SHABAB 22 AB (AUGUST 22 YOUTH)
Stirred by the growing popular movement against this summer’s garbage crisis, a group of young people from Beirut decided to come together to support the larger groups such as You Stink by doing something a little different. After days of informal meetings to bounce ideas back and forth, and following the unprecedented police crackdown on August 22 and 23 on mostly peaceful protesters, the August 22 Youth group was officially formed, Facebook page and all.
Mahmoud Abouzeid, a communication studies graduate and core member of the group, says the catalyst for the official formation of the group was the media’s reaction to a group of youth protesters on August 23 who were labelled as mondaseen, ‘infiltrators’, a derogatory term used to categorize youth from poor, marginalized areas. “Those people are the essence of the protests, they are willing to give everything...they have nothing,” says Abouzeid. And so the group was formed with the aim of offering a different perspective than that put forward by much of the mainstream media.
The group is formed of a dozen or so core members who attend regular meetings, usually three to four times a week, and coordinate with the other groups to plan protests and direct actions. Beyond these core members, new faces come and go, volunteering their time if and when they can. Within the core group, there is no hierarchy or leadership, but each person is assigned a specific role – such as media coordination – to make the group’s work more efficient and organized. Coordination meetings with the other groups happen on a daily basis, though the August 22 Youth group does not always have someone present there, preferring to spend its time on the streets. Financially, Abouzeid says the group is not collecting external donations because it so far has no need for them. Rather, group members donate from their own pockets to pay for things such as printing and posters.
While the group agrees with the demands put forward by other groups, it has chosen also to deal with a slightly different set of priorities. One main focus point is to work closely with Beirut’s most marginalized youth to ensure their voices are heard in this growing movement. They contacted youth from Beirut’s poorer communities following the violent August 23 protest to hear their take on the situation, and created a joint Whatsapp group to keep them involved in their activities. When several youths were arrested following another protest, the August 22 Youth group went down to the police stations where they were being detained to put pressure for their release. Many of these youths don’t know what their rights are before the law, such as the right to a lawyer when detained. The group’s aim, therefore, is to make sure these individuals are informed of their rights as citizens and are made to feel like an active part of society. The group also offered support to the dozen or so who embarked on a two-week hunger strike (eventually called off on September 17), joining them in solidarity for 24 hours and organising a day of music and unity outside the Ministry of Environment where the hunger strikers were camped out.
The August 22 Youth group has in parallel embarked on a full-swing social media awareness-raising campaign. Using their own expertise and equipment, the group has been shooting interviews with youths from various social and religious backgrounds to discover their personal opinions on the movement. The videos are routinely posted online and shared widely around social media to provide an alternative to the mainstream media which Abouzeid says “just picks what it wants to show.” Moreover, it is important that the voices of these youths be acknowledged by the public as being as intrinsic to the movement as those of the well-known leaders from the larger groups. The group would eventually like to turn these interviews into a short documentary about the growing social movement.
When it comes to coordinating with the other groups, Abouzeid maintains that the August 22 Youth group tries as much as possible to steer the conversation towards action on the ground. Rather than “wasting time by spending seven hours of a meeting arguing over details,” they could be walking the streets and interacting with people instead. This is where cracks in the movement start to show; when egos take over from real community organizing, says Abouzied, the movement will falter.
A more specific aspect of community-organizing the group is involved in concerns the current environmental crisis. The group understands that in many ways the state has especially failed the country’s poorer citizens, and if the garbage crisis is to be solved in these marginalized communities, it is going to have to come from the residents themselves. “We started an awareness campaign with advice from
THE AUGUST 22 YOUTH GROUP TRIES AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE TO STEER THE CONVERSATION TOWARDS ACTION ON