Friday, December 15, 2006

I concur!!! where do I sign?

Protesters make novel pick from array of party options: none of the above. 'I'm somebody with nobody' campaign grew out of wartime humanitarian movement
By Iman Azzi, Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: As anti-government protesters concluded their second week of camping out in the city center on Thursday, another - albeit smaller and shorter - protest arrived in Beirut. Not only was it a demonstration against the demonstration, but it was also a demonstration against the government, and the 20 people who participated took their anti-status quo sentiment to the streets - or one street. The "I'm somebody with nobody" campaign kicked off Thursday evening on Hamra Street with hopes of uniting Lebanese citizens who feel isolated by the polarized politics plaguing the country.

"We came out to say that we're not supporting any side. Since silence is often related to cowardice we came forward to say that some people are taking a third opinion," said Arwa Saleh, 24, one of 20 students and young professionals to take part in the third-party initiative. "No party in Lebanon expresses my thoughts," said Saleh. "I'm somebody with nobody" was conceived after the start of the anti-government protests on December 1. Most of the participants were former volunteers with the humanitarian aid organization Samidoun, which formed during the July-August war with Israel. After many discussions, these like-minded individuals decided it was necessary to share their opinions with the city. "I'm not with the left, I'm not with the resistance, I'm not with the authority but I am with freedom," one poster read.
The group of 20 tried to expand their base and spread their message by distributing flyers at the intersection of Hamra Street where Wimpy's restaurant is located. "I'm somebody with nobody. I'm with civil rights. Social justice, canceling privatization, secularism = equality," the flyer read. Some gathered on the sidewalk, holding signs to assume the role of human advertisements for their message. Others darted between cars and pedestrians, handing out flyers or coaxing others to sign a poster in support for the campaign. "The idea touched me and I thought 'me too' - I'm just Lebanese and I'm not attached to any party," said Haitam Alwan, 23, a student at Lebanese University. "I'm with negotiations and expressing ideas." Alwan, who lives near the downtown area and had some difficulty reaching his house during the initial days of the opposition protests, insisted that the country needed "new politicians, especially from the younger generations" to move Lebanon away from the current stalemate. "Today, this is an expression from people who want to say they stand against both sides," he said. "I joined because it's important to think on your own and stand for your interests, not the parties."

The "somebodies" were greeted with mixed reactions from passersby. Those stuck in traffic reached out of cars for flyers, more out of curiosity than support. One woman after the reading the flyer exclaimed "impossible" and walked away. The face of another middle-aged woman lit up, however, when she saw the group. "Bravo, bravo! Thank you," she said, adding that her entire life she had refused to join any Lebanese party. Roula Masri agreed. "I can't see myself under the umbrella of any current party," said Masri, an employee of a civil rights organization. "We're trying to think of alternatives. I think we need new elections, a new government, and change. We need a government willing to tackle social issues. These politicians are not with the people but with themselves." "You can never predict the future of politics," Saleh said. "But I don't think a unity government will happen. These two sides will never agree. That's why I'm here, the country needs to take a third path."
After an hour, the "some-bodies" packed up their flyers and returned to their lives as individuals. Nothing had changed - the traffic continued to be a jam, the opposition remained camped out downtown and the government stayed locked in the Serail - but they had succeeded in reminding some Lebanese that there are more than two sides to every story - even political ones.

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