Hot Action, a post running on WWire each Tuesday exploring political action and activists, spoke with Nigerian anti-oil activist Omoyele Sowore. Sowore visited PSU last week to share his stories from life in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
The 35-year-old Sowore, who goes by his last name, grew up in a tiny village situated in southern Nigeria, where the Niger River meets the Atlantic Ocean. He was first exposed to underground anti-oil activists at the University of Lagos, where he was eventually expelled after being arrested for his part in a political demonstration. He suffered beatings and other forms of torture, before being released from police custody.
Sowore came to the United States as a refugee in 1999. He currently lives in New Jersey, when he is not traveling the country speaking about human rights and environmental issues. Hot Action caught up with him after his lecture in the Smith Memorial Ballroom at PSU last Thursday, to talk about reaching out to often clueless American students.
WW: You must be faced with American ignorance all the time. How do you deal with that?
To be honest, you know, I don't want to be rude, but it's amazing how much ignorance is existing in America. And I know it not from speaking to people, but I also went to college here. I did a 2 year degree at Columbia University. And I just saw, at Columbia, a so-called Ivy League school, you know, what I can call an adult daycare—kids of rich people who didn't know jack. Of course, it's a good school. We have professors who have won Nobel prizes. But I didn't see real education. I didn't see an understanding of peoples, of environment, what I consider to be education. I just saw functional literates.
WW: How does Portland compare to other cities in terms of ignorance and awareness?
I've been to places in Portland, in which I felt like I'm preaching to the choir because there are a lot of people who are aware. There are cities that I go to that people warn me in advance to be careful—places like Colorado Springs. And I've seen people, especially younger people, who have wanted to come to blows with me. In Arizona, I had a 17-year-old who was really upset that I spoke against the war. That happens, you know, but it comes with the territory. But I think the more people react that way, the more it shows that they've been challenged. You're pricking upon the core of their conscience.
WW: How do you eliminate the use of oil in your own life?
Unfortunately, I still don't have a car that drives on veggie oil. I want to get there. I don't have a means of doing it, you know. I'm practically in the poverty bracket in this country. I don't actually own a car myself, but I do ride in cars. I flew in an aircraft all the way to this place and I'm sure, individually, I must have burned tons of oil across America. It was a 6 hour flight. That's a lot of oil. If you take me in a car, I won't go into a gas station with you. But I don't want to excuse myself. I don't have a rooftop that's made of plants. That's why all of us must work together to defeat this consumer culture. I have a wardrobe full of clothes that I don't need and it came to me from this culture. When I left Nigeria, I had maybe 3 pairs pants and shirts, but I have more now and it's a shame. JULIE SABATIER
Check out Hot Action, WWire's weekly post about activists, demonstrations and other hot political action in and around Portland every Tuesday.
UPCOMING HOT ACTION EVENTS
Thursday, November 23
Fixed Gear Bike Ride
Bicycle activists will get together to ride controversial “fixed gear” bikes on Thanksgiving to get some exercise before the big meal. Meet at River City Bicycles parking lot 9am. Free.
Friday, November 24
Buy Nothing Day
This 14-year-old tradition promoted by Adbusters Magazine has become an unofficial holiday among activists, with impromptu demonstrations cropping up in cities across the nation. On the biggest shopping day of the year, activists challenge themselves to refrain from shopping of any kind for 24 hours. Anywhere goods are not sold. Free
Wednesday, November 29
Screening: Stealing America Vote by Vote
This documentary from award-winning filmmaker Dorothy Fadiman takes an in-depth look at voting irregularities in the 2004 presidential election. Clinton St. Theater, 2522 SE Clinton St. 7pm and 9pm, $5-$15, sliding scale donation (all proceeds benefit The Portland Alliance, Portland's monthly rabble-rousing newspaper).