It's a bright, breezy Saturday in Mount Vernon with little else happening, making it even harder to miss Moussa Ali. Dressed in all-black and wearing a T-shirt that reads "I stand with the Oromo People," Ali stands in front of the Washington Monument and nods at drivers passing him by on Charles Street. He raises his fist above his head and conducts a one-man demonstration.
"I'm protesting," Ali, a 56-year-old Charles North resident and BP gas station manager, says, keeping his arm raised the whole time. "I'm standing with the Oromo students back home, which is in Ethiopia. The Oromo people are the majority in Ethiopia. In large numbers they are being killed. All young."
Ali, who is ethnically Oromo, says a minority tribe, the Tigrayans, has had control of the Ethiopian government for over 20 years and oppress, disenfranchise, and take land from the other tribes, especially the largest tribe, the Oromos. According to Human Rights Watch, "Ethiopian security forces are violently suppressing the largely peaceful protests in the Oromia region that began in November 2015."
Ali says: "They go to the students dorm, break into their rooms and because of this, the students cannot even go to school right now. Some of the students started escaping out of the country into the sea, trying to immigrate to Europe. And that struggle is still continuing right now! I want freedom for my people... this is part of me."
Ali came to American from Ethiopia as a student 35 years ago, barely slipping the grip of government forces himself.
"[Back then] they started rounding up the students!" Ali says. "I was one of them marching. I used to go around doing the same thing I'm doing right now. I used to have my slogans, march in the towns, underground. Then they found out. They had their own spies. They give my name away. [My friends] told me, 'The government's looking for you! You better leave the country.' That is how I left the country."
Ali believes Americans should have an interest in this issue too. He says that American tax money in the form of military assistance is used to crush Oromo protests. Foreignassistance.gov shows that the U.S. Department of Defense has given the Ethiopian military $31 million in aid in 2015 alone. This is in addition to veteran American forces training the Ethiopian military.
"The interest for Obama and the United States is just to go after Al Qaeda in Somalia," Ali says. "They get… cash. They train them. The Ethiopian government go into Somalia and fight for America."
He shares the experience of his tribe back home with the hope that Baltimoreans can imagine the kind of freedom for his tribe that we have here: "Look at the freedom I have here. I'm talking to you right now. Nobody's coming, arresting me, threatening me or going to take me to jail or torture me. No fear!"
He says he is "a representative of Baltimore City" who's doing his part.
"There is no Oromo news except [what you hear from] the Ethiopian government, they choose it," Ali says. "All over the globe, Oromos, no matter where they are, we are doing this."
"It's happening all over," he continues. "Oromos are protesting in Sweden, France, Australia, England, Oromos are protesting everywhere. We are a strong community in Washington D.C., [but in Baltimore] communities are not large."
Though he stands alone, he says he'll "come back again" and be here this upcoming weekend as well for a couple hours.