Executive Magazine - - Protest Movement -

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



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