What Solidarity Means to Me

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?

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.

Published by Panya Banjoko

Panya Banjoko is a UK-based writer and poet. She has toured internationally, coordinates a writers’ and artists’ network and is patron for Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Her work has featured in numerous anthologies including the award-winning Dawn of the Unread series published by LeftLion magazine in 2016. In 2017 her poem ‘One of a Kind’ was commended in the Writing East Midlands Aurora poetry competition and her poem ‘They and Them’ was featured in an exhibition by artist, academic and critic Keith Piper at the Beaconsfield Gallery, London. She received the Women in the Arts Poetry Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2008 and the Black Achievers Culture, Music and Arts Award for her work as a poet in 2017. Publications:Banjoko, Panya, ‘Things You Wouldn’t Say to Your Daughter’, Clever Girls ed. Jackie Goode (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), pp. 165-180. Critical-creative essay. Banjoko, Panya, Some Things, (Bristol: Burning Eye Books, 2018). Poetry collection. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Insomniac’s Count’, Nottingham, ed. Miggy Angel (Nottingham: Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities, 2019), pp. 51-54. Banjoko, Panya ed., When We Speak, An Anthology of Black Writing in Nottingham, (Nottingham: Nottingham Black Archive, 2018). Banjoko, Panya, ‘Santa Circa. 2092’, Christmas Crackers: Ten Poems to Surprise and Delight, (Nottingham: Candlestick Press, 2017), p. 8. Re-published as the weekly poem for Oxford Brookes University, December 4, 2017. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Powe Meets Africanus’, Dawn of the Unread ed. James Walker (Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 2017). Banjoko, Panya, ‘Brain Drain’, IC3, An Anthology of New Black Writing in Britain, eds. Courttia Newland and Kadija Sesay (London: Penguin Press, 2000), p. 163. Banjoko, Panya, ‘The Offering’, Random Acts of Kindness, An Anthology of Poetry and Flash Fiction for Nottingham Peacebuilders eds. Cathy Lesurf, Anthony Cropper, Sheelagh Gallagher (Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 2017), p. 36. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Mike’s Story’, ‘Love Matters’, and ‘360’, The ‘Art of Nottingham (Nottingham: Nottingham Jubilee Press, 2013), pp. 129-131. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Beside the Pool’, ‘Arriving’, and ‘Dirty Gold’, Through the Aether (Nottingham: Nottingham Jubilee Press, 2012), pp.176 – 177, 180. Banjoko, Panya, ‘Arriving’, Out of Bounds: British Black and Asian Poets, eds. Jackie Kay, James Proctor, Gemma Robinson (Northumberland: Bloodaxe Books, 2012), p. 177. Educational Commissions: When Carnival Came’ TunTum Housing, 2020. ‘A Pause’ Nottingham City Arts, 2020. ‘Dream Here’ Pathways Mural Project, New Art Exchange and the Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R) University of Nottingham, 2016. Banjoko, Panya, Hari at the Castle (Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Museum Service, 2010) Banjoko, Panya, Bibi’s Museum Adventure (Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Museum Service, 2008)

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