The world watched on as the Lebanese people came together in a powerful show of unity, demanding change, transparency and accountability from their leaders, mobilizing for political, economic and social reform.
As the protests started in October and gained momentum in the following weeks, activists rose to prominence and became key in organizing demonstrations, highlighting the growing concerns and grievances of the Lebanese people. Though they were largely peaceful at first, there have been outbreaks of violence more recently between protestors and security forces.
One of the most prominent activists has been 28-year-old Perla Joe Maalouli, a free spirit and budding musician who took to the streets with a pan in her hands and the voice of the revolution in her heart. She has been at the forefront of the protests, long days turning into even longer nights with people on the streets, leading chants and giving fiery speeches.
“I’m not counting days, I’ve lost track of time,” Perla tells womena®Media.
“I’m doing this for my parents, for my kids – if ever. For myself, because I’ve been working so hard for the past few years and whenever I take a step forward, something drags me ten steps back,” she says.
Perla has been the voice behind the megaphone every afternoon in Downtown Beirut, calling on protestors to light up their flares, calling for change from the country’s leaders.
“I do have a loud voice, I have a very expressive voice,” she says.
“Your light will create a strong economy. Your light will create a community. Your light will create a connected and unified society,” she tells the crowd in one of her speeches. “Your light will build a nation. And because of your light, this nation is now independent.”
Perla connects to people with ease, voicing her truth through her speeches and her music, a new form of self-expression that she has forayed into after letting go of her career in cinematography.
“I feel that what you see in life can never be transmitted into a lens,” she says.
Over the past couple of years, she has been on a journey of self-discovery and recently traveled to Cairo to make music. Her album is called “Kilo Helo,” meaning all is beautiful, while her music project collaboration is called Wujud, meaning existence.
“I went to Egypt and I created a music album and now I sing and write and compose,” she says. “I don’t even know how I do that but it happened and there was a lot to pull out and it came out.”
During her journey of self-discovery, she spent some time in nature with Bedouins, who she says made her feel a renewed sense of appreciation for the little things in life and helped her deal with many inner conflicts.
As Lebanon joins the many nations around the world simmering with growing disenchantment and movements for change, the conflicts with security forces have sometimes turned violent.
Perla remembers the very first day of the revolution in October, when she fended off teargas bombs with a pan she had in hand. “On the second day, I went down to the mosque, gathered 300 women and told them we need to create a shield between the cops and the angry people because the cops are not our target,” she recalls.
From the early days, women have played an integral role in the revolution, standing their ground and helping avert some conflicts.
Having a solid presence on social media and in the protests have resulted in some critical reactions from those who oppose the calls for change. “I’ve had a lot of cyber harassment, and a lot of bullying. They don’t want this revolution to go on. I’m an activist in this revolution so they’re trying to shut me down.”
But this has not deterred Perla from carrying the torch forward in hopeful strides toward change.
“I’ve heard once that you reach the ultimate freedom when you stop searching for freedom,” she says, “We are all still searching for freedom, so, we’re far from it still.”
Click here to watch our 2-part conversation with Perla Joe across our social media channels.