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What Solidarity Means to Me: Panya Banjoko

Panya Banjoko
Thu 6 Aug, 2020

Panya Banjoko shares a story about an experience where it was important to show solidarity.

Just over two years ago I needed to travel to London last minute. Unable to get a train I stood in a long queue waiting to board a coach. I didn’t know anyone in the queue and most of all I hadn’t expected that I would need to act in solidarity with one of the passengers.

What unfolded next was a clear-cut case of discrimination, it was ugly, and it was awful to watch it being played out in front of me. And what haunted me most, then and now, was that no matter how I looked up and down the lengthy line of people to see if anyone, even one other person, acknowledged the scene of injustice being played out in front of us, nobody did, there were no allies. Eyes were kept down and I knew instantly that I had a choice, either to comply with what was happening around me, or stand in solidarity with someone I didn’t even know and would probably never see again.

Two thoughts entered my mind, 1) could I live with myself if I did nothing? and 2) how could I ensure my safety when, because there was no if, I intervened?

Panya Banjoko Solidarity Text Message

The first thing I did was to make eye contact with the victim, to reassure her that someone else other than her could see what was happening, that it was real, that she wasn’t imagining it, and that she didn’t have a chip on her shoulder. Luckily, with her being first in the queue and me being third I could see and hear everything, and I was also in a good position to act.

The next thing I tried was to see if there was any possibility of reasoning with the driver, there wasn’t, he was a bigot. So, while he continued to berate her for not having the right ticket, which she did, I waited until I boarded the coach and with both feet safely planted on the steps I challenged the driver while tweeting the coach company to let them know what was happening. He had asked her for a ticket, she had presented it, he had responded by saying it was fake, she had denied it, after some time she had presented the same ticket again, he had accepted it, she had commented that he had embarrassed her, he then announced he was refusing her passage

The action of tweeting was my response to seeing injustice unfold. Even with the absence of pen and paper I was still able to write a letter of solidarity on behalf of someone I didn’t know.

It worked, the coach company asked me to direct message them back and hastily I recounted the events of that morning on May 19, 2018. Thankfully it was all investigated immediately and the woman was eventually allowed to board.

Solidarity doesn’t mean you have to know the person, it doesn’t mean you have to be a member of a group, it doesn’t have to be an official correspondence on letter headed paper, it simply means doing the right thing at the right time, and knowing when to act.

Do you want to write a Letter of Solidarity? Find out about the project, how to get involved, and even attend a workshop with Panya here.

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