Originally posted at Blog for Darfur.
I wanted to share with you all this email from Lori Khan, an activist in Houston, TX. During President Obama’s recent trip to China Lori took a few of her paintings and informational materials to the Chinese Consulate in Houston to raise awareness about China’s role in Sudan. As Lori writes below, “Just think what we can do all together, as a united community fighting against the genocide in Sudan!”
This past Tuesday, November 17, 2009, I conducted a solo protest in front of the Chinese Embassy on Montrose Blvd., a four lane road in a commercial district of Houston, Texas. I wanted to take advantage of President Obama’s presence in China to bring attention to both the Chinese and my fellow Americans about the terrible situation going on in Sudan. As you all likely know, President al-Bashir has been indicted by the ICC for genocide yet, he remains free. This is an untenable situation and I wanted to express my vehement disgust about his continued freedom. I am a middle-aged disabled woman who has been involved with both Save Darfur and Enough for years. I protested with my local Houston compatriots when they delivered the roughly 40,000 signed petitions to the Chinese Embassy and alone when the Olympic flame went through San Francisco. This latter protest was very simple; just me, my wheelchair, and my Save Darfur “put out the flame of genocide” signs. This time, I had something much bigger in mind! I have included photos but a word of caution though; I had to re-set up the booth at home inside for photos. I had a dickens of a time on Tuesday; as lovely as the temperature and very bright sun were, I battled for 4 hours with 15 mph winds! Oh my, I had paintings falling, brochures flying, table cloth whipping, etc. I was all alone so I had no one to take photos while I held things down so I just set up in my living room and took the photos here. I did take a few outdoor photos of the embassy itself though.
For this protest, I set up a nice 4′ table with a “Save Darfur green” tablecloth right in front of the embassy just a few feet from the curb at the entrance to the embassy between two concrete barriers. Being a retired lawyer, I checked ahead of time regarding permits and the like. So long as I was not obstructing the walkway, no permit was necessary. I brought with me several paintings out of a series of 12 paintings I have done on Sudan. Three were already custom framed and two were waiting framing (so expensive!). I had small tabletop easels and put two of the framed paintings on the easels. Resting against them were two of the unframed paintings. The two framed paintings were “The White Dress”, a painting of a little Sudanese girl taken from a Live 8 feed showing a child in a donated dress, still able to swirl around and feel hopeful despite her surroundings, and “The Lost Boy”, suggested by Dave Eggers’s biographical narrative, “What is the What?” (highly recommended reading). The two unframed paintings showed 1) the flag of Sudan superimposed with both the map of Sudan and then a jigsaw puzzle, “Who can solve the puzzle of Sudan”, and 2) a small map of Sudan and a red block suggesting China with a chain of barrels of oil going to China and a chain of guns and money going back to Sudan. On the ground, was the third framed piece, a very unflattering (but honest) portrait of al-Bashir (the rabid ruler) and a sign asking people to advocate for the immediate arrest and detention of al-Bashir. The rest of the table top contained Save Darfur brochures and the handbills (large postcards) along with a bowl with the green arm bracelets for sale for $5 with proceeds to go to Save Darfur. I included a few books as suggested reading (including “What is the What?”) and a small palm size album of photos of the complete 12-piece Sudan series (the originals are not for sale though I am working on getting archival prints made (expensive!); however, I do have prints of The White Dress and The Lost Boy with 20% of their $60 price to go to Save Darfur.). Finally, I draped my Save Darfur t-shirt down the front of the table for easy visual recognition of the protest as a Save Darfur protest as people drove by; unfortunately, I am a “big girl” and the 2X simply doesn’t make it for me. The setup took a bit of doing because I am mobility impaired and had no one to help but I just piled it all on my wheelchair, table included, and rolled from my parking spot 1/2 block away to the embassy. Unfortunately the idea of ADA-compliant sidewalks didn’t hit this part of town and I battled some pretty deep slopes at the curbs. Wee! Finally, however, I was all set up and ready to go… or so I thought!
This time, the embassy people were REALLY uptight about my being there. I protested alone back when the flame went through San Francisco (without a table and all the setup that I used this time). That time, just one person came out, asked what I was doing, and was satisfied with my simple answer – that I was educating people about the situation in Sudan. This time, they sent out a tall guy garbed in a security outfit complete with medal badge(!) who tried to be threatening by asking me where my permit was. I told him bluntly that I didn’t need a permit as I was not obstructing the public street. After telling me he was going to call the police, I told him I didn’t care because I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong. He left right in the middle of my sentence. About 15 minutes later, he came out with a short fellow in business clothes who asked me the same question. I explained that I was an attorney who had read the city ordinance in advance and so long as I didn’t obstruct the public right of way, I was in my rights on the public street. They both left mid-sentence (never had this in-your-face kind of rudeness before). More battles arose as I sat in my wheelchair and fought repeatedly with the wind. 15 mph; a disaster! Everything knocking down – oh, my! Finally, about 1.5 hours after I had gotten there, yet another guy came from the embassy and wanted me to move farther down the street away from “their” (er, did he mean US public property?) entrance. I told him “no”; that I was disabled (I was sitting in my wheelchair and had my blue handicap car tag with me), and that I already could barely make it to where I was. He glanced at my handicap tag and wheelchair, turned around, and left. I am assuming that he figured he was on the losing end of that battle. However, I did see the Houston police drive by my site about 6-8 times while I sat there. I am just sure the officer was “thrilled” to have to “babysit” this great big terror : a plus sized, disabled, wheelchair bound woman sitting silently in her chair in back of a neat, non-confrontational table. LOL! Poor guy: I did feel sorry for him and could almost feel the movement of his eyes as he rolled his eyes in disgust at this “high security” risk. Well I kept my commitment to myself and remained at the embassy from 11:00 – 3:00. When I got home, I discovered that I was badly sunburned. LOL! Who’d think of it in November?
All in all, I think it was a successful protest. Although I did not have the horn honking and peace signs of my earlier protest, the traffic was very heavy but with the weather windy and chilly, windows were up. I guess somewhere between 300-500 people passed by me in vehicles. I also had quite a number of people come up to the table, take materials, and ask questions. I definitely had more pedestrian traffic this time which was nice because I could answer questions and suggest materials. I also think my getting the embassy as stirred up as I did, though I was quiet, polite, and emphatically within the law, will teach them that the American people are very concerned about what is happening in Sudan and that we want to see an end to the genocide. I found peace in my efforts knowing I had riled them up by doing something so simple; hopefully, it will engender talk among themselves about the issue. Just think what we can do all together, as a united community fighting against the genocide in Sudan!