7iber organized a debate last night that could fall under many categories, social media, activism Jordanian reform, and/or revolutions. They all intersect and because they do a lively discussion was had. Like in any debate you have the people who discuss the topic at hand, the ones that go off on tangents, the ones that bridge the ideas together and the ones that have no clue. Yet everyone had something to say.
I was surprised, and happily, with what was said. People discussed the influence of social media tools on organizing and everyone was aware and quickly moved on that these are tools. Yet some of the more poignant questions were: Is social media taking the debate to the next level? Is social media raising the ceiling for traditional media? And Is social media going to spark the next revolution?
But discussion that really interested me was one that was about Jordanian reform and political activism. I was pleasantly surprised to hear about political youth movements that have been active since 2006 and the political activity of Jordan in the 1950 and 1960 which had died down after 1967. It was amazing to hear about our first parliament and the political diversity and opposition movements in Jordan of that era, that spoke of anti- monarchy and elected government ideas and such; Ideas that are not new today and have been in our history for over 50 years. It was bluntly said that 1967 had killed us, put us in a coma. One person went on to say that he grew up in the 80s and 90s with two central ideas Making Jordan a better place and the Palestinian Cause and the two just get so messed up in one’s head after a while.
So what happened, other than 1967 and the loss of Palestine? Where did all that political engagement go? Why do we not know about it? It’s right there in our history books and the media archives if we cared to look. Why didn’t we care to look? Speaking to a friend today about what transpired in the debate, she said “I was politically disengaged because it so disheartening and defeatist”. That may capture how people were feeling , alongside many factors such as state propaganda, educational systems that fed us rote memorization and glorification or the system, the lack of political parties, the emergency/ martial law we lived under until the end of the 80s and other factors deaden us to political engagement. The few that did voice their opinions were marginalized and ignored by the media and so nobody really heard of them. Like the Youth groups that staged many a protest since 2006, or the hundreds of strikes and protests that took place just last year in Jordan.
But things have changed, and I think that change, that shift goes back to the Gaza Massacres. When Israel was razing Gaza, people mobilized and went out and voiced themselves. This was mostly in the form of humanitarian assistance, volunteerism and vigils and protests. But something clicked in the psyche of the people. They felt they had a voice, and somewhere to pour their energies outside the shisha bars and cafes, away from television and computer screens. A lot of what we did see in the past two years is social activism; People wanting and working on social change within their communities. A lot of initiatives old, new and newer became more visible as more and more people found them and engaged with them and thus with the various communities around the country and especially in the capital. And once again regional events have resonated and continue to resonate in Jordan.
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have meant that the social has become political in the Jordanian context. It has sparked a different kind of debate and people have raised the ceiling and are talking about things that they would not have before without their eyes shifting and looking over their shoulders. I think the timing has a huge effect, now after two years of social activism and social work people know they have a voice, know they can make a difference, have seen people in action and are ready to go to the next level. This is where all the reform talk is coming from and this is where our energies need to be spent.
The #hashtag debates are a great way to take the discussion offline and start bringing people who were invisible before into the discussion sphere and make us more aware. It is also time for more opposition voices and reform voices to come online and garner support to their demands online. The #hashtag is one of many things that need to happen. I am optimistic about the process as we are talking and we are not afraid to speak and point the light at our issues and shortcomings and problems. We are crossing the first of our hurdles and that is the ostrich pose, our denial. What happens next is yet to be seen, and as always I am optimistic.