Oakland California. August 13th, 2011. I joined about 50 other Eritreans as we stood protesting at the entrance gate to a PFDJ organized party event. The event was disguised as a cultural and non-political event. This trick is still effective on many unsuspecting Eritreans. The event place was decorated with large posters with slogans. Most of the posters expressed praise to the Eritrean government and the rest of the posters expressed anger and accusation to those that think otherwise about the government.
We held our signs up high and distributed flyers with the message calling Eritreans to boycott government sponsored events and ‘vote with their feet’ by not attending. Some of the chants we were saying include: “stop abusing our youth!”; “enough is enough – 20 years is enough!”.
Some government supporters, particularly young second-generation Eritreans, were actively taking our photos close up, often nodding with a sinister smile. Their implied message was, “we’ll report you to the Eritrean government. You will be sorry you did this.” Such incidents reaffirm my belief that no government supporter is innocently misinformed. They don’t doubt swift action will be taken against those who dare voice a different message – even in foreign countries.
I also noticed with horror how heartless some have become. I asked one of the pro-government people that was confronting us and telling us to go away. She was probably in her late 40’s. I asked politely if she knew that Eritreans are imprisoned in shipping containers to which she replied firmly, “If they break the law, yes they should be locked up!” She was holding a sign that read ‘We will never kneel down!’.
Another older woman replied, “it’s their fault, their decision. They decided to leave Eritrea.” when she was asked how she felt that her grandchildren were perishing in the Sahara and the Atlantic. A certain man threatened to throw his car keys at me when I approached him to offer a flyer. These people have learned nothing from the society they lived in for decades.
And then, of course, there were the success stories. Many people, those with a conscience, were ashamed. They could not look at us in the eyes while entering the event. I could read their embarrassment. They knew they were on the wrong side of the crowd. No doubt many of them are held hostage by these cursed houses they bought back home in Eritrea. The government threatens to confiscate all assets and refuse all services to those who fail to comply with every demand the government makes. Not attending a government hosted event raises questions.
This experience was the first time in my life to ever loudly express my opinion about the tyranny back home. It was a liberating experience. I can’t wait to see the oppressor gone, my friends finally free in their own land, families reunited, …