Sade Sawyers, who organised a protest for the Uyghurs at the Chinese embassy in London on 11 September, spoke to Sacha Ismail from Solidarity.
I watch a lot of political videos on YouTube, and about a month ago I came across one about the Uyghurs. Before that I hadn't actually heard about the issue, even though I'm pretty up to date with current events. I was shocked — I actually ended up crying, which I wouldn't normally. I started tweeting about it and got into discussion with a friend, decided to organise a protest and it went from there.
I didn't expect such a good response — I thought it would be me and a few others. Getting eighty or a hundred people on a weekday at short notice was amazing. The call going viral on social media helped, but it was encouraging people actually turned up. Going forward, I want to continue using social media and the connections we made in the media, and it has also been good to link up with Uyghur Solidarity.
There is growing awareness of the Uyghurs among young people. Paradoxically, part of it may be because of statements from right-wing figures like Trump. They raise it for their own reasons, even though their own records aren't great, but it isn't necessarily right-wing people who pick it up and run with it. The young people who came on our demo were clearly left-wing. More generally, once young people pick up an issue it starts to get out into certain networks.
I hope the buzz is still there and can be developed. Huge numbers of Uyghur people are in literally life-threatening conditions. We need to push the protests further and make them bigger. We need to aim to actually end the forced labour and get people released from the camps.
What would you say to those who argue that by protesting against the Chinese government we are strengthening right-wing governments in the US and Britain?
I'm left-wing, in fact I'd say hard left, but sometimes we focus on ideological labels too much, when we should look at the issues. How do we support people facing oppression? When I called for the protest I got a sort of racial backlash on Twitter; there were people asking why as a non-Muslim black woman I was raising this. It's ridiculous. If I was in a concentration camp I wouldn't care if the people protesting were black, white or pink as long as I got solidarity.
Clearly the Chinese government is not socialist. It's capitalist in socialist clothing. Look at the huge wealth gap they have. It's a police state. That's why socialism has got such a bad name, because of countries that claim to be socialist but are not in any way.