Where Are We Now?

by Michael Ewetuga

We were referred to as the leaders of tomorrow, we watched with horror as not only our tomorrow but that of our children were mortgaged. In the name of strengthening the economy they brought Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) and sapped the entire citizenry. We shouted ourselves hoarse but they pretended not to hear our pained voices, we cried with no one to help dry our tears of anguish. SAP in itself is not a bad program, as some people explained; it was adopted by some countries with success, they used the program to turn their countries around. Click here to read more about SAP:

The Military government got everyone discussing the pros and cons of implementing such a program. The people got fully involved and the whole country became a market place of ideas. The general conclusion by participants was against implementing the program. Before the discussants in different fields stood up from their chairs, the government started implementation of the program.

The country became a battlefield for angry people who felt cheated and slighted, the anger drove the students to the streets, you can’t sleep while your house is on fire, only a foolish man does that and the students were not foolish. They took to the streets to register their displeasure, some of them were so angry they felt to be heard they must be violent. Cars were burnt, kerosene bomb were thrown in all directions. We were being killed by installment anyway, they decided to accelerate the process if only that will ensure a better tomorrow for our country. The government wasted no time in deploying the police to the campuses with order to shoot to kill. Many students lost their lives in the struggle.

Some, who believed in a better tomorrow at least for themselves since they were at the threshold of graduating from the University, countered the demonstration, they believed the demonstrators were being foolish, they were of the opinion that we should hurry and get educated which was the primary reason of being on campus anyway. They believed with education comes power and money and thus the ability to effect change. They tried to reason with the demonstrators in the lower classes, but then some had lost it, violence was the order of the day. Violence does not solve problems; speeches were given citing the Indian movement under Mahatma Gandhi and the American Civil Rights Movement under Martin Luther King. But parts of the student population were not to be reasoned with, reason had flown out of the window and violence was ragging like wild fire. In the heat of that violence, on the Campus of Obafemi Awolowo University “Opanka”, a final year student, was killed.

I wrote an article that day wondering what we had achieved with violence and questioning the killing. I called the violent demonstrators immature and not better than the beasts who perpetrated the injustice that they were demonstrating against. I was in my room arguing the merits and demerits of the demonstration with my roommates when someone felt the best way to stop me was make all sort of noise with all sorts of objects, I retaliated and almost lost my life when they came for me, I was beaten and treated like a thief. I was so ashamed of how the demonstration turned out I had to be there to pay my last respect when “Opanka” was buried at a very real risk to my life and that of others that went from the school to witness his burial.

“Opanka” (I never know his real name) was given a befitting burial by his people and despite the fact that they lost a son, who was to graduate that year, they treated us with utmost respect, they welcomed us with open arms, even though they could have visited the anger of losing their son on us. At Onitcha, in Anambra State of Nigeria, they carried themselves with dignity and equanimity, they did not show any animosity towards us.

I made a pledge that day when “Opanka” was buried that no matter how much things seem to be going my way I will not be insensitive to the suffering of others.

When you fight against racism, when you cry out against injustice look around you and you will find the same people of the same color as those you are fighting marching with you as in the case of some white people who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.

When I was coming to Washington State some of my friends cautioned that it is a “White State”. I reminded my friends that I had lived in a so called White State before and this will not be any different, I am glad that this White State gave me the joy of sitting with people who despise injustice, I am glad to have attended the panel discussion of The Black/White Civil Rights Coalition the theme of which was “Where Are We Now?” “What are the prospects for Productive Partnerships between White Progressives and Communities of Color?

The panelists were:

1. Imam Amir Abdul-Matin President, Islamic Education and Community Center, Tacoma, WA

2. Artee Young Executive Director of The Evergreen State College Tacoma WA

3. Tom Hilyard Director of Pierce County Office of Community Services, 1st Vice President of the NAACP, Tacoma Chapter, 1st Vice President of the Tacoma Branch NAACP, Chair of the education committee of the Tacoma Pierce County Black Collective

4. Nina Berenfeld Co leader of the Olympia Muslim Jewish Listening Project, who also works with the Seattle based International Organization United to End Racism

5. Bill Hagens A clinical Professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health & Community Medicine

6. Charhys Bailey A hip hop artist, creative writer, student and activist

7. Mike Honey The Fred and Dorothy Haley Professor of the Humanities at UWT and Harry Bridges Chair of Labor Studies Emeritus at the University of Washington, teaching African American and Labor Studies and

8. John Thompson of the Central Labor Council

The program was moderated by Dexter Gordon, Chair of the conversation and professor at University of Puget Sound.

The program, which was held at the Broadway Center for performing arts Downtown Tacoma in Washington State, sought answers to the question “What are the prospects for Productive Partnerships between White Progressives and Communities of Color?”

The answers to the question was as diverse as the panelists and the audience, but all in all it was a very educative and somewhat entertaining discussion even though it was generally agreed that there is more work to be done in order to bring the White and Colored coalition back to live.

It was also the general consensus that the young people should be educated in order to bring them face to face with the reality of racism which someone described as a threat to humanity.

According to Artee Young, the coalition evaporated because it did not capture the mind of young people. Tom Hilyard stated that in his opinion other interests overshadowed interest in civil rights. Nina gave us an insight into how the minds of young people work; she stated that young people believe racism is over.

Bill postulated that to resuscitate the movement common course must be identified. Charhys was of opinion that young people believe they are not affected by racism, she postulated that the young people are in need of multicultural models.

The Panelists agreed that young people should be brought into the movement and there ought to be an effective handing over of the touch to them, an opinion that Charhys apparently disagreed with when she said she doesn’t wait for the torch to be handed over, she just picks it up.

I did my best to record the panelists’ individual contributions, a very difficult task especially when you are soaking in some important points being made; I might have to get a recorder in order to effectively record participants’ contributions in future.

Even if I get nothing else in this so called “White State” I at least know there are people who feel strongly about justice, people whose main concern is a society that is fair to all regardless of color, class or creed, people with enough foresight to see that the only way to freedom is a just society where people can co exist without mutual suspicions. I am looking forward to drinking from the fountain of knowledge provided by these guardians of fair play.

You may also like

Leave a Comment