Sunday, June 21, 2015

Making History from Zonqor to Beyond - The Front phenomenon

(also available in Maltese at: )

The #savezonqor protest by Front Harsien ODZ on Saturday 20th June, 2015, made history for various reasons.

First, because this was the biggest-ever autonomous protest organised by civil society without interference from any political party, big or small. Estimates state that there were between 3,000 and 4,000 people who literally filled up Republic Street, Valletta, something which is usually only achieved by major political parties or trade unions, who rely on their mass-membership. And judging by dwindling attendances recently held by the latter, the #savezonqor protest was even more significant. Besides, the last great protest on environmental matters, held under the previous Nationalist administration some years back, attracted around 500 people – and it was considered a success.

Second, because Front Harsien ODZ represents a new phenomenon in Maltese politics, whilst celebrating the best of activist tradition inherited from previous years. The Front builds on environmentalism which goes back to the 1960s, which became more militant from the mid-80s onwards in terms of environmental protest, and which uses the strategic inclusion of successful campaigns such as the Front Against the Rabat Golf Course at the turn of the century. The Front enjoys the support of over 30 organisations. It does not intend to replace them, but rather, to act as an inclusive, non-sectarian, non-partisan force through which all organisations can work together.

Representation in the front is not based on one’s affiliation, and activists respond solely to the Front. Everyone is welcome to join the Front, but decisions are taken in a horizontal-democratic manner, and activists do not report back to other organisations. Some activists are seasoned campaigners with over 20 years of activism. Others have been active in the past few years, and yet others are newcomers to the new wave of civil society activism. Some members are local councillors, others are journalists, others academics from different disciplines, and others include students, activists and citizens with a strong interest in the environment and the common good. The Front now has to ensure its autonomy and resist the temptations of co-optation.

Third, because the Front is not characterised by internal bickering, petty-partisanship or primadonna politics. To the contrary, all activists have an important role to play, and the Front uses multiple platforms for its activism. From social media to protest, from media debates to memes, from networking to grassroots activism. The Front captures the moment of non-party political activism, in a context of greater environmental consciousness, and under a Labour Government which is increasingly non-transparent, arrogant and mercantile in its politics of selling the common good.

Ultra-partisan apologists are doing their utmost to play down the immense effect of Front Harsien ODZ. They are ignoring the rise of Maltese civil society at their own political peril. This only gives more incentive to Front Harsien ODZ to speak up against the usurpation of Malta’s environmental and public domain.