MARCH was founded in 2012 by a group of young people with a vision of instilling tolerance and openness among Lebanese and that by promoting diversity, equality so as to ultimately reconcile Lebanon’s many communities. MARCH sees freedom of expression as the most important cornerstone of conflict resolution in Lebanon. MARCH is convinced that speaking out about past wrong doings is necessary in order to overcome the past and to build a better future.
Aside from "Freedom of Expression", MARCH also focuses on 2 areas: "Women's Rights" and "Conflict Resolution within the Youth" via art and dialogue, both being censored topics in the Lebanese Society.
Whatever projects or activities that MARCH carries, emanates from the belief that it is necessary to talk and break the wall of silence. By doing so about whichever issue, its seeks and ultimately reaches solutions and thus achieves reconciliation and coexistence as well.
Reaching that goal is achieved through various channels:
- Education and Awareness Raising and Direct Community Work through drama therapy for instance
- Lobbying, Advocacy and campaigning
- Monitoring and reporting
In that extent, MARCH is a civil movement actively seeking to safeguard the ideals of a peaceful and prosperous Lebanon. Members and staff hold the firm belief that a participating and empowered civil society is imperative. Ensuring genuine respect and acceptance of differences between the various Lebanese communities is important, because it allows for peaceful co-existence whereby freedom of expression unites these differences.
Their overall philosophy is summed up as follows: You have the right not to remain silent – feel free to talk and express your own opinion. Youth are the focus of MARCH’s work in trying to achieve these goals. They aim to educate, motivate, involve and empower them to recognize their right to freedom of expression, and eventually promote a genuine respect and acceptance of differences, by focusing on censorship and its negative effect on society.
Among MARCH’s goals and objectives are the following: Increasing citizen awareness of their national and civic duties and rights, and advocating for equality in those duties and rights. Reaching a genuine reconciliation between all communities, by way of open and honest dialogue to recognize and admitting past deeds, and instilling a working framework of mutual respect and acceptance of differences. Lobbying for the adoption of laws that would better safeguard the civic and digital rights of Lebanese citizens. In all the projects that have been undertaken so far, youth have been the focus. Being aware of a fatigue among young people concerning programs, MARCH made it paramount to ensure that their programs would have a novel touch, be mostly fun but also useful for the cause.
One way in which MARCH tried to tackle the problem of censorship in Lebanon was the creation of a virtual ‘censorship museum’. On its website people can report censorship issues and a selection of censored media are displayed. Another project has been the launch of a newsletter on freedom of expression. To make it more interesting for younger readers, sensitive issues are displayed in the form of caricatures instead of lengthy texts. These newsletters were distributed at universities and debates in order to get feedback about the awareness and perception of the censorship problem among people. A third project was a conference on censorship hosted by MARCH where those who perform and conduct censorship, namely the General Security of Lebanon, and an audience composed of activists, academia, artists and journalists had a panel discussion.
Since 2015, in terms of fighting censorship or rather protecting citizens, MARCH provided a hotline +9613090870 to which Lebanese internet users whether journalists, activists, or simple citizens, can reach out to whenever summoned by the Lebanese authorities mainly "Cybercrimes Bureau" for interrogation on the ground of having expressed themselves online. Upon calling the hotline, the person will be put in contact with a lawyer and will be provided with on-the-spot, trustworthy legal advice. This step was followed by the publication of a booklet informing internet users of the digital rights and how to behave when summoned by the authorities, as well as advocating and lobbying for new laws to protect online freedom. MARCH advises activists summoned over the phone by the Cybercrimes Bureau to ask for the name and rank of the officer talking to them; and demand an official notice from the Bureau, not an invitation over the phone. Once interrogated, people should be informed of the charges and evidence, if any.
Theater for Peacebuilding
Approaching youth to foster conflict resolution, MARCH gathered in 2015,16 youth (age 16-29) from an unprivileged and impoverished area in Lebanon, namely Tripoli, the second capital of the country, around art as a catharsis for free expression, communication and mutual understanding. During four months, these youths attended a series of workshops, in theater and improvisation techniques, but also in conflict resolution, leadership and communication. The result was "War and Love on the Rooftop - a Tripolitan Tale", a play staging their reality, hopes and fears in an unsettling environment.
The play was premièred and performed in front of and for the people whose life it was inspired by: Tripoli residents. Then it was performed twice in Beirut. And success was at the rendez-vous. In a fully booked theater, the audience gave a standing ovation to these youth who as never even got the opportunity to watch a play before, only to find ourselves at the center of a play now’’ as Khodr one of the amateur actors puts it very well.
Then it palyed in Kesrouan in Mount Lebanon and Baalback in the Bekaa. Before and after the performance, donations were collected collected and totaled $8,419 USD. Donations which sole purpose is to support and thank these young adults. After performing across Lebanon, a full-length documentary was released, it traces back the different steps of the projects, from recruiting former young adults who participated in street violence, to first-time actors touring to raise awareness on Tripoli’s very own woes. The documentary screened in cinemas around Lebanon.
Kahwetna (Our Cafe) provided a daily life incarnation of the friendships and mutual understanding built on stage. It is located just between Beb El tebbeneh and Jabal Mohsen and was inaugurated on February 28th, 2016. It is run by the young adults who participated in the play and provides them an opportunity for financial empowerment and a chance to influence other youth. The Cafe also became a cultural hub hosting festivals and talents events.
The same approach was used with more youth in different areas, including Beirut. And refugees in Lebanon were included in the project which proved to be very successful, creatively building peace on a grassroots level. Hona Beirut (Here is Beirut) is another cafe with the same purposes and objectives. It is a vibrant hub that serves the youth and hosts local peacebuilders in workshops and activities defending social and digital rights as well as the freedom of speech.
The impact of the Virtual Museum of Censorship was huge on the audience: it has been largely covered by different media outlets and within three days more than 10,000 people had visited the website. It is a user-generated database of all banned and censored material in Lebanon since its Independence in 1943. All entries are fact-checked by the MARCH team and their partners, with elaborations and updates posted regularly. The purpose of the museum is to show the scope, and sometimes absurdity, in what gets censored in Lebanon and why. It also tries to open a dialog into what freedom of expression is, the validity of censorship in the age of the Internet and an overview about the situation of freedom of expression in Lebanon.
In 2014 MARCH launched a big media campaign raising awareness of domestic violence. In April 2015 the Hotline was launched. In May 2015 a women empowerment training program kicked off focusing on the areas of infrastructure, oil and gas, water, transportation.
In December 2018, Lea Baroudi, head of MARCH, was awarded a British order of chivalry by the queen of England for her peacebuilding efforts in Lebanon.