The Most Important Form of Solidarity
The informal settlement across the fence was buzzing with fear. Word of police returning had spread quickly through the small Nairobi neighborhood, sparking talk of critical resistance. Many families were ready to take a stand.
The evening before, my daughters, a friend and I woke to screams and crushing metal. The sounds had translated into dreaming visions of a celebration accompanied by fireworks. Interrupting my dream, a fellow camper tore open our tent and helped to rush my children into the relative safety of the hostel we camped in front of. With the kids back to sleep behind closed doors, the adults sat, helpless, concocting a rescue plan. Bulldozers crushed home after home until the relentless African sun rose to greet us.
We spent the following day hounding media representatives at the World Social Forum that we were in Kenya to attend, trying to convince them to expose what we witnessed. We figured-- naively so as it turned out-- that media coverage would stop the demolition and save the nearly 2000 people being affected. A wealthy developer tricked an elderly land owner to sign away her rights, therefore granting him ownership. His plans? To build a towering hotel on the rim of Uhuru Park.
Our pleas fell on deaf ears and we left after hours of workshops on inequality, cloaked from head to toe in defeat.
At dinner, we learned that the residents planned to blockade the settlement. They would stand there all night, if needed, and we decided that we would offer solidarity and stand there, too.
With my kids fast asleep and under the watch of a trustworthy traveling grandmother back at the hostel, my friend and I headed to join the blockade. Within moments, we were surrounded by armed police guards, shooting tear gas canisters our way. Along with several other women, my friend and I ran back to our hostel where we offered fresh water for stinging eyes, food and blankets for the women with children.
Initially overcome with guilt and a gripping sense of failure, we soon found ourselves helping mothers uncover medicine in the rubble, playing games with the children and helping pack up when a moving truck came to take them somewhere new. Most importantly, we found that the strongest form of solidarity with the women was to sit with them and to listen-- completely-- with our hearts.