August 30, 2008

Something About Tibetans

On August 23 and August 24, 2008 a tremendous outpouring of support for a free, autonomous Tibet occurred in the main "free speech zones" of NYC. Thanks to the organizers, Students for a Free Tibet, the Tibetan Women’s Association, the Tibetan Youth Congress, International Campaign for Tibet and other groups, Tibetans, Asians and European Americans gathered to let the world know human rights are still MIA in China. The Bejing Olympics didn't change a thing.

China lied about peaceful protest and freedom for the press. More reports will emerge over the next few months, but we must speak out for people who cannot speak for themselves . The struggle for a free Tibet will go on until Tibetans can go home.

The itinerary was well organized. On August 23 we began at the Chinese Embassy, where the longest continual demonstration has been happening since March! This was followed by a rally in Times Square which was peaceful, despite attempts by one lonely lunatic who shouted "CIA" at the group while trying to distribute propaganda in support of the wonderful government of China (hee hee!). Food was distributed (love those Tibetans!) and officially ended, but the group wasn't ready to stop. An ad hoc group gathered in Union Square to pay tribute to fallen heroes with a die-in and ferocious speeches.

Sunday, August 24 began at Dag Hammerskold Plaza. We chanted, listened to speakers which included four Americans just back from Bejing. They were very warmly received and shortly after there was

more food (yeah!) and we marched across 42nd Street back to the Chinese Embassy. There, in the hot sun we listened to music and more speakers, including Robert Thurman, founder of Tibet House. It was an uplifting experience without any problems. May we grow and endure!

Something About Tibetans

For many years Buddhism has been my refuge from the pains and chaos of life. When the pressures of injustice begin to wear me down, I turn to the teachings to get back on the path of compassion and

nonviolence. It was with gratitude for this assistance that on August 23-24 I devoted

myself to street actions that promote Tibetan self-determination. I wanted to show support not only for Tibetan Buddhism as a life philosophy, but also to bear witness to the Tibetan people’s struggle. The weekend was transformative for this old veteran of peace and justice campaigns.

Aug. 23, Times Square: Listening to speakers and enjoying food

Tibetans comport themselves with disciple and restraint, needing very little direction from “leaders” regarding when to chant or march, sit or stand with fists in the air, and were even sincerely gracious in thanking the police for their patience in escorting them. Their ability to main

tain dignity in the face of such enormous adversity was truly inspiring. I wanted to understand better how they endured, more than 50 years after being attacked to the very core of their being. More than that, I wanted the progressive movement

to listen, learn and evolve from their experiences. But without media coverage, most dedicated human rights supporters would never know a single thing about these events

A small group of non-Asian participants fresh from demonstrating in China were present. Although they already seemed to be “insiders,” they kept a low profile to make sure Tibetans remained at the center of the events. Their behavior, as that of the Tibetans, was a stark contrast to thewildly confrontational and publicity-seeking style of typical anti-war/racism/poverty, etc. demos and meetings, where people fight over the megaphone, microphone or podium to ensure their point of view will beat the forefront. He who shouted loudest or longest got to lead the parade. Progressives could learn from their example, but first needed to know it existed.

Aug. 23, Times Square: American "Free Speech Zone"

In addition to the lack of knowledge was a gross misrepresentation of facts. Because of this, I thought to provide a bit of history and a simplified perspective of what Tibetans seek to achieve.

In 1950 the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet. Nonviolent to a fault, the Tibetan people tried to accommodate their changed reality as best they could without a real army or backup from a foreign government. As time passed it became clear that China was determined to destroy Tibetan culture and religion. Complete eradication of Tibetan Buddhism was essential for the Maoists because they knew Buddhism was and continues to be integral to the identity of Tibetans, traditionally, socially and politically. This struggle is difficult for Americans to understand because our national identity is persistently transitional, but an example from my history may bridge the gap.

Aug. 23, Times Square:

Radical statements

When my father was six months old, my grandparents participated in demonstrations against Mussolini in our tiny hometown in Sicily. Everyone known to have participated was swept up and placed in jail, not for Fascist reeducation but just straight out intimidation. Early one morning my “nonni” were arrested and, because Dad was still breastfeeding, he was brought to prison with them. Not knowing what the future would bring, a priest in the group offered to “confirm” my Dad, a procedure one is supposed to undertake in adolescence.

Aug. 23, Union Square: Standing together after the Die-In

There is great historical significance to this ritual. In the early days of the Roman Catholic Church, when the Roman authorities persecuted Christians, a person voluntarily and with total awareness became confirmed as a soldier of Christ, willing to die rather than disgrace his name. Obviously a 6 month old is not capable of comprehending any of this, but in times of desperation, you use what you’ve got to get what you need.

Aug. 24, UN Rally: Getting ready to march

For the Sicilians in that prison, my Dad provided a cause to rally around and feel unified in their mission against the mighty powers of Il Duce. This became one of my favorite history lessons and surely set me on the path of righteousness in the name of the people. It imbued them with an identity and ideology that encompassed both Sicilian pride and the Roman Catholic virtues within our language and culture. The Tibetan cause is just like the Sicilian struggle against Fascism because of the common thread of powerless people demanding the right to maintain their common identity against the powerful.

Aug. 24, UN Rally: Young folks pick up the flag

China’s leaders believed the only way to subsume Tibet was to utterly destroy the fabric of daily life. This should sound familiar to Americans who remember our failed Vietnam policy of destroying villages to in order to “save” them. In addition to bloodshed and threats of imprisonment for “incorrect thinking,” every day for the past 50+ years Tibetans were bombarded with lies, misrepresentations and slander about themselves. Their national icon, the Dalai Lama was demonized to the extent where anyone with so much as a picture of him risked horrible punishment. China’s leadership continues to use the Dalai Lama as a reason to suppress Tibetans even as the rest of the world has accepted some of his teachings from this very old and constantly evolving philosophy.

Aug. 24, UN Rally: Cautious Beauty

This year the Tibetan cause again burst upon the attention of the world shortly after the March 10 anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, which commemorates the events of 1959 when Tibetans first shook off the shackles of fear and intimidation and took to the streets. This time the world waited to see how China would respond because the Olympics were conferred upon China only with explicit promises of tolerance for dissent. Unfortunately, China proved its word could not be trusted as tanks, missiles and bullets were used to put down demonstrations of unarmed lay people, monks and nuns, all over Tibet and throughout China. