Sudan Uprising: How a Protest Changed Me
I did not think that my day at work would be anything special.
I would come in, work on my illustration, and go home. I never thought that I would go to a protest for the first time.
When my supervisor said that we needed to show up at a rally downtown to support those involved in the Sudan uprising, my initial reaction was not “yes, I finally get to go to a protest” — instead, it was a combination of dread, fear, and insecurity that ran through my system. I had mixed emotions of “should I, or should I not?” My mother had always taught me not to stand against authority, whether it was a teacher, a boss, or anybody with authoritarian power. But I jumped in the car with my coworkers, and looking back, I am glad I did so.
We missed the beginning of the march due to traffic, pretty common downtown at noon. So the plan was to wait for the group to come back from marching to the spot where we could join.
It was a clear sunny day, everybody was minding their own business, and I was standing there, terrified.
I had never been to a protest so I didn’t know what to expect. Horrifying images of people getting gassed or killed was not exactly what I wanted in my head at that moment. As anxious as I was, I reminded myself that I needed to be calm because screaming in panic would do no good to anyone. I told myself that I was in a safe place to protest and that people have done this before without getting hurt, with some exceptions like the Charlottesville riot — but I did not want that to go through my mind.
I took two breaths and looked around again. People going about their day, talking on the phone, preparing for work, going on break. It was a normal day. However, thoughts about Sudan came into my head for the first time that day, the situation that went on over there while I was standing downtown, peacefully. People were being killed for standing peacefully, I told myself. Images of protesters getting shot by the government, fathers hiding their families from the police, and mothers telling their children “it will be okay” while this morning I read my one-year-old a book about toys before going to work. It was a strange realization of reality that hit me. I shook the feeling off when the group of protesters came back from marching.
There was a powerful Sudanese-American woman leading the effort who set up a table filled with candy for the little kids. She had on a blue dress and blue high heels, showing her support for her home country through the color that she wore. She greeted me when I wanted to look at the candy next to her. “Take some, you look like you need it,” she said with a smile.
As the group marching came closer, they were chanting words like “I stand with Sudan!” and “get al-Bashir out of office!” over and over again. I saw people stop talking at the nearby cafe and look at the marchers; others I saw stop walking on their daily commute to see the marchers protesting. My feelings changed as I became proud of those marching and those who stopped and listened to the chanting.
“So, this is what the First Amendment looks like in practice,” I heard myself saying.
The Sudanese-American woman expressed her feelings and shared some facts about Sudan. People were being raped and killed for participating in protests, like the one I am in right now. It was hard to wrap my head around that — if I were in a different place, I could get killed for what I’m doing and where I’m standing. Wow, what a sheltered world I live in, I thought.
She said, “a six-year-old child was raped on the day of Eid.” I had heard that one before. I had read stories of children all over the world raped during times of war and violence. But for some reason, that line hit me hard. Her voice, her body language. I thought of the horror that took place and said, “What would I do if that were my child?” I began to think of the mother who had to witness the trauma or the father who felt helpless. Which is what I felt when I stood there. Helpless. What can I do for the people in Sudan?
The woman continued, “Do not give up hope, because your voice counts for ten voices in Sudan. By standing here you are helping give voice to the people who have lost theirs.”
I saw people with pieces of paper taped on their backs, with victims’ names written on them. One victim was 19, another was 26, and I even saw kids young as my daughter, one year old. I froze because most of the victims’ ages I lived past. I could have been born in Sudan but died young.
During the shouting, someone asked me if I could hold a large banner that said “Stand with Sudan.” Without hesitation, I accepted the favor. I grabbed the banner, stood on top of the staircase, and held it high. Some men with large cameras came forward and began to take pictures. Someone next to me began to shout “I stand with Sudan!” and then the crowd repeated the same phrase in harmony. I saw people stop what they were doing and join the chanting. Each phrase that this man was chanting the crowd said louder. Then he began to chant in his native language and, to my surprise, an equal number of voices repeated the chanting in the native tongue.
That moment I realized how much we need peaceful protest. To expose the unfairness, the injustice instead of living a life of ignorance. When I held the banner, I asked myself a question: if the Civil War in Somalia had had a protest like this, would Somalia have experienced the violence that it did?
Thirty years ago, my mother’s homeland got destroyed by the Somali Civil War, and she had to move to the United States at the age of 11.
No one could organize a protest about the war since there were not a lot of Somalis in the U.S. With the lack of technology and the lack of organized voices, the awful civil war had left Somalia with a deep scar.
I wonder if this type of protest for Sudan prevented a similar situation. If Somali Americans could have gathered together and fought the unfairness, would that have stopped that civil war? Did we prevent Sudan from going down the same path?.
It was a sense of hope blooming inside of me.
Some might say that preventing a civil war through peaceful protest is impossible. But as Muhammad Ali once said, “Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it.”