Monday, September 19, 2011

Arab Spring, From Atlanta to the Middle East.

Over the past ten months the whole world has watched many in the Arab world revolt against the tight grip of social and economic injustices.

Images that have come to the rest of the world through social networking sights and mainstream media have been inspiring, iconic, and sometimes even horrifying.

While many have a strong sense of optimism it's clear that the dust has far from settled in the Middle East.

Over the course of the last ten months we've seen dozens of solidarity demonstrations right here in Atlanta. Arab American communities have organized solidarity actions for revolutionary activities in Egypt, Syria, and Libya.

It's been exciting to see these communities coming together and uniting their voices for the common cause of freedom for their brothers, sisters, parents, and children. Many in these communities don't consider themselves immigrants, but rather refugees who were left little choice in fleeing the country they once called home.

During the dozens of solidarity demonstrations in Atlanta one could really feel the excitement, and at times despair, from those who had loved ones in the Middle East. Many times as demonstrations were winding down, and folks were packing stuff up, a few organizers of the demonstrations would stick around and talk about how things went and whether or not another demonstration should be set up. One question was asked week after week, "Where do we go from here?", or, "can we do more than just set up solidarity demonstrations"?

It was out of this spirit that about a dozen or so leaders from several Arab American communities in Atlanta gathered at the American Friends Service Committee office several months ago to contemplate answering the question of, "where do we go from here".

I had the honor of being invited to that meeting, and the series of meetings that followed. Folks with ties to the Egyptian, Tunisian, Syrian, Libyan, and Palestinian community came to consensus on the need for a larger community event with a few simple goals which included:

1.Creating space where Arab American Communities that had not worked together in the past could come together and build community.

2. Discuss the current state of Arab Spring in the Middle East.

3. Have discussion about what role Arab Americans in Atlanta can play.

The event, entitled, “Arab Spring from Atlanta to the Middle East”, just went down this past Saturday and it was a big success. Over seventy people showed up. The event took place during AFSC's acclaimed, "Windows and Mirrors" exhibit, which lended a powerful back drop to the community event.

After a viewing of the short film, created by Sherif Morad, attendees heard reports from several special guests including Shahir Raslan, Amir Ahmed, and Abdullah Bourgeba, all who shared reports.

The last part of the day's program was a brief town hall style meeting where folks brainstormed answers to the question, "where do we go from here?". While there was a diversity of ideas, everyone agreed that there are many exciting opportunities to build a local Arab American voice in Atlanta, a much need voice of political advocacy. Everyone agreed that there are very local issues that a united Arab American community would be able to take on.

When folks that attended where asked to take on specific tasks to further the formation of an Arab American political advocacy group almost everyone in the room raised their hand for one task of another.

It was a day where the relevance of actions taken thousands of miles away was thick in the air.

Check out Sherif Morad's short film that he put together just for the event below:

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

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