Hundreds of Ethiopian-Americans marched together on Tuesday in protest against the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party in their home country — and the U.S.’s lack of response to political repression in Ethiopia.
“Please listen to our voice…Our blood counts,” chanted hundreds as they marched down Marion Street to the Federal Building Downtown in 82-degree weather.
Marchers wore everything from street clothes to Ethiopian traditional outfits, and some wrapped U.S, Oromo and Ethiopian flags around their shoulders like capes.
“My dad is Oromo, my mother is Amhara, so who I am is Ethiopia,” said Kebede Abate, Ethiopian-Canadian Human Rights Chairman in British Columbia, as he stood under the towering Federal Building. “We must show the Oromo and Amhara as one…for that reason I drove 200 km early this morning to get here.”
The TPLF is the Tigray party within Ethiopia’s ethnically-based federalist government. It officially shares power with other ethnic parties in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), but has long dominated the government. The EPRDF won a landslide victory in elections last year that were condemned by democracy watchdog groups.
The protest on Tuesday called for solidarity among the different ethnic groups of Ethiopians living here in the Seattle area. More than 80 ethnic groups call Ethiopia home and ethnic division has long been part of the country’s story, though recent protests have forged alliances across ethnic lines.
In the face of graphic images of political violence around the country, nation’s people in both the homeland and the diaspora are slowly coming together.
(Video by Damme Getachew)
“I came down here because I’m sick and tired of seeing all of my people dying,” says Turu Godana, a young Oromo woman who brought her younger sister and cousins to the Tuesday protest. “I don’t think this dictatorship should be in power and I don’t agree with the U.S. government supporting any of them. They’re living off of blood money, basically.”
“USA stop financing the dictatorship in Ethiopia” and “Stop terrorism in our country” were among signs criticizing the mass crackdown by the Ethiopian government and a silent response in the West. The Ethiopian and U.S. governments are longstanding allies.
Chants were repeated over and over on the long and sweaty trek: “We the people of Ethiopia are united,” “All the tribes are united,” “TPLF stop killing innocent Ethiopia,” “Free political prisoners,” “Stop supporting TPLF,” “Free our students,” “Journalism is not terrorism,” and more.
Despite the declarations of solidarity, the number of Oromos who turned out for Tuesday’s protest was noticeably smaller. When an Oromo man took the megaphone, the response to his call was not as loud as the Amharic exclamations that had met other speakers.
Two days later, Oromos held another protest, traveling a similar but slightly longer route to reach the Federal Building. They called for the freedom of students, women, men and children.
Though the flyer announcement for Tuesday’s march said it was for all Ethiopians, regardless of tribe, some Oromos who gathered on Tuesday did not feel that their tribe was adequately represented.
Long a marginalized group in Ethiopia, Oromos at the Thursday march called for major U.S. intervention against the “killer” Ethiopian “dictatorship.” Harsh words described the pain of those who have family back home in Ethiopia who are experiencing the government’s enforcement firsthand.
“The message I have is that it’s OK to go with Amharas or with any tribe in Ethiopia,” explained Endale Bogale, an Oromo father, at the start of the Thursday protest. “My dream is that we come together as one body, under one umbrella, so we can support our students and our children who are dying back home.”
This post has been updated. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the group Ethiopian Community in Seattle (ECS) organized the protest. They did not. Individuals within the Ethiopian and Oromo community in the Seattle area organized the Tuesday and Thursday protests respectively.