in adherence to health protocols. Those unable to attend physically registered their support through an online rally and use of the hashtag #SONAgkaisa. The mass protest also spread to many regions in the country like Cavite, Laguna, Baguio City, and Cebu City who each rallied for their demands and causes.

READ: Walking in unity for this year’s #SONAgkaisa

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7. The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases

Photo courtesy of the Manila Bulletin

On July 1, the Department of Health recorded a total of 38,511 infections, with deaths at 554 and recoveries at 5,131. As the month comes to a close, the country stands at a record-high number of 83,873 cases, 1,947 deaths, and 26,617 recoveries.

This month also saw the highest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths with 2,539 infections on July 8 and 162 deaths on July 13. Private hospitals St. Luke’s Medical Center and Makati Medical Center also reported that their COVID-19 bed allocation and workforce had reached full capacity, which meant that they could no longer accept critically ill patients.

As the alarming rise in infections continued to strain the healthcare system, the public threw a question to the government: “Ano ba talaga ang plano?”

8. Getting close to a cure

Photo from Gilead Sciences via Reuters

In his annual address, President Duterte asserted that a vaccine is around the corner and had sought the help of President Xi Jinping to prioritize the country in any case that one becomes available. Realistically speaking, how far along are we towards a cure?

Of the 140 candidates, six vaccines from six different companies and research institutes, namely Moderna (US), BioNTech (Germany/US), AstraZeneca (Sweden/UK), Sinopharm (China), Sinovac (China), and Murdoch (Australia), are currently in phase 3 of clinical trials. In this final stage, the vaccine would be administered to thousands of people to test its safety and effectiveness.

Once proven to be safe and effective, it will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval, and only then can the approved vaccine be cleared for mass production and public use. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Health reminded the public to be “cautiously optimistic” as phase 3 trials will take months.

The rain continues to pour, but it’s safe to say that this month created the perfect storm of fear, disappointment, confusion, and frustration. The pandemic may have masked our mouths; it certainly did not silence our voices. At a time where critical matters are being neglected, it is high time for us to continue exercising our right to free speech and wield it to overcome the fear and intimidation that the powerful use to hold us from upholding the truth. With enough magnitude and force, perhaps we can make them listen.

As we move forward to more days grappling with the pandemic, our actions should also be as strong as our voices. Behind the curtain, healthcare workers and scientists work around the clock to save lives while risking theirs. Our part in abiding by health protocols and quarantine guidelines is our most significant contribution in breaking the chain and easing their burdens.

These challenging times for all of us, but hope should never be lost. In unity, we will prevail against our enemies: both the invisible and visible.

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5 things you should know about breast cancer

How important is it really to be aware of the second most common cancer among women? Here are five things you must know about breast cancer.

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Photo by Angiola Harry from Unsplash

Along with hues of orange and black, the month of October is almost always stained in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer. Through social media and offline campaigns, the perspective on women battling breast cancer has greatly improved. But all merch and aesthetics aside, how important is it really to be aware of the second most common cancer among women? 

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 2.1 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, making it the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. In the Philippines alone, breast cancer accounts for more than 17 percent of cancer-related cases in both sexes. This statistic puts the Philippines as the country with the highest prevalence of the disease in Asia and ninth globally. The Philippine Society of Medical Oncology reported that three out of 100 women will get breast cancer before age 75 and one out of 100 will die before reaching 75.

Despite the magnitude of the disease, its exact cause remains an enigma to many medical experts. We can still be on the winning end of the battle through breast self-exams that lead to the early detection of the disease. However, not many are aware of this advantage, which makes the awareness surrounding breast cancer even more important as it helps increase one’s chances of survival. 

