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Who Has Balls?
At the Intersection of Main & Church Street in Thurmont, Maryland, a few hundred Ethiopians gathered from around the country and the world. Six miles from the GB summit at Camp David, the entrance to the heart of the downtown area was blocked from vehicle entry by local police. The intersection where protestors had gathered was controlled by various police officers and a couple of dozen riot police in full gear. The protest rally was being attended by a few dozen other people who lined the sidewalks, some were gathered to observe the protestors, others were there as protestors and occupiers from the region, carrying signs for their own political causes and standing in solidarity.
Ethiopians organized collectively to protest Prime Minister Zenawi's attendance at the G8 summit. Zenawi has ruled in Ethiopia since 1991, and is on lists at Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Genocide Watch, for possible crimes against humanity and human rights abuses.
Sarah Mohamed, an organizer of Ethiopian transit from the state of Texas said, "I am disappointed, and my community is outraged by the invitation extended to Zenawi. He is a dictator and an evil man. He is killing our people and the United States should not support him. We are here to ask the people of the United States and President Obama not to support his genocide in Ogaden."
Abdi Kareem, founder of 'I Care Campaign,' stated the memories he had of his birth land Ogaden, "Were the kind of nightmares one would not want to have to remember for the rest of their lives." His awareness of the persecution and killing of his peoples haunted him. By the time he graduated from high school in the United States, he had learned that his dictator was being funded through the tax paying citizens of his adoptive country. "I am paying my taxes. We all pay our taxes, we need the other Americans, people of this country to understand that it is very wrong to support Zenawi." Kareem went on to address issues of persecution, genocide and famine as tools of Zenawi's regime.
The United States funds Ethiopia quite liberally, and the progrom for genocide is not a fabricated exaggeration drummed up by these activists. Even though the Ethiopian contingent was aware that their voices were not heard by President Obama and the G8 summit attendees, they expressed certainty, in the belief that he and others would be informed of their message, because they had "gathered in solidarity to exercise free speech." The Ethiopians believe dearly in the right to, as well as the effectiveness of free speech in the United States.
A contingent of dedicated young protestors, arrived to stand in solidarity with the Ethiopians. They were greeted with a natural barricade of citizens from Thurmont, standing shoulder to shoulder, apparently because they wanted to silence the anarchists from their right to assemble and engage in free speech. A woman from the town engaged in a heated and rather irrational "conversation" with one of the members of the group. As the middle aged woman shrieked, her young counterpart behind the "cops murder everywhere" banner, tried very hard to engage and educate her antagonist. Seeing that there was no means by which to engage in a rational conversation, the anarchist contingent left the conflict. As they walked off, the middle aged woman was greeted with applause by other community members, who thought she had done a good job. The woman continued on with a misinformed rant about anarchists and their intent, while the young anarchists marched through town and met up with a grouping of Ethiopians at Community Park waiting to pile into their vans and head out of town.
Members of the two groups engaged in a bout of true solidarity, with lively conversations, and posed for grouped photos with each other. While everyone agrees that Zenawi and his genocidal actions are heinious atrocities, the Ethiopians also did not question the veracity or the right of the anarchists to display their banner. They have seen their fair share of police carrying out the orders of the regime of Zenawi, and as informed Americans, are also aware that police are known to kill innocent citizens in the line of duty here in their new country, as well around the world.
It seems the citizens of Thurmont and the United States could also stand to learn a lesson from the Ethiopians, about respecting the right to engage in free speech. It is a founding principle that has served our nation well.