Category Archives: Organizers Forum

Notes for My Father on Returning from Europe and North Africa

New Orleans       Continuing a tradition, when my father was alive, he would ask me what I learned that might interest him from my travels, so here are quick notes that would have intrigued him, and perhaps you.

  • In Tunis, we ate a something that tasted delicately like a peach, but was flat. One of our delegation called it a “flat peach,” and claimed they also ate this near Boston and upstate New York.  We also ate plums that were green and pale yellow.
  • In central and southern Netherlands, I was introduced to a working-class staple, a narrow, six-inch sausage made of mysterious meat parts, called frikandel. One of my colleagues was a huge fan and reported that near Heerlen there was a restaurant that specializes in various types of frikandel.  I tasted it, and it was alright.  Getting on a train from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf, I did a doubletake to see that Burger King was trying to start a frikandel craze with a special offering.
  • Staying near the center of Dusseldorf, Germany, I seemed to be living in an Asian neighborhood. As we ate lunch in a nearby Korean restaurant, I asked a colleague what was the story on this neighborhood.  It turned out that there was a special treaty between Japan and several other countries and Germany that brought workers in to the city as part of an exchange, and it ended up with many staying and creating the neighborhood and a significant population.
  • In Catania, Sicily, staying with a colleague on the third floor of a seven-story apartment complex, early one morning I was standing on the balcony looking down at the street and noticed a moving truck double-parked in front of the building next door where two workers were trying to wrangle a large bureau into the truck and off of a suspended platform. At first, I couldn’t figure out whether it was a curious truck lift or something else.  Turned out it was something else.  A closer look revealed that the platform was attached to a metal ladder that went all the way up to the unit and was an elevator of sorts that moved hydraulically up to the unit, similar to a hook-and-ladder firetruck.  A table came down next.  It was a two-truck, three man moving operation.  Perhaps this is common for complexes in Europe with small elevators and no freight elevators, but it was new to me in Sicily.
  • Tunisia still allows smoking in restaurants everywhere.
  • In Amsterdam to keep tourists from scamming on the trams, there is a worker behind a desk next to the entrance to both answer questions and check that all customers came on and off by swiping their tickets.
  • Parking in Catania, Sicily is privatized. Parking is highly prized on public streets. Residents pay to park between blue lines, and the private parking company works the streets to determine that only payers are parking. They can’t give tickets but send a notice and fine for nonpayment or overstaying in company controlled spaces.  Cars park everywhere in crosswalks and curbs where parking is illegal, because in the bankrupt city, police are not assigned to parking issues, even though the private companies meter maids and men are everywhere.

I could go on, but you get the message, it’s an amazing world out there, full of constant surprise and wonder, in things both large and small.

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iWatch is a Major Piece of Democracy Protection in Tunisia

Catania    I had heard about iWatch before arriving in Tunis from one of our leaders in Grenoble, who has roots in Tunisia, and said we had to meet with them.  Their website seemed to identify them as an anti-corruption nonprofit.  Once in Tunis it seemed to the Organizers’ Forum delegation that everywhere we went, we heard about their work, whether it was at the Jasmine Foundation or in the Nadha party offices.  When it came to talking about institutions that were protecting the democracy, iWatch would be mentioned.  Quickly, it became clear that they were absolutely monitoring corruption, but they were also smackdab in the middle of the election process itself.  In fact, one of the candidates leading the polls was running from jail and it seemed he was in jail largely because of the work of iWatch.  Finally, it was becoming clear why the president Achraf Aouadi was having trouble fixing the time:  they were in the bunkers with incoming fire from all sides.

We met with Achraf on our final day at the Café du Theatre, which had become our clubhouse of sorts where we had conducted one meeting after another on the main boulevard of Tunis.  Achraf jumped right into our briefing with no holds barred.  They had sued four of the candidates for corruption, violations that the court was now considering.  The suits had gone viral.  Polls indicated that almost a quarter of the population knew iWatch and those who knew it were wildly supportive.  They had learned something else from their analysis of the data.  Where they thought their primary support was young men, it turned out to be younger women.  Where they had thought they were mobilizing primarily their friendship networks, it turned out they had a national support base.

The organization was founded as a nonprofit after the revolution in 2011.  When we asked Achraf about the scope of their organization, he flatly stated that in terms of the civil society sector they were probably only second to UGTT, the big trade union federation, in resources.  Their budget had blown up during the elections to $1.5 million USD, all of it coming from outside donors, largely the European Union and Scandinavian countries.  They had seven offices in regions around the country.  Their staff was around 140 people now and normally almost fifty.

As president of iWatch, Achraf was not an employee, so like ACORN there was a separation of elected leadership from paid staff.  He made his living as a consultant for various enterprises both public and private.  They were young, hip and different.  They did festivals for a month instead of conferences.  They wouldn’t go to luxury hotels.  They abhorred USAID funding. The organizational structure was complicated.  They had recently decentralized with directors of the various teams from research to communications.  Wisely, they had applied for a radio license in Tunis.  They wanted to equalize their headquarters resources with their regions.

We were able to get insight into the complicated results of the election.  Nothing was quite as it appeared.  The rumor of 1.5 million new registrants was “fake news,” he told us.  A number of candidates could still be disqualified, even if appearing to lead in the polls.  It was as possible that some charged would flee the country, rather than take their seats even if they won.

Our heads were spinning as we tried to absorb all we were hearing.  Our fingers were flying as we tried to make notes of all of the information.  We were clear as well that iWatch was absolutely central to the forces protecting democracy.  They were under attack, but they were hunkering down to be able to survive and build for the next steps.

You watch, we watch, we all watch iWatch to see what happens next in Tunisia.

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Please enjoy Walls by The Long Ryders.

Thanks to KABF.

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