Protesting: Inherently Problematic

Looking at the photos from the YouStink anti-government protests, I can’t help but be reminded of the current ongoing protests in the US and the hordes of commentators that stress that protestors should get a job and behave like adults. The situation is a little different, as the current US protests have not escalated to this degree, but nevertheless, the comparison helps me look at the problem with more perspective. Personally, when I study past events such as the YouStink protests, it becomes very easy to judge things from a “hind sight” point of view. The images of accumulated trash serve as a visual representation of the ineffectual government, and the images of the protests showed the violent escalation of the clash between the people and the government. I used to look at events like this and think that the protesters were clearly right in what they were doing, that they had a duty to protest a government that wasn’t working for them. But amidst the current protests in the US, I’m aware that many look at these actions as shameful and indulgent. It makes me wonder who, at the time, thought that these protests were unnecessary. Furthermore, as Amar notes, many were concerned that the individuals and groups that “came together during these uprisings shared little beyond their slogans” (267). This seems to relate to our discussion of how social media activism boils down to specific phrases, slogans, hashtags, or visceral videos or images. At the time, I questioned the effectiveness of activism based on a simple shared notion. But I think that activism has always kind of been based on some sort of rallying cry and core idea, while the solution and planning of the actual activism takes a back seat. This may be problematic, but I’m starting to consider it as more of a necessary evil. Looking at the photos of the protests, the streets are swarmed with angry people dissatisfied with an ineffectual government. They didn’t all strategize how to fix all the problems, but they all cared enough to show up based on a shared value. And collectively, they produced a movement of resistance.

You Stink’s loss of momentum

The unique thing that separates the #YouStink movement from previous political movements in Lebanon is that it transcends all denominations, gathering young people from all backgrounds to fight the spread of both literal and figurative garbage. Before, any popular mobilization was subject to sectarian concerns – past demonstrations held by the March 14 political camp, for instance, often had a Sunni tint, whereas those organized by the opposing March 8 camp were mostly dominated by Shiites.None of this is surprising, as the Lebanese political system is based on sectarian quotas in the state institutions and on the distribution of powers among the different denominations. The strength of the #YouStink movement is that it is actually fighting the rampant sectarianism that has been responsible for the dysfunction of the Lebanese government, which has become exacerbated due the current wars raging in the Arab regions.

However, despite the many achievements of the movement, the weekly calls for protests are no longer mobilizing thousands. People first sympathized with the movement’s aim to remove garbage from the streets, but the acts of violence and vandalism some of the protesters have engaged in have served to discredit the movement. The movement also failed to celebrate when the government gave in to some of the their demands. Instead of showing that the protests were fruitful, organizers simply raised their demands, giving the impression that the protests have become futile. However, despite these shortcomings, Lebanon is in dire need of a civil movement. While #YouStink definitely has an element of anarchy, the overall message is one of progress and action.


Who Stinks?

Out of all the defunct governments in the MENA region, Lebanon’s is definitely not the worst, but it’s particular problems are unique within the world, and that uniqueness makes them much more difficult to solve. Trash isn’t a problem only in Lebanon, but the extent of the trash buildup in the streets there has possible never been encountered before in our history. This has, predictably, caused a major health crisis and lead to much public protest, usually in the form of non-violent or violent demonstrations, which are called riots regardless.

The primary organizers of these demonstrations don’t intend for them to be violent, but “infiltrators” who may or may not be part of the core group, but go act against the core ideal, cause violence in the mass body of protesters in the streets, usually towards the police or civilians and not the protestors themselves. These “infiltrators” are the second of Lebanon’s problems, because it effectively bars the populace from effective protests. Protests, of course can not be effective if the protestors don’t practice what they preach. The general populace won’t take them seriously because they believe the protestors are anarchists who incite violence, and the oppressive government and media will do their best to paint the peaceful protestors as violent riot-inducing maniacs. All this happens because of these infiltrators, who metaphorically become the bad apples who spoil the whole bunch.

This is exactly what has happened with the #YouStink movement, and I’m not sure it’s fair to pin it on the movement organizers to keep their thralls in line. That seems to be ignoring the larger problem. Infiltrators in peaceful protests could capriciously take to the streets to loot during the protest, they need not even be a part of the regulated movement to begin with. Is it the protest organizer’s job then, to prepare or quickly formulate counters against these enemies whose quantity and identities are unknown?  The protestors have come to demonstrate nonviolently. They mean to create an uproar – that’s the point of the protest – but not one that causes damages or violence. If we are to hold them responsible for those that loot and pillage, whether they’re involved or not, then what alternative do we offer the protestors? Keep quiet and submit to the oppressive government’s regime? It should be clear that isn’t an adequate alternative.

Public Space and Waste

The discussion from the text explores the problems with cultural diversity when oppositional  forces divide public space . The question as to peaceful protest and whether or not the right to public space is infringed upon by one group or  sector of the greater society sparks an interesting debate. Rights to public space appear to become blurred when the space becomes occupied by one particular group. The homeless park at Berkeley was identified in the article. If you make the public space your home do you have more rights to be there than others.

Public space is where we must protest and if pushed even private spaces. For example, the private businesses that adhered to Jim Crow laws required public protest for the battle ground was on their properties…water fountains, restrooms and lunch counters for example. Parks, for example, with the #youstink protests are more common venues for large public protests. Globally the larger areas of public space are most frequently the canvas for launching protest…China’s Tienimum Square, Capital Hill Mall and large open spaces in every large city. The success of the protest requires that the venue be central to those who are seeking followers for a movement. As far as the horrific violent images fro Beirut during the protest , one must assume by the violent outbreak that passions were running very high on all sides of the protest. Police intervention when heavy handed always turns to violence and public harm.. history substantiates this premise as true.

