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?


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8 responses to “Debate: What have we got to lose?”

  1. Jad says :

    Building experience is the key issue here. It’s interesting that most of these concerns stem from a feeling of awkwardness, almost a vulnerablity, coming from a misunderstanding of the long march that is politics. I guess that’s the catch-22 of pooling together idealists; they have a wonderful forward-thinking energy but the joints between the bones are prone to buckling under pressure. Fear of ridicule and fear of failure (even if it is 100%) are obstacles. Lack of support can’t be remedied 4 more years of planning. In fact, persevering through failure and ridicule and picking up skills along the way is the only real way to plan and hence build the networks of support neccesary to win.

    One final thought: I think civil society in Lebanon needs to remember that click-here-to-buy, rate-this-app style organization is not a sustainable mindset when acting politically; you will be disappointed if you’re going into this with “customer satisfaction” glasses on. This probably won’t be satisfying, but it will build the muscle you need.

  2. racha says :

    It’s very important to realise what you are up against in the next elections, what matters is to voice an opinion that is what elections are about, your democratic right, and practicing it is the most powerful thing you can do.
    If you get no seats this time, at least the experience is will be one of learning and a good starting point. change doesn’t happen without trying

  3. Mounir Ajam says :

    We are behaving like the people we want to change and being “Arab” – what i mean with all respect – is what i understand from this post is that even if we do not win a single seat we still win.

    I personally voiced a concern from the beginning but since i have not had a chance to participate in meetings i did not push. What i see now confirm my decision to stay out since i do not even know what the goal is anymore. What is goal? Have 128 candidates all over the countries with millions of dollars and thousands of hours of volunteering and not winning a single seat? I see this is a bad investment and a goal that is not SMART.

    I am in project management and in project management when we launch a project we study its feasibility and if the project is not feasible we should not do it … unless we are doing it to make a point in this case the goal is making a point and not “taking back parliament”.

    For a goal to be SMART it has to be realistic within a time frame … and i personally see this is a 20 years initiatives and not 2017 and definitely not 2013.

    So what am i saying? What i advocate is that to use the energy, volunteers, and money toward building a system, raising awareness, and establish the infrastructure to help us win some seats. If we think it is important to run in 2013 than focus on 1, 2, or 3 areas where there are strong independent candidates and support them and help them win. With a focus approach, we might have a chance to get 1, 2, or 3 seats … this way we optimize our energy. Then we learn from this experience, win or loose, and build for 2017 with a chance of winning a few seats.

    With strong organization – we can have SMART goals and then people would notice.

    This is strategic initiatives – meaning 20+ years but we continue to fall back on being “Arabs” where we think we can change the world in a few months.

    Sorry for the strong message … but i think it is important to realize our strengths and weakness. Personally, it is hard for me to commit to something where i do not have a chance of making a REAL difference.

    • Jad says :

      Focussing on a few districts is not a bad idea in itself, but please allow me to take issue with the idea of a) there being a clear distinction between “raising awareness” and running a campaign regardless of the odds (instead of just talking about a plan, you act and plan as you go); b) that politics and managerialism are doomed to be synonymous (sometimes struggle is more than just a word; sometimes investment is about more than dividends); c) that this approach is idealistic (ie what you’ve termed “Arab”)— it’s very realistic to say that politics cannot be strategized on paper, it must be attempted. Otherwise it is the anti-politics of deferral, always postponing struggle.

      I do think there is something to consider about where to run, how much energy to devote to which areas, etc, and that’s something for you guys to debate. But there also something to the idea and act (which is more than symbolic) of running everywhere. We are everywhere. This doesn’t have to be an energy-draining strategy; if you make the right contacts on the local level, it could even be cost-effective. But please please don’t allow managerialism to be the ruling doctrine for all choices. Yes, efficiency, yes, feasibility, yes that’s all concrete and clever, but politics is a different kind of smart. It’s about one no among ten thousand yeses. And there is nothing starry-eyed about that, that’s how democracy survives.

      • Mounir Ajam says :

        Jad – what i am saying is define the goal … if the goal is to run every where just to make a point and accept that no one might win … that is fine and people can choose whether to support this goal or even run themselves. As someone (in these response) said “let us put some bumps.”

        In other words putting bumps is a goal … winning 1% of the seat is a goal, winning 5% of the seat is a goal … loosing seats but getting enough votes (say 10%, 20%, 30% …) of the votes is another goal.

        Basically what i am saying let us define the SMART goals and go after them … if we do not, then what ever happen we claim success and that what I meant by being Arab – even when we loose we claim success. This is one to loose credibility quickly!

      • Jad says :

        I agree. That specific strategy of pooling energy within certain regions is a very good idea and has to be hashed out soon; how to balance that while still covering a wide area, etc. It’s doable and will mitigate the chance of failure, as Jawad described above.

  4. Jawad says :

    I agree with the concept of running a few candidates with the best chances to win (rather than a country wide campaign which will stretch our limited resources and reduce likelihood of actually learning anything).

    Firstly to learn from the experiences of running a campaign (whether successful or not).

    But importantly, if we select the right candidates for the right district and win a seat or two there is one very important benefit: building a track record for TBP.

    Once we have a TBP representatives in Parliament casting votes and building a track record for TBP we will be in a strong position for the 2017 elections:
    – We will be able to show how we were voting vs how the octopus was voting.
    – We will show our attendance record vs the octopus’ attendance record.
    – And most importantly we will show that when push came to shove, we stuck to our ideals and values.

    Basically we will show how we are accountable to our electorate, and that we will hold Parliament accountable to the Lebanon Public.

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