Editors' Note: Guest blogger Nakhone Keodara is the Campaign Coordinator of A Peaceful Legacy: Campaign to Remove Bombs from Laos, and sits on the Advocacy Committee of Legacies of War. He is a community organizer and founder of the Gays United Network and Editor-in-Chief of SoCal Voice based in Los Angeles.
Three people, including myself, showed up Friday night to protest Rick Warren's Saddleback Civil Forum on Reconciliation at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Friday night. The purpose of the civil forum was to honor Rwandan President Paul Kagame as a "Man of Peace." An odd distinction for a President responsible for the rape of millions of Congolese men, women and children in a military coup to plunder the vast natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R. Congo) and the countless lost lives of these same people in an ethnic cleansing conflict that Kagame is widely reported as having been the mastermind and commander-in-genocide.
Filmmaker, screenwriter, and human rights activist Alystar McKenneh and I were 30 minutes late to the protest. There were three to four police cars parked along the Saddleback Parkway and several of the police officers were in a motorized Segway scooter. It was a disappointing sight, to say the least, when we drove up to find that we were the only two people who showed up for the protest. The third protester name Ewanni, whose email I received later that night when I got home, apparently showed up at 6:20pm and then left prior to our arrival. Regardless, the protest did occur.
In the interest of full disclosure and for the sake of establishing record, I will post my email exchanges with Ewanni below:
to Nakhone Keodara
date Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 7:20 PM
subject The protest at Saddleback Church?
Where were the protesters? I went there and didn't see one single protester there. I drove around the place and even through the church grounds.
from Nakhone Keodara
date Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 11:47 PM
subject Re: The protest at Saddleback Church?
What time did you get there? I'm so sorry we were 30 minutes late due to traffic and we got there at 6:30pm. We were there for 3 hours until 9:30pm. We were at the Portola and Saddleback Pkwy entrance by the cops. Thank you so much for coming out and unfortunately it was only two of us there. We would have loved to have a third person there. Again, many apologies for being late.
to Nakhone Keodara
date Sat, Sep 26, 2009 at 2:08 AM
subject Re: The protest at Saddleback Church?
That's okay. I saw the cops when I arrived. I think one of them was on a silly Segway scooter. It was about 6:20pm when I arrived. So when I saw no turnout, I was afraid the cops arrested them and took them all away! Either that or they somehow got into the church to make a display at a service, then protest outside after getting escorted out.
Back to the protest. Alystar and I stood outside for three hours from 6:30pm to 9:30pm bearing signs that read "Kagame is No Man of Peace," "Stop Rick W.'s Purpose Driven Globalization of LGBT Persecution," and "Christians Should Not Support a Dictator." In order to maximize the three signs, Alystar and I alternated in having one of us hold two signs throughout the night.
Our protest was peaceful. We had a lot of people slowing their cars down as they passed us to read the signs. For the most part, people seemed curiously interested in our messages. However, we had one African-American man yelled "Fuck You," from his car window on his way into the Church. Another incident was with one older white woman leaving the Church and was at a stoplight rolling down her car window and screamed, "He's not a dictator!" Alyster and I responded promptly. "He's a criminal," yelled Alystar. I chimed in, "He's a murderer. Yes, he is a dictator. Kagame is no man of peace!" Indignantly, she responded with, "You're an idiot," before driving away.
The irony between that lady's last statement and her ignorance, or, more accurately, her willingness to be led by the nose by Rick Warren to believe that Paul Kagame is a man of peace, is lost on her. If Paul Kagame really wanted peace in the Congo and reconciliation with Congolese, he should have to make restitutions for the Congolese people by resigning as president, pull his militias out of D.R. Congo and turn himself in, for repentance sake, to European authorities so he can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for the countless crimes against humanity that he's committed. While at it, Kagame would do well to make amends to the LGBT Congolese for the atrocity of sentencing LGBT Congolese who had HIV/AIDS to die without access to treatment medications-denying PEPFAR funds to AIDS service organizations that acknowledged that gay people exist in Rwanda, thereby not abiding by his "Purpose Driven Bigotry."
Flying to America and putting on a show by pulling a wool over Rick Warren's "civilized" sheep is disingenuous. Let's see Kagame attempt to set right the errors of his ways by living up to some of my suggestions above. Then we'll talk about reconciliation. Otherwise, his hypocritical preaching about forgiveness, reconciliation and peace will ring hollow.
Other than those two incidents, we felt safe having the cops there protecting us. Deputy Richard W. Nelson of the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department was such a kind gentleman that he put us at ease right away. He went out of his way to accommodate us and even left me a voicemail while we were parking that a reporter name Erika Ritchie from the OC Register stopped to see him on her way in to cover the forum and had expressed interest in getting comments from me as one of the organizers of the protest. Alyster and I were elated to hear those news. We figured we would make the most out of the situation and was looking forward to speaking with Ms. Ritchie. The aim of our protest was to let Rick Warren and Paul Kagame know that we're watching them.
With that said, I can't believe my own eyes when I read Ms. Ritchie's report on the OC Register saying that the protest did not materialize.
Sheriff's officers who were deployed for a protest were reassigned when the protest didn't develop, but inside, it was packed.
With this disappointing, but not surprising, deceit-in-reporting, Ms. Ritchie is less than honest in her false claim that the protest at Saddleback Church didn't occur on Friday. I'm shocked that she would compromise her journalistic integrity by telling a lie about a protest I help organized on behalf of the Gays United Network, Friends of the Congo, (Rwandan) Survivors International, the San Francisco Green Party, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and Queer Nation-San Francisco.
Granted Alyster and I were 30 minutes late due to traffic, Deputy Richard Nelson and I were in constant contact with Ms. Ritchie, who told him that she wanted a comment from me, the organizer, after the civil forum. I also left Ms. Ritchie two voice mails telling her I was outside waiting to speak with her. I even offered her the option of calling me on the phone as we were leaving.
We stood outside on the sidewalk with our signs for 3 hours and left at 9:30 pm when we got word through Deputy Nelson's radio that the Kagame's motorcade was leaving. One would only have to confirm these facts with Deputy Nelson, Administrative Deputy/Terrorism Liaison Officer of the OC Sheriff-Coroner Department, to know the truth.
I'm less disappointed and more concerned with this kind of biased reporting from a journalist whose objective is to remain neutral.