1. Check your breasts once in a while

Photo courtesy of Queen V

Breast cancer is most often asymptomatic, but conducting breast self-exams a week after your menstrual period starts is key towards its early detection. Like relationships, breast cancer has red flags that one must not ignore. When examining yourself, check if there are unusual changes in the size, shape, or appearance of your breasts such as dimpling or a rash on the nipple. Lumps and discomfort in one breast are also equally important symptoms that one must look out for. A list of other symptoms as well as a guide on how to properly examine your breasts are included here

If you see or feel one of these things on your breast, do not panic and, most importantly, do not self-diagnose. Instead, call or visit your doctor as they know how to deal with the situation better compared to your 10-minute Google search. 

2. Know and avoid the risk factors

Photo courtesy of Cape Breast Care Clinic

Although the causes are unknown, there are factors that increase one’s risk of developing breast cancer. Age and gender are among the most common with women aged 50 and above being at a greater risk. Family history is another factor since mutations in the genes that contribute to its pathogenesis can be inherited by one’s offspring. 

While these may be things beyond our control, there are other factors that we can control, such as weight, diet, and lifestyle habits. Maintaining your body weight within the healthy range through exercise and proper diet can help reduce the risks of breast cancer. As much as it can be a stress reliever, frequent alcohol consumption can drastically alter one’s estrogen levels and damage the DNA in cells.

3. Breast cancer can also affect men

Photo courtesy of WebMD

While this may come as a surprise to many, men can also develop breast cancer because they too have breast tissue. However, the odds are lower because male breast cancers account for less than one percent of reported diagnoses. Men are also advised to check their breasts while taking note of the same unusual signs and symptoms.

One in a thousand men are diagnosed with the disease not only because of the lower risks, but because its warning signs are often overlooked upon and only viewed as a cancer that exclusively affects women. When symptoms become apparent, men are encouraged to consult their doctors without hesitation. 

4. Screening saves lives

Photo courtesy of Getty Images via TIME Magazine

Screening saves lives as much as self-exams do.

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Modern technology and scientific methods, such as mammography screening and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have paved the way for improved diagnosis of breast cancer even in its early stages. Breast cancer detected in its early stages can be effectively treated and leads to higher chances of survival. Women at greater risk of developing it are advised to go for screenings, but the frequency often depends on the age group they belong in. Likewise, it is highly important to talk with your health care providers for the course of screening plans for you. 

5. Early treatment could save your life

Photo courtesy of Healthline

Do not hesitate to seek treatment! The most common course of treatment for early stages are done through a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy which help increase one’s survival rate over time. 

In cases wherein therapy may not be the best option considering the stage of the disease, a lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery) or mastectomy (breast removal surgery) is done. However, a significant number of women choose to not undergo the latter in fear of being stigmatized by society. 

Indeed, the nature of the treatment has significant impacts on one’s body image, but it is also important to know that losing one’s breasts to cancer does not rid them of their femininity or masculinity.

Cancer is not often brought up because many see it as a death sentence. Although a silver bullet against cancer is yet to be found, research and medical advancements put the odds in our favor. It is possible to live with cancer, but it is more possible to overcome it. Part of that triumph lies within our willingness to educate ourselves and others about it so that we would be able to make the necessary health and lifestyle changes, and grant ourselves a better future. 

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Filipinx in your area: Should ‘Filipinx’ become the new Filipino?

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Fernardine Hernandez/TomasinoWeb

One of the things which utterly makes the Filipino language endearing are words such as siya and ikaw as a manner of referring to a person outside the conversation. Likewise, we refer to the persons in our family as anak, kapatid, kabiyak, and the likes. These words fully realize that the Filipino language is peppered with gender-fluid words — a stark contrast from other languages with distinct genders. 

On this basis came, however, the confusion for using words such as “Filipinx” and “Pinxy”. These terms weigh a lot of meaning and none at all — depending on which lens a person perceives it that we begin to question: where do we draw the line of political correctness?

Understanding the “Filipinx” Movement

In a recent report, the term Filipinx and Pinxy have both been recognized by an English language platform, Dictionary.com, alongside Filipino/a, Pinoy, and Pinay. These terms have been dynamically integrated into the language, mostly by Filipino immigrants and members of the LGBTQIA+ community residing abroad. 

