Written by Mira Abdel Malak
On the night of October 17, 2019, people went down to the streets in Lebanon. We all had a similar feeling, not sure what it was, but it definitely included anger. Thus started the revolution in Lebanon. People went down the streets full of hope, everyone thought: this is it. It’s happening. At first, it was full of adrenaline, no one knew what was going on but we knew we had to stand our ground. Shortly after the first night, after the violence and tear gas, people noticed what kind of police state we live in and the amount of hate built up over the decades for this government, I realized this was going to take time. Time, energy, and sacrifices.
Once, we were protesting in front of the Sakanet El Helo police station, which was right under a nice lady’s house who looked like she was in her mid 40’s. She let journalists come up to her house and use her balcony to get a better view. She also let me use her bathroom because we had been standing there all day. She even offered me a bite to eat and kept telling me that if I need a place to stay I can come back up. When I thanked her she said: “If we don’t support each other, who will?” It was a small act of kindness but what she said stuck with me. Her words were true, no one will, not the government, not political parties. Us. We support each other. Later that night I found out she opened her house to people who were looking for a place to hide and kicked out every riot police officer who tried to go in after people.
That made me realize how we used the revolutionary uprising to build a small community for ourselves, and here is a small, sentimental glimpse of the Oct17 community.
Our demands were going to take time. So people started organizing. It started organically, strangers getting other strangers food. If we were blocking some road, passers-by would get us food and water to support us and make sure we subsist.
When the protests grew to thousands of people at Martyrs' Square, a couple of sandwiches would no longer do. A free food stand was set-up in the square, and people cooked for everyone. You could have breakfast, dinner, and lunch for free. “Matbakh el Balad,1 The People’s Kitchen, started spontaneously by our friend and fellow member chef Wael Lazkani, who recognized a need to support the protesters during the Oct17 uprising by cooking a warm meal in the parking space facing Al Amine Mosque where many other organizers had set up tents.” Raya Badran, one of the members of Matbakh el Balad stated. “At first, we cooked a big pot of harisseh (a traditional wheat-based dish) and a soup later in the evening but our operation very quickly expanded. We migrated to a larger tent that could encompass the many new volunteers, in-kind donations, and home-cooked meals that other protestors, friends and supporters brought for us to distribute.”2
“The number of meals varied depending on the numbers of protestors in the squares. During the first two months, when very large crowds filled the squares daily, Matbakh El Balad distributed over a thousand meals per day. Our core group includes 15 to 20 members but we also continue to receive invaluable support from a great number of people (both locally and internationally).”
Some went on and created fundraisers to collect money to feed people, and everyone who lived abroad felt included even though they weren’t here. At one point, Sandwich W Noss, a very well known Lebanese street food restaurant made a statement on October 27th saying the following: “From the start of the revolution we chose to remain silent. We worked and tried to support humanitarian efforts without publicizing it out of respect to people. But people need to know what's taking place. Every day, we receive dozens of requests through Zomato and other means for food to be given to the revolutionaries in the streets. We wanted to let you know because this is big. Thanks to all Lebanese expats."
Once people realized there are more needs, clothes donations were organized, then medicine and medical supplies. It all happened after that medicine and medical supplies were needed, it took no time and people organized for that to happen.
Our community consisted of many parts, including kitchens, doctors, medicine, clothing, drinks, and even our own living room on a highway but we won’t talk about that right now.
We had our basic needs, but some days were long, so people started doing football matches in the middle of the road. Feeling like a group yoga session? Those were early in the morning.
People came up with so many ideas to try to have fun in the middle of a revolution.
We also created our own media platforms instead of the ones controlled by politicians and banks. Our voice was out there. Now there's Megaphone,3 an independent online media platform, was initiated by young journalists, activists, and designers to produce in-depth analyses and fact-check local news using innovative formats, in an attempt to promote critical thinking, transparency, and accountability. But also Akhbar El Seha,4 an alternative media page that started during the 2015 demonstrations and picked up again during the October 17 revolution, to cover the current protests and sit-ins in various parts of Lebanon.
Daleel Thawra5 was a platform to know what events were happening and where.
Thawra Map6 was telling us where politicians are having their lunch to go and kick them out, we were making them hate us even more, and we loved it.
