On 12th March last year - which is Youth Day in Zambia - I was among the 49 members of ActionAid staff and Activistas who were bundled up and taken away from the Youth Day celebrations by the state police. Our crime? Wearing t-shirts that demanded the release of a people driven constitution. None of us had ever imagined how such an exercise of our freedom of expression would land us inside police cells.
Although we had not started off in a defiant spirit to get arrested that day, I have to admit there can be no greater test to our activism. During detention and interrogation, we had the opportunity to share what we stand for with the most unlikely audience; the cell inmates and those who arrested us.
What followed afterwards made that day symbolic to Activista. The outpouring of solidarity messages from all corners of the globe was beyond our belief. The determination and solidarity it reinforced within the Grand Coalition for a People Driven Constitution contributed to sustaining the campaign. We had no slight idea when we were being marched into the cells alone, that we would come out of there with the world on our back.
Personally, without that experience, the answer to what being an activist entails would remain elusive to me. Since that incident I have met several campaigners across the world from the Tax Trackers in Denmark and Activista in Burundi to the Tax Dodging Bill supporters in the UK with ActionAid. They have all often asked me what it feels like to be an Activista in Zambia.
Drawing on the 12:49 experience, I am now aware that as an Activist, you can be misunderstood on the outset and even your intentions overly misinterpreted before everyone else rallies behind you.
This is a hard truth that the police realized when the arrest brought more national and international attention to the Constitutional fight than the t-shirts alone would have, had we been allowed to be part of the Youth Day commemorations. I feel we were released six hours later with no charge simply because somebody realized we were championing a just cause.
To my fellow Activistas and all our supporters, we should always use our Youth Day every 12th March, to appreciate how critical our role is in realizing a society that respects human rights and equality for all as fundamental in the fight against poverty.
Happy 12:49 Day Activistas and Aluta Continua!