The emergence of the Filipinx term was heavily influenced by the “Latinx” movement. Introduced by progressive Hispanic youths, the term “Latinx” is widely used by media outlets to address the pan-ethnic groups and the spectrum of genders in the Hispanic population. Eventually, the term became acknowledged across the globe; however, it was met with certain clauses, such as the deliberate disregard of Spanish and its gender-specific language. 

This accentuates how people, whether involved in the discourse of “Latinx” or “Filipinx”, are met with the initial reactions of resistance, especially when familiarity is displaced. 

While “Filipinx” and “Pinxy” are names utilized by Filipino immigrants, the online dictionary’s definition of the term scopes all inhabitants of the country, which enrages most citizens in the Philippines. 

Social media discussions regarding the use of the term were echoed with confusion and displeasure as they argue that the “Filipinx” neology, as suggested by Filipino immigrants, seems to further put distance to their axes and the axes of social narratives of Filipinos here in the Philippines. Moreover, many argue that the whole conversation on “Filipinx” is believed to conjure only from the immigrants’ penchant for the glittering culture of the Philippines—an occasional cultural immersion with tangible quirks in form of adobo and Filipino moms—coupled with a distant understanding of the struggles of the people. 

On the other hand, the proponents of “Filipinx” seek to elaborate on the relevance of the term most importantly in a colonial-bred culture. Discussing the topic of Filipinx from the lens of an immigrant, AnneMarie shared in her blog how the Filipinx movement, like Filipino, came from the desire to be seen and not to be caged from oppressive systems hand-picked by Western ideologies.  

“Both the terms Filipino and Filipinx stem from this desire to carve out an identity and from a movement resisting oppressive systems,” the blogger said. 

The Filipinx movement also touches the discourse on gender-inclusivity as it acknowledges and respects the non-binary citizens of the Philippines both here and abroad who, for so long, struggled with identifying themselves from traditional impositions. 

The people who refuse to veer away from “Filipino”, however, were quick to point out that the term is a collective nomenclature for citizens born of Filipino parents, regardless of any distinctive factor such as gender and place of birth, thus a particularly irrelevant discussion. 

The Language of Colonialism

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Gender-neutral terms, nonetheless, do not wholly define the aspects of our language. As our history is interlaced with the colonial narrative, our culture exists as an amalgamated system of beliefs and traditions. Examples are the word “Filipina,” as a determiner of a Filipino woman, and a roster of professions that end in -o and -a, are all indicative of the influence of Spain’s gendered-language in our vernacular. 

Furthermore, the introduction of certain adjectives nitpicked from folklores such as maganda for babae and malakas for lalaki; looped phrases of “Kay babaeng tao” and “Kasi lalaki eh” all hold a subtle nuance of gender-exclusivity. Whether these were inherent or more likely imposed from the systems of patriarchy, there exist varying gender identifiers in our language—-which ultimately breathed life to terms such as Filipinx and Pinxy that challenges to disrupt them. 

The Middle Ground 

In an interview with Prof. Galileo Zafra Ph.D., the former director of Sentro ng Wikang Filipino of the University of the Philippines, he emphasized the emergence of Filipinx in today’s context. 

Ang pangangailangan ng paggamit ng wika o isang aspeto nito ay nakabatay sa kung may nakikitang pangangailangan dito ang lipunan o ang mga espesipikong grupo o sektor ng lipunan,” he said. (The emergence of a lexicon is based on a need from the society or a specific group in the society.)

Filipinx and Pinxy, regardless of its unfamiliarity and their weird roll-of-the-tongue sounds, encompasses the axial culture of the global diaspora spurred from the need to be recognized and seen. While it cannot be completely received, in essence, they are determiners of narratives that are as substantial as our narratives in the Philippines. Their existence does not mean invalidation of our history. These are not an erasure of Rizal’s revolutionary stance of owning the term Filipino from Spanish-bred citizens of the Philippines during the nineteenth-century; rather, these terms are taking space and planting themselves as part of the whole language and cultural dynamic—one which we are continuously writing and rewriting each day as our own, despite the vivid bouts of oppression from post-colonial systems. 