“The idea first came to mind in December when people were protesting under the house of a controversial figure, and a prominent person in the revolution posted a story on Instagram, asking people to meet the group there. We were sure that many people wanted to join, and it was practically impossible for them to send the location to each person asking individually. on January 7th, an ex-minister and current MP was doing a televised interview from their house, and we received over Whatsapp their house location to go and protest there. We asked ourselves, how many people can we reach? How many would show up? ThawraMap was created the next morning.” A member of ThawraMap stated.7 “What started as an actual map grew into different areas of focus. We believe it became the centralized account where people sent us locations of politicians in public spaces involving leisure, and we post it for Lebanese citizens and others to go and ask them questions, which is their right, considering that we are mostly unable to reach them which can be explained figuratively in one picture: the parliament, which is the voice of the people, is barricaded from all sides and people are unable to access the area, or to be heard. Overall, Thawramap does not organize ground movements but helps different persons/groups coordinate, through this platform, Thawramap is owned by 4M+ Lebanese in Lebanon, 10M+ abroad, and anyone who wants to contribute to the October 17 revolution. We focus on an Instagram account, and when we need information, we ask for it on the stories and people respond.” Thawramap claimed that its pages are owned by the people, since they are the ones always the info, and they do polls every time they want do something new, to see what everyone thinks.
Otherwise, on the streets, If you were going from any area to a place where there is a protest, and the taxi driver is pro-revolution, you're likely to get a free ride.
Finally, there were the lawyers who helped us in every case, the committee is a meeting of a group of lawyers, jurists, and human rights volunteers to protect demonstrators in coordination with the Legal Agenda Association. The group's work began during the mobilization crisis started in the year 2015 as a reaction to the suppressing of demonstrations by the political authority and worked to defend demonstrators before the military court and the criminal judiciary. At the start of the Octo17 revolution, the group spontaneously resumed its work as a result of the excessive use of force by the military and security forces and the arrest of more than 130 demonstrators in the first two days of demonstrations that affected all regions of Lebanon. Many employers threatened the protesters involved in civil disobedience by suspending or deducting from wages. The voices of demonstrators and demands for legal support in all its forms and specializations were raised, which led the committee to work in an attempt to respond to their demands. The committee is not affiliated with a specific campaign or group but rather is independent and provides legal support to all demonstrators and sit-ins who do not have a lawyer without any discrimination.8
There was always a way to feel included, even those unable to leave their houses felt part of the community by knocking on pots and pans every night at 8. the streets are not the only place to revolt, houses are a legitimate place to protest as well. From throwing rice at protesters passing by under their houses, to chanting on with the people, but also giving shelter and letting people use your bathroom.
We had our discussion sessions, where people let go of some stress, talked politics, economics, and tried to think of alternatives.
People combined their skills and worked, looked for alternatives which is very important because we’ve spent our whole life talking about alternative economy, education, jobs, coops, healthcare, etc. for years before October. But I remember at some point feeling frustrated because theorizing about alternatives makes no sense unless we start organizing for them to happen for the time being, because we are in crisis mode, and we need every solution we can think of.
But we also had our differences. Those who wanted peaceful protests and those who wanted to radicalize the means of protesting: do we block that road or that one or none, let this car pass or not, are the army men and riot police our brothers or are they the right hand of the government?! Eat shit, throw rocks! No, don't be cool, what about fireworks? Yeah sure, Kess mesh msabe?
Even with all our differences, on the worst night with all the beatings and tear gas, we stick together, who has onions? Vinegar? Pepsi? You see someone you don’t know passed out? You carry them, you see someone getting beaten by the riot police? You jump right in to try to stop them. Also, thank you to the friends who sat for hours in their cars In case we need backup or something happened to us and are always on standby.
From the hospital visits to the “let’s all just cry because we don’t know what's going on.”
There are a lot of things that we went through and are still going through, together very small things that we forget about, and we forget that that's what makes us a community. A lot of people might have lost hope, or have grown tired and drained, but that's more than okay, because we need to understand that this is huge labor on each and every single person, labor that we didn’t ask for, and it will always seem absurd that we are really still fighting for our basic rights? Its exhausting, frustrating and we have so much anger we still didn’t let out, because every single day the government continues to proves that they don’t care about us. But we care, we care for every single person - women, migrant worker, refugee, LGBT+ person - who lived under this abusive system, but it's also okay to admit that we haven’t done enough to support them, or even asked them enough for what they need without assuming we know better. It's a constant fight, a long one without a doubt, a lot of factors and anger to deal with, ups and downs everyday, and that's just the beginning.
2 Interview conducted in May, 2020.
6 You can follow ThawraMap here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Not-a-Business/Thawra-Map-thawramap-103578377997113.
7 Interview conducted in May, 2020.