Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Heartbreak Warfare - #OccupyParliament [Part I]

Anyone who takes a cursory glance at my Digital Timelines may already know that I suffer from an advanced case of foot on keypad syndrome. I think it... I tweet or update it. No forethought, and sometimes, if left to my own devices, no afterthought either.

Such was the case on Tuesday; a case that has taught me to question. To ask. To be patient in my resolve to neither ignore nor be ignored.

And upon some rather impressively mature – not so common in my book – reflection, some notions I expressed after leaving #OccupyParliament shamefully missed the big picture. I will now attempt to elucidate it. A swipe or two unavoidable ones will be taken at some ass-wipes, but otherwise, this time I quite fully agree with Bonnie's way. We're in a war, and it's about time we choose a side and stick with it.
Lightning strike… dreams of ways to understand my pain. Clouds of sulfur in the air, bombs are falling everywhere... it’s heartbreak warfare. Disappointment has a name [no one really ever wins] in heartbreak warfare… 
I swear to God we’re gonna get it right, if you lay your weapons down.
-          John Mayer

 Stop and Join

We left Freedom Corner at Uhuru Park, or as I call it, FC President Park, after about an hour of morale boosting chants and speeches from the likes of the revolutionary Reverend Timothy Njoya. It was quite an honour meeting the man, by which I mean being within 5 feet of him. 

His arrival, with the stripes he earned from the Nyayo regime’s boots, added more ‘legitimacy’ to the protest for me. In that there was a certain intangible euphoric patriotism his presence evoked for me; and, I’m sure, for many more.

As we left the corner, with press cars holding up traffic behind the procession and policemen walking by us, it was hard to ignore their palpable show of nuanced intimidation. They did, after all, while ‘protecting us,’ have tear gas canister guns in hand, and full riot gear to boot.

Yet, I was impressed to find some Kenyans joining the procession, one they seemed to have no idea was planned to happen. They read the placards. They agreed with the message. They joined. Idle Kenyans, some who sit on benches in the day, others who sleep on these benches in the night; but not idle of their own doing, I would posit. If anything, they embodied the very injustice we were there to protest.

40 million, held at ransom by a mere 4 hundred.

Stop and Stare

We beat a path through Kenyatta Avenue, into Moi Avenue; drumline a-timed, heading up the drumlin towards the symbols of impunity erected on Harambee Avenue, percussions a-costumed, lungs a-wailing as we headed on to Parliament Road.

Kenyans stopped; and stared. Being my first proper protest march, I mused, almost amused. Were they stopping, standing by the side of the roads in their droves, sitting in the various Coffee stalls that litter the CBD, Central Business District, because they were scared? Afraid to join us? 

Or were they giving us a guard of honour? 

If so, were we dignitaries? Or heroes fallen in war?

Perhaps, however, they were just disgusted enough not to join us, but still curious enough to stay and watch; hoping to witness the battle go down, when, inevitably, the long whip of the law cracked on our hides.

Standing to gaze or seated to watch us, they personified the struggle within our ranks. Passive passengers in the accident we call a justice system. I mean, you can watch. But you can’t join?
There is no failure. There is only feedback.
Hear and Jeer

The windows in every building the procession went by served as big screen reality TVs, connected real-time to a world just within reach, not quite within touch. We do love our reality shows, our Kard- and jubilated CORD-ashians. 

The voyeurs filled up every space on every opening, to watch the world beneath them. On rooftops. On illegal ‘smoking zones’ in the way of mezzanines.

Some seemed overly bemused, somewhat appalled in their disagreement. Particularly those employed on the government’s Avenue, Harambee. The same kind of people who 24 hours later, upon hearing that I was at the protest, sneered and asked, ‘Kufanya nini? - Doing what?’

Fighting for MY and mine's rights. YOURS too, by extension, but mine and mine's first.

Hear and Cheer

Then there were those who heard us, and took an early lunch break to ‘join us,’ waving and cheering us on from within their offices. 

I salute you all. 

I understand that unlike me – unemployed to some, self-employed to me – you could not join the struggle. Your thoughts mattered, as did those of the many Kenyans not working within the CBD or Nairobi, or Kenya even, who resonate with our slight forbearance on Kenya’s loan, owed to the justice sector.

Stay and Bicker

I may be alone on this one. I enjoyed my participation in the ‘democratic right’ to protest. 

I chanted. 

I also could not help but note. Note that we focused a little too much on the negatives. Chants of ‘wasaliti – traitors,’ and ‘mapambano – conflict (in the context used)’ as well as ‘Kanyaga – crush them’ echoed through the city. I have little qualm with that.

I do, however, believe that we should not ALWAYS protest against…it’s an easy ride to get on board, a bandwagon that focuses on the problem. Protest, chant, let us, for something. I did manage, with a certain degree of success, to pass this message across to some of my fellow protestors. The chant I asked for, was ‘Kenya yetu – Our Kenya.’

Simple. Effective. We rocked Harambee Avenue, reminding the Treasury, the Central Bank, Judiciary and the KICC among other buildings who cared notice, that it is, is Kenya – ours.

Just as we went past the Office of the Deputy President, a sobering moment came to pass, and in quick succession precipitated a chain of events that teed me off; saw me leave the protest livid and seething fire through my pacifist nostrils. This was where the poetry ended, and the dull prose began.
  •  Two General Service Unit (GSU) trucks came cruising at break leg speed, pummeling a hole straight through our stand against the system, as we scattered to avoid being barreled down.
  • Then, as we approached the roundabout onto Parliament Road off Harambee Avenue, the chant turned from the constant against mindset to a for mindset. What was the chant for, you ask? ‘Manguruwe, chinja. Manguruwe, chinja chinja! – Slaughter the pigs!’ 
I began to ask myself if that, really, was what we were for. Slaughtering.

MPs are only symbolically pigs, meaning a symbolic slaughter. 

But yelling that Pigs should be slaughtered, in a nation that has yet to heal from the 3 months of slaughter we went through post-2007 elections, was a message that could be easily misconstrued. I quickly noted the same to my friend Aficionado (who, incidentally, had taken the black and white dress code and run with it in true style); she too had noticed it and stopped chanting.
  • When we got outside parliament, things went south relatively fast. There was a vuta nikuvute (tag of war) between the protestors at the frontline and the riot police, about putting banners up on Parliament’s perimeter fence. The protestors made their first mistake. Perhaps for the aesthetic value the banners would have in the evening News, they persisted. 
And won.

Strike 1. You do not win, against the riot police and their battle-reinforced egos.
  • Some loose cannon then decided to hurl a bullhorn (megaphone) into parliament. There were parliament personnel standing near where the speaking-horn fell.
Strike 2. You do not give the riot police any excuse to attack you.
  • The organizers, Bonnie and Gaceke among others, to avoid provoking the riot police any further, requested the protestors to sit down, on the tarmac. 
They read out Article 37 of the Kenyan constitution:

"Assembly, demonstration, picketing and petition.
37. Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities."
All well and swell, were it not for the fact that some overzealous protestor(s) went round, intimidating fellow protestors by threatening to ‘beat them down’ with their placards if they did not sit down. 

Continued in Part II

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