Youth Citizenship in Divided Societies

#YouStink: A story of garbage, youth and cruel optimism?

When last July the garbage started piling up in Beirut, one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a passing glitch that would be quickly resolved. A closer look at the background of the matter, however, would reveal that as with the provision of electricity and water, waste collection and processing crystallised many of the issues that mar infrastructure, government and service provision. The first mobilisations in late July barely gathered a few hundred protesters as Beirut’s streets were at their worst. It took over a month for the first large demonstration to be assembled and just one day of violence for the media and members of the public to call the campaigns ineffective, infiltrated, or, something worse, politicised”. Campaign leaders and protesters face a multiplicity of obstacles set by the political leadership and the ambient cynicism of the general public. So it wouldn’t take long for the movement to fragment and for criticism to be waged not at the corruption and political dynasties, but at the protesters.

Beirut Protest YouStink2 

Violence, the Intimacy of Memory, and the Future Perfect

It is a time of too many deaths. Bombings in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris, and Bamako. Drone strikes in Syria, Afghanistan. Closer to my home, the brutal murder of a graduate student by her partner. So much death and violence. It affects all of us, no matter where we live or whatever our ages. The most recent bombing in Beirut, however, made me worry about the young people with whom we are working, many of whom we have grown close to. In this midst of this worry, I checked Facebook: the posts of the (admittedly few) youth with whom I am ‘friends’ and of the organizations with which we work make no mention of the bombings. The posts of the young people are, instead, of an environmental campaign elsewhere, weddings, the enjoyment of life, and the launch of a story map that deals, in part, with memory.

Politics for Fun and Fun

I find it really hard to talk with someone who is wearing a green clown wig and is skipping in circles around me. Yet that is what I found myself trying to do.

It was a warm spring day in Beirut. An activist group had organized a demonstration in an effort to open the Horsh Beirut – a large park – to Lebanese people. A few weeks earlier, the mayor of the municipality apparently had told an audience at the American University, Beirut that the park was closed to Lebanese people because they didn't know how to use the space appropriately, would litter, and might engage in illicit activities. About 100 demonstrators, media people, and observers gathered by the entrance to the park. Activists played music, handed out leaflets to people driving by, danced, and generally tried to draw attention to the event. There was a short skit, in which demonstrators pointed to the absurdity of the park being closed to most Lebanese people, whereas foreigners (such as myself) could enter. The activists were clearly enjoying themselves, and onlookers found the sketch vaguely amusing. The guards blocking the entrance to the park seemed more concerned to position themselves to be included in the video taken by reporters from LBC and other media outlets.

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