2011: Year of the Protester

Since this is the last post of 2011, I`d like to take few minutes to say goodbye to an year that has been truly amazing (sometimes in a scary way, too).

Most of the things I thought would be very unlike actually happened in 2011, the good and the bad things. When I first got an sms by a Tunisian friend last 14 January 2011 I could not believe what I saw on the mobile screen: we, the Tunisian people, are going to celebrate tonight for the dictator is gone.

credit: Time.com

I screamed and cried when I saw my computer screen streaming pure live joy from Tahrir square in Egypt, on February 11th cause another dictator was gone.

I walked the streets of my dear Damascus last February, curious to see what would happen in the Syrian days of rage and saw nothing. Yet, only few days later, and few meters away from my house, I saw a spontaneous explosion of anger, a protest for dignity called by real streets and not by Facebook. Then, again, as unexpected as that one, another unexpected thing happened, again near my house, again in Old Damascus. It was the 15th of March, and people said Syrian revolution was beginning.

I dont believe in slogans and in Internet calls for revolutions, but what I saw was the street revolting, real people being hurt, not avatars.

Since then, Syria has never been the same. People are still fighting for their freedom and dignity, in many ways, the most unexpected, the most creative, the bravest.

illustration by Khalid Albaih licensed under Creative Commons

illustration by Khalid Albaih licensed under Creative Commons

And then Libyans won their fight against Gheddafi and started to rebuild their country. The brave people of Yemen have been hitting the streets since January and are still there. A tough crackdown on Bahrain and the silence of international community have not stopped the people from asking their rights to freedom and equality. Women have been driving change in Saudi Arabia, and Kuwaitis have occupied their Parliament to demand reforms and an end to corruption.

And then Jordan, Morocco, Algeria. And Palestine, of course, always in our hearts.

The most amazing thing is that Europe for the first time took the energy out of the Arabs and shouted. Spain has been leading with the indignados. In my home country the situation is different, and I wish I could tell you we the people ousted Berlusconi -and not the international finance-. But we occupied public spaces and gave them back to the citizens. And we still have our jewel up working, Teatro Valle Occupato in Rome, where a new form of collaborative art and culture has born, and more to come.

There is something I will always remember of this almost gone 2011. When I was in DC, a month ago, at the #occupyDC camp, a blond haired guy told me, proud of himself: “I do not fear teargas: I am Egyptian”. So I answered in Arabic and I was surprised to hear that he didnt speak any. Then I discovered he was not even of Arab origin. He was just pretending to be an Egyptian, this guy, a W.a.s.p. American!

This solidarity, this empathy, this brotherhood I saw throughout the world, from the Arab Springs to the #occupy movement to the indignados, is the hope I want to take with me in 2012, despite all the bad things still happening and yet to happen.

 Kull 3amm w entu be kheir.


illustration by Khalid Albaih licensed under Creative Commons

Waiting for the #15oct in Rome…

Today was a very (in)tense day in Rome. I first left my place to go to Teatro Valle Occupato, a wonderful ancient theater in Rome which has been occupied by actors, intellectuals, creative crews for more than 4 months now.

Since last June, each single day has been filled up by artistic performances, theater plays, video screenings, political debates, all public and all for free. It is a wonderful experience of civic participation in the actual making of culture, which has registered an incredible amount of consensus among citizens. Valle Occupato not only hosts performances but also daily training seminars for free. They are all the result of volunteer work done by professionals and amateurs working in media, culture, creativity.

Today I was hosting a workshop on social media and the use of web 2.0 tools to produce original content, spread information, participate directly in political life.

Not only there was a great audience attending the workshop, but at the same time I had a great example to test instant live tools. #OccupiamoBankItalia is the #OccupyWallStreet kind of protest that has just spread into Italy, particularly in Rome. Activists have taken the control of the very central location of Palazzo delle Esposizioni staircase, in the hearth of Rome, and very close to the Central Bank and to many Ministries.

They have spent the night there yesterday, creating an “indignados” style  of camp, and they are ready to do the same tonight and tomorrow, in preparation of the #15oct protests that have been planned all across Europe for next saturday.

We tried to move our social media training there, at the very hearth of the protests, but many people preferred to stay inside the theater, in order to test the tools and learn how to use them (some of them even find Twitter difficult and too complicate to use). But once the course was over, I went at Palazzo delle Esposizioni and found a very lively situation, a public assembly made by citizens discussing the over-control of banks and global finance over people`s life and the effects of global crisis on basic human and workers` rights.

our course on social media

the dragon of global finance

the dragon of global finance tries to leave Palazzo delle Esposizioni…

When the assembly was over, people suggested to create a march headed by the “dragon of global finance”. The idea was to have people walking on the sidewalks and never on the actual streets, in order not to prevent the normal flow of traffic to happen. The activists would have had just to march on the sidewalks, following the “dragon”, distributing posters and talking to the random people they would have jumped into about the reason of the protest.

So, a very “civilized” way to protest and manifest dissent. But, of course, even in an alleged “democratic” country like Italy, doing such a thing in the very center of the city becomes problematic. The dragon has tried many times to walk on Via Nazionale sidewalks, on every single side surrounding Palazzo delle Esposizioni, but the response of police has been a clear “no”.

People have been trying and trying, always in a pacific way, to walk and go up and down in Via Nazionale but the response of the police till now has been a “no”.

A concert and many other activities are planned for tonight to happen in front of Palazzo delle Esposizioni and activitsts have started to camp there, determined to stay overnight. Police will stay too, and we`ll see what happens.

In any case, this is the first time since many years ago that we have been witnessing such a global connected protest to happen in Italy (maybe since the horrible crackdown of Genova 2001) and this is only the beginning. More planned for #15oct. Stay tuned.