In the grand scheme of things, the core of the discourse is anchored not on the question of what we collectively call and identify ourselves as, but a question of how we craft our identities to become worthy narrators of the country’s story. One must fully understand that the Philippine narrative is composed not only of the plethora of quirks that we take pride in. More importantly, it  is composed of the grapples of each marginalized sector that ultimately tests the lengths we can go to, from the lenses of our privileges, to wrestle the systems that cease our identity.

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Enola Holmes: Effecting Change through Actions and Words

This take on the Sherlock story presented the adventures of Enola in between Fleabag style narration and the British suffragette movement in the 19th century. 

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Screengrab from 'Enola Holmes'

Change does not happen quietly. It is brought upon by the sound of a crowd marching on the streets, through the loudness of people’s unified cause, through a society’s collective action. Change arrives when people’s actions and voices are seen and heard.

The film Enola Holmes showed how one can effect change through its title character. Adapted from Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes Mysteries series, this Harry Bradbeer film features Sherlock Holmes’ (Henry Cavill) younger sister Enola (Millie Bobby Brown). This take on the Sherlock story presented the adventures of Enola in between Fleabag style narration and the British suffragette movement in the 19th century. 

Set in 1884 England, the film centered on Enola’s journey of finding her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), who vanished on her 16th birthday. After leaving home to find her mother, Enola met Viscount Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), a young lord who escaped from his estate. Soon after, Enola became entangled in a conspiracy concerning Tewkesbury, deciding to put her search mission on the backseat as she tried to protect this “lost soul” from his pursuers.

Enola is “unlike most well-bred ladies.” She does not conform to the standards for women in Victorian England society. Her mother taught her many skills from cryptography to martial arts. She scoffed at the idea of marriage as a woman’s life goal. She was also the one doing the saving instead of the man. Her loudness in action, her refusal to fit in society’s mold, and her blatant rejection of the “damsel in distress” trope emphasizes her fight for her independence. 

“[I] was never taught to embroider. I never molded wax roses, hemmed handkerchiefs,  or strung seashells. I was taught how to watch and listen. I was taught to fight. This is what my mother made me for.”

The changing British society was also highlighted, with a focus on British suffragette movement in the middle and  late 19th century. Back then, women were not allowed to vote and were only granted voting rights in 1918 for women over 30 and in 1928 for women over 21. Aside from Enola’s search for her mother, the women’s suffrage movement is one of the driving forces of the movie, with the movement prompting Eudoria to fight for Enola’s future. This heavy focus on women’s rights contextualizes Enola’s character arc as she navigates a society that puts women at a disadvantage. It also highlights the role of being vocal to change an unfair system. Suffragettes protested loudly, from chaining themselves to railings to storming the British Parliament and the Buckingham Palace. This loud protests eventually lead to women gaining the right to vote.

“You haven’t any hope of understanding any of this. You do know that?”

“Educate me as to why.”

“Because you don’t know what it is to be without power.”

The film questions neutrality in a political context, especially the detachment of the privileged to politics. The privileged “don’t know what it is to be without power,” refusing to change a society that suits them well. This is shown when Sherlock is confronted by Edith (Susie Wokoma)  on his notion of politics as “fatally boring.” Edith hit back, saying that he has “no interest in changing a system” that benefits the likes of Sherlock who can vote unlike Edith. It captures the notion that choosing to be detached from politics is a privilege itself.

“You have to make some noise if you want to be heard.”

Change happens when people take up space, when they act together  and start to raise their voices. Like what Enola Holmes said, “the future is up to us.” No one can bring change but us. Passivity only perpetuates uneven playing fields and double standards. Enola’s refusal to conform to harmful standards, as well as her act of “finding lost souls” who cannot fight for their own speaks volumes, is a reminder to be loud and to take up space–to make ourselves be seen and heard. It is a call for change through the loudness of both our  actions and words. After all, change does not arrive in whispers but in screams.

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