Moms (pt. III): they think it through

The Women’s Movement in Uganda is still young, but is showing more promise than probably any other movement in the nation.

In their debut action, roughly thirty women young and old gathered at Kampala’s National Theatre to march around Parliament seven times, mourning for the country. Dressed in the nonpartisan color white, they were protesting a bill tabled in Parliament that would raise age limits for judges – and eventually President Museveni, who had already been in power for 30 years.

Although police had granted the women written permission to march, they showed up with water cannons and anti-riot gear. One young activist s seized and thrown onto a pickup truck. Her comrades demanded they also be arrested, because they too intended to march.

The women were driven far from the point of arrest to a distant police station. When they were asked to hand over cell phones and be detained, they refused, saying there was no basis for their arrest. They started singing songs.

Lawyers, media, and other allies who were on call showed up to demand their release, and they were out within a few hours. Shortly thereafter, the speaker of Parliament pushed aside the bill.

Often males working on the same objectives participate in actions and find themselves in prison for lengthy periods of time. They have no follow up plans in case of arrest and rely on the goodwill and sacrifice of others who must follow up their cases.

These ladies, many of them mothers and grandmothers, have plenty of experience thinking things through and planning for the worst. Some ladies did not volunteer themselves for arrest because they had children at home or thought it wise to stay behind and work on logistics to help release their comrades and get their message out. They were prepared for the worst and did not go ahead with their action until all was set in place.

Much as I have painted Mother Mary as a radical one in past posts, she also played that typical safety-conscious, sheltering role. On numerous occasions (as in Mark 3:32), she sought her son out of concern for his wellbeing. Once when Jesus was 12, she thought he had been in the company of relatives, but could not find him. She went looking for him and was upset to find him studying in the temple courts despite his very apparent intellectual aptitude.

The point is that proper planning and security checks are not necessarily opposed to radical action. Movements can and should have both, and women are better fit – on the whole – to ensure the two support one another.

I am speaking this out of experience. My wife Suzan is ten times the organizer and strategist I will ever be. Once we were arrested together in 2014. Our kids were left at home alone with a new babysitter. No one could contact us unless they had the phone number of a neighbor or friend who could visit us in the police cells – and even then police were denying access to some visitors.

Since this time, Suzan has been incredibly careful to separate our roles and risks. When she is ready to strike, she has calculated the risks and put contingency plans in place. During her last arrest, she spent only a few hours at the police station before being released without charge. I really admire her prowess in thinking things through before taking action.

The lesson to be learned here is that radicalism does not equal recklessness. Risk is extremely necessary in many of our struggles, but must be calculated and handled with great preparation.


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