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Grassroots movements in Amman: Where to?

Dec 06,2018 - Last updated at Dec 06,2018

In Jordan, the political scene is very slow and struggling. In the absence of governmental actions, and with the gap between administration and the people widening day by day, grassroots movements seem to be the people’s only choice forward.

A grassroots movement is one which uses the people in a given district, region or community as the basis for a political or economic movement. They start locally but aim (inter)nationally. They build society and achieve reform the way you build a school, mosque, hospital or a church; from the bottom up. They also bring international concerns to the local table. Means vary from house gatherings to posters, petitions to submitting individual opinions to the media. Their power structure is more spontaneous. Grassroots are always politically progressive. They seek a more democratic society and aspire to become the basis of civil right movements and reform. Grassroots are metaphoric of the people’s effort to grow in a fruitful soil, like the roots of grass, for a greener space and a healthier environment to live in.

Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign proved grassroots movements are still validly utilised to elevate political campaigns across the US under the slogan and hashtag “feel the Bern”. Charities in Britain, such as Save the Children and Grassroots Out, which campaigned to withdraw from the European Union are also effective examples of such development. Hashtags of the MeToo movement and BlackLivesMatter also proved that grassroots are still significantly powerful and effective. At heart, grassroots are meant to mobilise for change. However, one needs to be very careful in differentiating between grassroots and astroturfing. The latter refers to artificial grass and is the embodiment of fake grassroots movements. It is when certain campaigns seem to be taking after grassroots movements, yet in fact they are channelled by official or governmental organisations or bodies.

Grassroots in Amman are inspired by the international scene, culturally and politically. Examples vary between local Jordanian food groups and individuals, bookshops, rap music, recycled furniture and other cultural spaces and cafes that offer chances for dialogue and interactions to be voiced, and the restructuring of social fabrics and the cultural infrastructure of the city, self particularly, and country generally. The questions asked here are: How effective are these grassroots movements and how authentic and effective are those movements which are sponsored by foreign NGOs and migrants?

The answer is: The impact is minimal. Despite the fact that the youth are actively engaging in grassroots movements and are very eager and in the lookout for any platform to breathe liberty and individuality in a bigger society, they are challenged by tribalism, traditionalism, financial aid, gender binaries, political frustration, unemployment, lack of advertisement, gentrification, class division within the city and many other obstacles. Such obstacles are rightly deemed as motifs. This poses a rather paradoxical conflict which further slows any progress forward.

Cultural bridging is, and must be, at the heart of such grassroots movements and is very crucial to achieve political change. However, cultural bridging is redundant when it is mimetic, censored, sponsored by authorities, which results in astroturfing, and when it lacks imagination and identity, and depth and representation. Culture in essence is the rewriting of former practices and philosophies and the opposition of existing ones. They are both interchangeable and interlinked. What seems to be the problem here is that while most grassroots movements in Jordan oppose conventionality and traditionalist norms, the rewriting process seems to be hollow. How do we, then, regenerate grassroots movements socially and locally without falling into writing ourselves solely as counter-narrative of a globally capitalist marketplace? In order to write back, we also need to write forward. Grassroots in Amman are running forward. However, the majority is running on a treadmill.


The writer is an author at Palgrave Macmillan and an assistant professor in Post-Colonial and English Literature at the American University of Madaba, Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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