Debate: What have we got to lose?
In the past week, I had at least 3 discussions with different people who believe we have too much to lose if we run new candidates in this elections (5 months from now) when we’re not yet ready.
According to my debaters, the secularist / social justice movement will not be able to achieve any good results in the elections because the opponent (all the other parties) is too strong and will crush us. “A few hundred votes in all of Lebanon” is the loss (and jorsa) that they predict for any new, independent lists. This, they believe will lead to:
- A blow to the morale of anyone dreaming of challenging the system
- A validation of the current system (it will show just how powerful they are)
- Discouragement of any future attempts
- Mockery / roasting of reputations of everyone who worked on new campaigns so that they lose public credibility and won’t be able to do any similar work in the future
- And finally, we’re just not ready now, we don’t have mass support, so we should wait till 2017
These are all valid points, but I disagree with them because I believe we have the agency to make sure our morale stays high, we are not discouraged, and we don’t allow the Octopus to break us. Also, they are based on the premis that the independent campaigns will lose. And so it depends on how we define loss. To win a seat against the Octopus will indeed be nothing short of a miraculous act. We all know this. So while that is the dream we will work very hard to achieve, it isn’t the smart goal. The smart goal is to use this election season as a jumpstart to real democratic transformation in Lebanon. It might not show big results now, but it will catapult us into bigger movements for change post-election and in the long run. And we all know Lebanon needs long-term planning for change.
We do not come from a void – the campaigns didn’t just spring up today. We are rooted in all the social justice movements of the past 10 years, political, reformist, student, women, workers, etc. These movements have been small and frail and constantly crushed. But we want to bring them back together and give them a boost via the elections. At the end of the day, it’s the electoral law that is our biggest obstacle and the electoral law can only be changed with a revolution on the streets.
I, for one, believe, we have absolutely nothing to lose. Nothing. Zero. Our backs are against the wall. We’re like the underdog in those cheesy sports movies that doesn’t stand a chance and, therefore, fights like there’s nothing to lose. And there isn’t. On the contrary, we stand to gain so much:
- Doing something. Our other option is to do nothing (Octopus will still win), to sit and watch the elections and fight the urge to get depressed and get up and emigrate already.
- Mobilizing the masses. People get interested during elections season (and the Lebanese only move when there’s urgency) and it’s too golden an opportunity to waste without doing anything. It is a prime time to be working with people to join our movement(s).
- Building experience. We’re all very young and if we believe we have a much better chance of winning in 2017 if we work hard for 4 years, then we shouldn’t waste the opportunity of learning the ins and outs of elections today. The core team of organizers needs massive experience and this is our chance to get it.
- Shifting public discourse. If we leave the space empty of any strong voices against the corruption of the Octopus, we give it to them easy. When we talk to people about a new way of practicing democracy, we are contributing to a shift in public discourse. It may be small, but it can only grow bigger.
- Responding to public needs. Everybody agrees we need an alternative to old Lebanese politics. Everyone. The challenge is if we can create a viable alternative that’s right and not lacking, and if we can convince people to vote for the alternative that they themselves want! We all know the deal. People vote for the zo3ama and then nag about them the next day. But people have been demanding change for years. And it’s our duty to offer it – as an option – for anyone who wants to walk the talk so that we aren’t left with “I would’ve chosen someone else, but there was only two choices to make and I voted for the lesser evil.”
- Celebrating our victory. Whatever result we achieve against the Octopus (whether it’s a few 100 or few 1000 or a million votes), it will be cause for celebration. After all, we are working with no money against billions of dollars. We are working with no foreign support against international alliances. We are working with youth against a dominant mentality of clientelism, blind loyalty, and fear. We only have volunteers and the Octopus hires thousands of people to work on elections day. We are working ethically and they bend every rule and bribe every person to construct fake popularity for themselves. So really, every vote against this system is worth 100 votes because it’s a vote that’s brave and groundbreaking and inspiring.
And so if the system expects us to (and is designed so that we) achieve absolutely nothing, what do we have to lose?