What may appeal, for many, as an impulsive, reactionary movement that came to exist only by means of luck in 2012, is in fact a chain of dialectic evolution that only recently manifested itself properly. The Alternative Student Movement came to be known by its present name only last year, but the chain of events in the Lebanese American University roots back deep into that past. In 2012, nevertheless, all the odds could not stop the Alternative solution. Three main factors played a role: the general atmosphere on campus, the determination of the students who took it upon themselves to inaugurate the initiative, and an obvious cultural diversion; a choice by many to speak up for their own identities rather than abstaining elections.
Some may refer to this as a mental revolution, some may simply coin it as a mass-awakening, I would simply say; the stars were aligned.
As an LAU Alumni (Class of 2012), I was not fortunate enough to witness first-hand the birth of the ASM and the Take Back LAU Council coalition. However, the movement reminded me of much of my own aspirations back when I was a student at LAU. I will not dive into details about my student-campus life, but I must say, I worked hard trying to achieve such a grassroots success, only in vain.
The politically affiliated parties on LAU campuses, Beirut and Byblos, have been advertising that the Movement has no origins and that it is not destined to go far because it was not built on solid grounds. To say that the Alternative Student Movement came out of nothing would be a shallow statement as much as it would be politically incorrect. It is important to shed the light on the facts behind the statements being made, as well as the gaps in the arguments presented by the mainstream political youth organizations. The alternative Student Movement was not a direct advancement from any other movement, and is not supported by any standing Lebanese or Foreign organization; it is a student organization, composed of volunteer students who brainstorm, manage, and coordinate its activities, sometimes even without a budget. However, the Alternative Student Movement is based on an idea, and the idea was never born; it only manifested itself powerfully in 2012.
Atallah Al Salim, today a research officer at UNRWA, graduated from the Lebanese American University in 2009 with a BA in Political Science/International Affairs. A dedicated civil rights activist, Al Salim worked in the fields of research and journalism since his early years. With several publications on Lebanese Participatory Democracy Public Sector Reformation, and Local Development, Al Salim also published articles with the Daily Star, Assafir, and Al-Akhbar. During his university years, Al Salim was involved in Pablo Neruda, a student political group based in LAU Beirut, promoting a secular approach to Lebanese politics. The Pablo Neruda group did not exist after 2009, but ideas never die.
When asked about his thoughts on the Take Back LAU Council 2013 campaign, Al-Salim gave Mish Jareedi the following response:
“Alternative Students Movement mobilized LAU students in Beirut campus and campaigned for setting affordable tuition fees. The initiative which began small in size and limited to Beirut campus had increased rapidly to be cross-faculties and cross campuses with Byblos campus students joining the movement as well. Last year, a young, passionate, educated and hard worker Hassan Harb was able to be part of the Students Council Body. This year, some other candidates will try their luck. Some would say that luck is superstitious, but you can always make it real when you have a human touch on it. Till then, all what I can ask you is voting for the movement’s candidates and this is the good luck they need from you!”
Al Salim is not the only LAU alumni member who was once active in the university, and is definitely not the only one supporting the campaign. As a person who was fully-engaged in the same course of activism, only 5 years before, it is important to get back to him and ask about what he thinks of the newly-born movement.
The Alternative Movement is not just a grassroots coalition working for the students. For many of those who took turns in trying to trigger change from LAU, the movement is a long-craved dream that was never lived.
So to all of you out there, all of you students and alumni, whom your country forced you to become world-wide travelers due to lack of opportunities back home, whom your country sunk you deep into its own system due to the lack of real change in your home, whom your country made you tired and weary and on the verge of giving up all that you believe in just to survive and preserve your home:
We are here, we are the change that we – and you – want to see in the world, and we declare our vows, now and forever, we will not back down.
Mohamad Jamil Hodeib
Mish Jareedi – Novemeber 2013