Anatomy Of A Protest: U.S. Athletic Kneeler Being Compared To Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa

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Written by Dana Sanchez

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem in protest of police violence against blacks landed him a spot on the cover of Time Magazine — kneeling.

The magazine said Kaepernick is on the cover “because the movement he sparked has gotten so huge … and spread so far … he was the obvious choice.”

Kaepernick has willingly immersed himself in controversy by refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest of what he deems are wrongdoings against blacks and minorities in the U.S., NFL reported.

His latest refusal to stand for the anthem — he has done this in at least one other preseason game — came on Friday night.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick first began to protest during the national anthem in August to raise awareness about the state of race relations in the United States.

Since then, several professional and amateur athletes have followed in Kaepernick’s footsteps. On Wednesday, the first entire professional team, the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, knelt together when the anthem played, Washington Post reported.

Refusal to support the American flag as a means to protest has resulted in huge backlash.

“I think it’s a problem, anybody who disrespects this country and the flag,” former NFL coach, player and ESPN talking head Mike Ditka told KRLD-FM. “If they don’t like the country, if they don’t like our flag, get the hell out.”

Kaepernick said he has received death threats and been heckled during games and on social media, according to BET. That, he says, proves his point about the blatant racial inequality and oppression that exist in the U.S., as reported by ESPN.com.

 

From New York Daily News. Story by Ebenezer Samuel.

As Feyisa Lilesa ran the final stretch of marathon in Rio in August, he threw his arms up over his head, crossing them to form an “X”. He’d make the symbol — a peaceful sign of solidarity that his community in Ethiopia understood and the world would soon learn — three times, and as he raced across the finish line to claim second place in the Olympic marathon, he knew what that meant for his future.

He could not return to Ethiopia.

“I grew up witnessing sufferings and the oppression of my people, and this has always been on my mind,” Lilesa said through a translator a month later, from the safety of a Washington D.C. hotel room. “I knew that if I trained well, and got a good result, I would get the spotlight for a limited amount of time. I wanted to use that moment to send this message in the voice of my people.”

Lisela obtianed a temporary visa to come to the U.S. earlier this month.

His protest has left the international community confronting his reality, that a duplicitous Ethiopian regime has disenfranchised his indigenous ethnic group, the Oromo, for decades.

Before Lilesa’s Olympic “X,” there was little international awareness of the plight of the Oromo, who have seen hundreds die during protests against the Ethiopian regime taking their land, a situation that grows worse by the day.

“You are going to see a great tragedy in Ethiopia unless the international community convenes and helps bring about a change in that country,” Lilesa said.

His is an athletic protest meant to impact a nation a continent away, but to study Lilesa’s push for repairing Ethiopia is to see the anatomy of a protest, and understand both the freedoms and shortcomings in the United States based on the reaction to its own protests.

Lilesa has been in the country for barely two weeks, and has recently followed the efforts of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others campaigning to end police brutality and black oppression. He sees similarities in Kaepernick’s national anthem kneel downs and his own efforts to bring awareness to the struggles of the Oromo.

“All people want to live in peace, and they want to live with others,” he told The News. “From what I understand, they (U.S. athletes) have grievances about inequality in this country and injustice in this country. And they’re using their platform.

“This is very good because in my country, you either support the government, or you get in line with what they say. Look at what has happened to me. I protest, and then I am forced to leave.”

While Kaepernick has utilized his American freedom, many of his detractors have suggested the quarterback just “leave the country,” a comment that speaks volumes about how easy it is for a nation to misinterpret peaceful dissent. But he does realize that his comparison is incomplete and flawed.

“It is a very hard comparison to make,” he said. “This is advanced democracy. Mine is not.”

The American “advanced democracy” has yet to properly address the run of deaths at the hands of law enforcement. But to hear Lilesa tell it, his nation is closer to the brink of anarchy, thanks to a corrupt government that feels no need for accountability.

Until Lilesa’s Olympic gesture, the protests of his nation had gone on for nearly a year and drawn a little international attention. Part of Lilesa’s mission in the United States is to implore the U.S. to do more, to pressure the Ethiopian regime into less violence.

“The U.S. government is a close ally of Ethiopia,” he said. “A U.S. ally should not be killing our people.”

He can relate to Colin Kaepernick, who faces backlash in this country for his own peaceful protest.
He’s the son of farmers, he said, like most Oromo. “We are not violent,” he said. “My people are a peace-loving people.”
Lisela’s Olympic came at great consequence, as most effective protests often do. Instantly, he said, Ethiopian Olympic team officials, some of whom may have sympathized with him, knew they had to distance themselves from him. A day after the marathon, Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda claimed that Lilesa “won’t face any problem do to his political stance,” indicating that he would be “welcomed while returning home.”

Lilesa didn’t believe it.

“I heard the spokesperson’s comments, but it happens so often that the government of Ethiopia says one thing and does something different to change the narrative,” he said. “So I cannot go back.”

Even now, Lilesa says, his government is trying to shift the national narrative. Early last week, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn claimed that Lilesa’s Olympic protest had been “orchestrated from the outside,” suggesting that American Oromo sympathizers had pushed him into the gesture.

Lilesa released a statement Friday refuting that claim as “baseless, completely false and insulting.”

“I base my positions on my own convictions,” he said. “I am not a follower and no one can sway me into darkness or an immoral direction… I am not a messenger for any individual or group. Never will be.”

Lilesa, much like the continually misunderstood Kaepernick, still loves his country dearly, he said, and has no plans to truly begin a new life elsewhere.

He’s planning to resume his marathon training in New Mexico, and expects to return to long-distance running competition soon. But he does not expect to compete in international competition as a member of the U.S. team — or any other national team, for that matter. And he has no plans to help his family escape from Ethiopia and join him stateside.

No, Feyisa Lilesa harbors the most patriotic of dreams: That he can find a way to bring healing to his nation.

“What I am thinking here today is not so much that I can bring my family here but that change will come to Ethiopia,” he said. “So then I can go home.”

Read more at New York Daily News.