• From Sectarianism to Unity: On LA’s Solidarity Protests for Lebanon

    On Sunday, October 27th, over 2,800 Lebanese people came together in front of the LA Lebanese Consulate. Their goal was to stand in solidarity with their counterparts’ anti-Sectarian revolt in Lebanon. This protest, dubbed We The People: Lebanese Diaspora Civil Protest by Chapman University Law student Silvana Wissam Kordab, was preceded by another, smaller one on October 20th — with at least 400 people in attendance — also organized by Kordab. “I was just thinking if we got 50 people, I would be happy. But we got at least four or five hundred! And then at the next one, a week later, we got 2800, maybe 3000 people,” she reflected.

    On October 17th in Lebanon, thousands across the country erupted into protests, chanting “thawra! thawra! thawra!” (Arabic “ ثورة ” translates to “revolution”) in revulsion at the government’s proposed $0.20/day tax on WiFi calling — through apps such as Facebook or Whatsapp — as well as a proposal to raise the VAT (value-added tax) to 15% by 2022. These proposals were made in an effort to resolve the country’s mounting economic crisis: with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 152%, Lebanon is the third most indebted country in the world.

    However, these proposed taxes are not the only cause for a revolt. This economic crisis is rooted in corruption resulting from the Sectarian structure of the government. Protesters have also demanded that their basic human rights — such as 24-hour electricity, healthcare, better public education, infrastructure repairs and maintenance, and much more — be met. In addition, they have called for the country’s Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Maronite Christian President Michel Aoun to step down. This would make way for technocrats to take their place and propose reforms for constructing a non-Sectarian government that also upholds accountability for corruption. Prime Minister Hariri took heed of this demand and resigned on Tuesday, October 29th, stating that he has “reached a dead end,” and, “to all my political peers, our responsibility today is how to protect Lebanon and to uplift the economy.”

    Kordab believes this is a win for the movement: “…he did this and he listened to the people… I’m not saying he didn’t do anything wrong. He definitely did. But for all I’m concerned with, he did his part.” But this thawra is not over yet. Protesters in Lebanon and its global diaspora have continued protesting, developing the chant “kellon ya3ne kellon!” ( “ كلن يعني كلن ” translates to “all means all”), demanding that the rest of the country’s leaders resign.

    In accordance with those in Lebanon, Lebanese immigrants and Lebanese-Americans alike are joining forces in the US, not only to push for these changes and to stand in solidarity, but to also experience their newfound unity. At the We The People protest, Kordab said that “this is the first time in history where Lebanese people, from every sect and every political background, actually came together.” With over 2800 Lebanese people waving flags and singing along to Lebanese classics while people form circles to perform the dabke — a native Levantine folk dance — in unison, these protests have made way for the Lebanese populous, both in and out of the country, to form a unified community.

    The protest lasted from noon until 7 p.m., with DJ performances and speeches scheduled throughout. A few days after the event, Kordab voiced her pride in these protests remaining peaceful: “we did not even have one single problem with anyone. In other states and other countries, there were problems with other parties. But we made sure not to politicize it. Everybody is welcome as long as you come with your Lebanese flags.” After this, she continued to explain her goal with organizing these protests in solidarity with Lebanon, noting the money her team raised by selling T-shirts and that they are filming a video documenting the event for others to see around the world. This is about “Resistance,” she explained, “[We want to tell them,] Keep going. We see you. We’re here. Whatever you need. Just keep going.”

    Kordab and her team’s goal with these two protests was to remind those in Lebanon that they are globally supported. But, she believes that protests are not enough. She noted how attendance at protests outside of Lebanon is declining and, although it’s “understandable” because “when we’re here [in the US], when we’re not working, when we’re not going to school, nobody’s going to take care of us and pay our bills.” Kordab and her team are working to solve this problem in multiple ways “so that we can help them stay on the streets over there.”

    First, they are in the process of forming an NGO (non-governmental organization) called Next Lebanon Organization (NEXT LEB). In preparation for the imminent elections in Lebanon, NEXT LEB will also be a PAC (Political Action Committee), allowing them to fundraise and donate funds to campaigns. Kordab describes the org as “an independent nonsectarian PAC established to empower Lebanese residents and emigrants as an involved and informed constituency. Our aim is to have a stronger voice in the political process and make our views heard.”

    Second, they organized a “Potluck Picnic” on Sunday, November 24th in celebration of Lebanon’s Independence Day (November 22nd). A few weeks before the festival, Kordab told me, “We’re going to have a huge event. It’s not going to be mainly a protest. It’s going to be an event where we’re going to fundraise. We’re going to get sponsorship. We’re even going to do some stuff for the kids and families. We want to make it so that everybody can be there and they could actually stay there from noon to six.”

    The protests in Lebanon have not stopped, and the global support will not either. In New York City, Lebanese people have joined together every weekend since October 17th to protest in front of the United Nations. Lebanese fashion designer Milad Khoreibani even made a 50-yard-long Lebanese flag for attendees to carry together as they march. People in France, Denmark, the UK, Spain, and so many other countries are standing with those in Lebanon. This thawra has already produced global support and radical unity in a country that has been plagued by religious divides for decades. “This is our time to raise awareness and show the people back home that we’re still here,” says Kordab.