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.
I would like to make two points in this blog post. The first focuses on the difference between a movement and organization, and how branding Black Lives Matter as a ‘movement’ inevitably leads to its crude reappropriation for a variety of unrelated causes. The ‘founders’ of the Black Lives Matter movement have made attempts to claim the BLM movement in a place, community, and lived experience, but to my knowledge have failed to draft up a constitution or mission statement that would elucidate these claims in a cohesive manner. They are averse to leadership and organization, but at the same time do not condone the acts of these spin-off groups. How do they expect to have a united movement without leadership or a written document binding them together? I totally understand BLM’s aversion to having a top-down structure with a powerful leader: history has shown us time and time again the pitfalls of this approach. However, even with a leader, I believe a unifying document is key so that the leader nor his people do not stray from the original goals of the movement. Until BLM has a unifying document and manages to implement it in a far-reaching and easily accessible way, the movement will not reach its full effectiveness.
The second point has to do with BLM and its somewhat misguided rhetoric. To my knowledge the movement centers around white police killing innocent black people out of purely racist motive. Even if only some of the killings stemmed from a cop’s racial bias, these killings are undeniably tragic and unjust. Racism is real, and unfortunately is reflected in the actions of some of our police force. However, data shows that 93 percent of black homicide victims are killed by other blacks. The left’s rebuttal is that that 84 percent of white homicide victims are killed by other whites, but The Wall Street Journal‘s Jason Riley points out that the white crime rate is “much lower than the black rate.” This data shows that white police killings, despite being racially motivated more than anyone would like to admit, account for a very small fraction of black homicides. Therefore, it seems strange that so much national attention is focused on these police killings, when other problems such as income inequality and redlining – problems that disproportionately affect black people and other minorities – are not being addressed. By framing this issue as racist battle between white police and black civilians, we miss the underlying socioeconomic and institutional dysfunctions that contribute so much more to black deaths than police shootings.
After waxing poetic on all the virtuous characteristics of our wired generation – our tendencies for openness, collaboration, horizontal power structures, interactiveness, and collectivism – the Herrera article briefly mentions a parallel body of work, which points to some of the downsides of having access to the Internet 24/7. Members of our generation tend to exhibit a short attention span, a unwillingness to read or think deeply, and a preference for instant gratification. Of course, these developments are only natural: with more and more entertainment and information options competing for our eyeballs, it would make sense that our attention would flit between these channels quickly, in an attempt to absorb as much as possible.
However, the dangerous side of our new inattentiveness seems to rear its ugly head in the aftermath of Mubarak’s dethronement. While social media was no doubt instrumental in the toppling of his thirty-year regime, the limitations of the medium became abundantly clear when the time for long-term strategizing came around. Social-media based activism lends itself to short-term single-issue campaigns, but seems to flounder when the time comes for sustained deliberation, organization, and leadership. As a result, Egypt’s wired generation have yet to develop a long-term plan for saving their country from economic and social instability. As of now, Egypt is in its worst economic crisis in history. In just the last month, the value of the Egyptian pound has plummeted to record lows. While it is not clear who or what is to blame for this, the need for an educational system that can teach Egypt’s youth how power and counterpower operate is critical to the success of the country: the Internet itself has failed in this educational capacity. In the absence of this endeavor, the future of the country will remain extremely uncertain. Has social media rewired our brains so much that we are incapable of this long term planning? Or has it simply uncovered a deficiency that was always there, only to be remedied by proper education?