At about 3:15PM people with green, yellow and red flags descended onto the plaza. Men and women in colorful garb embraced each other as if long lost friends, they joked and laughed, they took pictures and smart-phoned, and gathered on a planter box in the shade to waiting for the protest to start.
I met a young man sitting on the planter box and asked what was going on. He said that they were part of a Muslim Ethiopian group who was protesting what was going on in Ethiopia and he told me it had something to do with the Prime Minister. I had no clue. When I got home later today, I googled “Ethiopian Muslim May 18th” which led me to this article . It turns out that there are concerns that “more than half a million people are being evicted to make land available for foreign investment in agriculture, advocacy groups…” This was an international issue and it had landed on the doorstep/planter box, of City Hall.
When I asked the same young man why here? Why the plaza? He frankly responded, “It’s City Hall.” I could tell he thought I was a crass for asking the question. And in retrospect, I can see that. The plaza is the civic focal point of the city. It’s a platform for all issues here and abroad. It’s a stage for us to connect to the world.
A little after 3:30 organizers started conducting the crowd and getting people together. What sounded like a speech or instruction was given in Ethiopian, and then there was a prayer. The procession started the crowd slowly trekked around city hall chanting phrases in English and Ethiopian until they had completely circled around and reached the plaza in front of the Henry Moore sculpture. The chants continued. At one point, I heard a chant that reflected the diversity of the group, “We are Muslims! We are Christians! Stop the suffering!”
Towards the end, I talked to a few more people and found out that this protest was a Special Permitted event. I found the guy who actually got the permit. I wanted to know what he thought about the process? I got another crass-for-asking-that-question look. So, today I learned a few things 1] getting a Special Permit is not as hard as I think it is, 2] People see City Hall has political platform to express their ideas, 3] An eviction is about to happen in Ethiopia that is going to effect hundreds of thousands of people.
One of my last photographs was taken inside city hall, behind our massive glass lens to the plaza. The crowd looked so small, but later went I went out on the plaza to take a few more pictures, everything, the emotion, the activity, the sentiment was so much bigger.