No politics, no bombs and no sectarianism: the 'White' march begins in Lebanon
Up to 1,000 Lebanese, most clad in white shirts, joined a peaceful demonstration Thursday in memory of the men, women and children who have been killed by political and confessional violence in the country and calling for an alternative to March 14 and March 8 public representation.
The White March, organized in just two days by a group of 25-30 citizen activists, some independent and some affiliated with secular movements, followed a path from Martyrs Square, along Charles Malik Avenue and finally ascended to Sassine Square, the site of last Friday’s car bomb attack which killed three.
There was no chanting and the largely youthful crowd carried no party flags. A smattering of homemade placards – most of which were distributed by the organizers – relayed the demonstrators’ messages in both English and Arabic.
Georges, a 25-year-old from Beirut, said he didn’t have time to make his own sign but willingly carried one reading “March against March,” a reference to his rejection of both the country’s opposing political blocs.
Other signs commemorated the victims of recent violence and called for an end to sectarianism.
“There is an alternative to 14 and 8, and we hope there will be a place for us here,” Georges said as marchers slowly trickled into Martyrs Square.
Looking around, he observed, “It doesn’t matter if there’s not a lot of people; it’s the message, not the people [that counts].”
Some 2,000 people had declared their intention to attend the event on Facebook, and Deema al-Saidi, one of the organizers who spoke to The Daily Star Thursday afternoon, said she expected a “minimum of 1,000” to turn out.
Although small at the outset, the march seemed to gain strength as it proceeded toward Sassine, perhaps eventually reaching Saidi’s expected attendance as it congregated in the square.
Among the crowd walking up the hill was Mounira al-Solh, a visual artist, who turned the sign she’d be given backward so she was displaying a plain white sheet.
Asked what her impressions of the march were, Solh said: “I wouldn’t mind if there was a march [like this] every week,” but observed that the attendees were “mostly young people, mostly educated.”
“I don’t see any poor. [It’s a] sort of petit bourgeoisie,” she said.
The event’s Facebook group had been the site of some debate ahead of Thursday’s march, with concerns raised about its agenda and the political ambitions of some of its organizers.
Saidi acknowledged the complaints, but highlighted the march’s main intention was not political but to “defend and acknowledge the people who have died.”
As for the organizers’ political aspirations, Saidi highlighted that she, like many others in the activist group, was independent, but that some others were members of the Take Back Parliament movement and the Nasawiya feminist collective.
Meanwhile, as he cut lengths of white ribbon which would later be distributed to adorn participants’ wrists, Hussam Hawwa, another member of the organizing group, said: “Maybe some of these organizers are running for elections [but] you cannot stop anyone from running for elections. This is a democratic right. We cannot kick them out. ... Maybe some people will even decide that they won’t run; maybe [others will] decide to run later. How can we tell?”
Hawwa added that skepticism and doubt among the Lebanese often leads to people taking a “negative stance” and adopting a “negative attitude” toward events and groups. But, he said, “This is not constructive. ... We’re just moving forward, and whoever wants to join, welcome and let’s do it together.”