Trash Government

Originally aiming for peaceful demonstrations, the #YouStink protests turned into violent ones, resulting in riot police responding with water cannons and tear gas. The photos from the protest are hard to look at, making it hard to believe this issue would start riots – unless it is from years of anger built up against the government. Which is what happened in Lebanon: the people were not happy about the corruption in their government and how little they care about public accountability. This is reflected by them not collecting trash for  a month because they never came up with a long-term plan for after the temporary landfill has filled up.

The Lebanese government needed the pressure from its people to start making change. At the time of the movement, Lebanon had been without a president for a year. Like what Paul Amar discussed about uprisings in the Arab world, its a battle between different kinds of sovereignty, and the people usually want democracy – we saw this in the movements in Egypt, even though they did not succeed. Lebanon on the other hand, has a parliamentary government system that is divided amongst religious groups and they have an electoral system. However, in the comments of Alan Taylor’s article, the common question is “wow, Lebanon has a government?” Some people are just ignorant when they ask that, but seeing #YouStink does make you question what can the people do for the government to reform and turn into a better one.

Protests or Riots?

The word  “opportunist” should be thrown around more during times of protests. I think it is impossible to have a completely peaceful demonstration without a small group of people using whatever issue is being aired out in the streets as an opportunity to just wreak havoc, cause damage, and or steal and loot. It happens all the time. The Youstink movement warned that infiltrators would try and use this as an opportunity to not only break the law but discredit the movement. That is what has just recently happened at UC Berkeley. It happens whenever there is a protest and it seems to always turn the hate onto the protestors as if they are responsible for inciting it. Nonviolence just does not sell. You can bet news networks are praying for riots and looting because people want to see it and people want to talk about it. This way, they can avoid talking about the actual issues and use this until another “riot” to talk about like it’s some TV show. I don’t think we’ll ever see another big/important riot without some bad apples breaking off looking for an excuse to loot. How can the group organizers stop this before? They can’t and should not have to. Perhaps alert the majority of the peaceful protestors to move away from wherever these issues come up. Just distance themselves so that the looters can be isolated a bit. People just have it in their minds that all protests turn into LA Riot sort of situations when in fact its the opposite.

I don’t want to sound inflammatory myself but I would not be surprised if some of the tactics I’ve seen in the article like water cannons, tear gas, etc might be more prevalent as Trump is in office. The 13th film had a part where he talks about the “good ole’ days” where things like that were more common. And I bet he wishes he could immediately take it there.


The Lebanon’s #YouStink Anti-Government Protest got way out of hand, and the pictures are very disturbing. From a devil’s advocate point of view, I believe that the organization was not structured well and the group members were unaware that such intense protesting would cause so much violence. It is the organization’s job to promote peaceful protesting. “Organizers of the #YouStink campaign expressed frustration with the violent protesters, blaming “infiltrators” for the escalation of a peaceful demonstration” (Taylor 2015). Infiltrators could have escalated the protests, but it the organizations responsibility to take the blame for the uproar. Through social media organizations can express the importance of peaceful protesting. Many of us our angry with our government but there are boundaries that we all must be aware of. Due to the lack of communication and the disorganization of #YouStink “dozens of police and citizens were hurt in the clashes, and #YouStink organizers have now postponed further demonstrations planned for Monday” (Taylor 2015). I believe that the protestors are fighting for a good cause, the amount of trash and corruption in the country is unheard of but there are better ways of expressing anger. In some of the photos it does look like the government is unrightfully attacking the citizens of Lebanon by spraying water, using water cannons and beating civilians… this is a part of the corruption and why #YouStink continues to fight and protest. We are lucky to live in a country, that although is not perfect, is less corrupt and clean because of our government. Above I state that the organization might have no been structured well enough and that is why riots broke out, but I believe (not being devil’s advocate) people are rightfully angry and I am disgusted by Lebanon’s government, human should be living in such disgusting circumstances. I wonder if this anti-trash violence will spark change? I also wonder if the violence will continue until there is chance? Hopefully people come up with alternative ways of expressing anger.

cri de cœur

The academic article written by Paul Amar (coincidentally a professor of Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara) on the socio-political context behind the YouStink movement and other Arab world uprisings, provides interesting context in regards to the different approaches of contestation for sovereignty during the movements within the Arab world. Paul Amar describes these as “battles between models of of sovereignty: absolutism and oligarchy on the other hand, and popular or participatory paradigms of rule on the other” (267). This gives and interesting insight into exactly what the uprisings in the Arab world during 2010 to 2013 were concerned with and protesting for, whether for better trash removal services or more fair systems of government. What is further discussed is interesting to me because the article discusses different models of comparison to try to better understand the premise and feelings evoked during the movement. Though, none of these comparisons can be guaranteed as relevant since they are not parallel to Arab world movements that occurred within 2010-13. That is why I am glad that the “New Paradigms Factory,” which aimed to aid research for junior Arab scholars to produce case studies to “capture spaces of contention.” I think this will help others understand the event of 2010-13 with more clarity since the studies will be produced and published within the precinct of the events. Further on within the journal the articles really give clarity into the Arab struggle for sovereignty. I think its important to continue to publish studies that give better context to the uprisings that occurred within the Arab world because it can give better insight and clearer parallels to other movements that have or will occur. Overall the publication was a little confusing at first, but an interesting read.