Seattle has always been a political hot spot. The city was known for its opposition to the former Jammeh regime and was a no go place for officials of the APRC. Gambians in the city staged several demonstrations over the years to express their dissatisfaction with the human rights violations and two decades of political oppression in the Gambia.
On the other hand, the city became a favorite place for the opposition. Few opposition politicians frequented the city to visit their party supporters and family. These includes Hon Halifa Sallah PDOIS, Lawyer Darboe UDP, Omar Amadou Jallow PPP and Lord Mayoress of Banjul among others. Seattle became a favorite destination for these politicians mainly because of the number of Gambians living in the city and the political involvement of Gambians living in this region.
Among all those previous visits, the newly formed United Democratic Party (UDP) Seattle Chapter broke the records of political mobilization in the city and the Gambian Diaspora. The chapter was initiated few months ago by supporters of the party to lend support to the main party. It organized a congress and invited the party leadership and other members across the United States. Other opposition party members had also previously organized such gatherings in Seattle.
UDP Party members started dissenting into Seattle on Thursday March 22nd, 2019. The party’s leader Alhagie Ousainou Darboe arrived on Thursday from the Gambia barely two weeks after he was removed as Vice President of the Gambia after serving eight months as the number two man in the country. This was one of first major events organized by party militants and attended by their leader after his unceremonious removal as Vice President. Earlier inside sources indicated there was skepticism whether the party leader would be able to attend the event when he was actively serving as Vice President. The stakes were high as the event got wide publicity across social media.
The city of Seattle and the Gambian community in particular has always been politically active and conscious. The UDP chapter counted on this opportunity and launched its Chapter on Saturday March 23rd. The event initially look like it was going to fall apart as it was scheduled to start at noon but wouldn’t commence until 5pm Saturday evening. The hall was packed full and was painted yellow by UDP members. There were dancing and renewed excitement all night about their party leader’s attendance and the future of the party. Though you can sense some level of frustration in the militants, they did not look anywhere closed to being silenced or discouraged by Mr. Darboe’s removal. Instead, they appeared energized and determined to send a clear message that their party has been there and done that. They had fun all night and seems determined to remind Gambians that their party just swept elections across the country.
Party members representing various cities and chapters across the United States were in attendance. The evening was filled with jubilation and speeches from party members and invited guests. One after the other the speakers focused on recognizing the role of the party leader and the sacrifice he has rendered to the Gambian nation. In particular his role and that of the party in resisting against the dictatorship in the Gambia continued to be a source of inspiration for party militants. Young speakers from the party recognized that they fought and defeated the brutal dictatorship and were not broken despite the heavy lost over the two decades.
One of the highlights of the night was the presence of the Lord Mayoress of Banjul – the first ever elected female mayor in the country. She spoke about the challenges she had to overcome since she became a mayor within the last eight months. Mayoress Rohey Malick Lowe outlined numerous achievements her city was able to accomplish since she won a highly contested election in the capital Banjul. She inspired the crowd and urged more women to get off the fence and join politics as she as “cleared the way for them to achieve higher heights”.
Mr. Darboe gave the closing remarks urging his party supporters to continue their commitment to the United Democratic Party and Gambia. He called on them to be respectful and to always conduct themselves with decorum and to treat their opponents not as enemies but fellow citizens. He was inspired by the crowd who danced their hearts off all night in optimism. Few speakers took swipe at President Barrow who is seen to have betrayed the course of the UDP after it nominated him and propelled him to power.
The Seattle Chapter were not done as the congress continued into day two. It was not clear whether a fundraising agenda was initially planned as part of the event. Mr. Ousman Manjang a long supporter of the party and representative of Atlanta GA during his speech challenged the party members to engage in fundraising as there can be no political success without money. He urged them to put their money where their mouths are. After that challenge the organizing committee made several announcements about donations from various chapters and representatives across the United States. In all $24,000 was raised from the beginning of organizing the congress to Saturday night.
On day number two at a BBQ organized Sunday evening, UDP militants showed they were not done. Within a span of two to three hours the party launched another fundraising effort this time challenging individuals to make pledges and donate to the operations of the party. The enthusiasm the night before ensure and pledges poured in from various members. A record $64,000 equivalent of over D3 million Gambian Dalasis was pledged by party members across the hall. It was something rarely seem within Gambian political support to mobilize such resources within a short period of time. This lend credence to the long standing notion that politics is about timing, about numbers and enthusiasm of party supporters. Certainly democracy as they say is not a spectator sports. It is a contact sports and the more you physically get involved the better results you are likely to yield.
The clear message that came out of these two days in Seattle alongside other UDP party rallies on the ground over the weekend shows that the UDP would be the party to beat come 2021 elections. The message is also loud and clear to President Adama Barrow that he must defeat his way through the UDP to serve a second term. Ultimately, the UDP appears politically mobilized to resist any attempts to inject disunity within the party and to disenfranchise the party into opposition again. While the party may have made a serious mistake in trusting one of its own who was not tested, they seems to recognize that President Barrow will have to work hard to pave his own way without his grandfathered party.
It was refreshing to see so many young Gambians participate in the democratic discourse in the New Gambia away from home. It is observed that if all other political parties and their supporters are as energized and enthusiastic as what the UDP militants displayed this weekend, then Gambia’s political future will only get better. Ultimately, Gambians must take the responsibility to nurture their own democracy and never again allow any resemblance of dictatorship in the Gambia. When citizens are engaged, refuse to sit on the sideline and become politically active, their political leaders would have no choice but to listen to the voices of the people. The participation of women and young Gambians would be a defining moment for a future Gambia. Whichever party attracts the most youths and women to their side are likely to form the next government of the Gambia.
Story by Demba Baldeh Associate Editor Gainako online newspaper
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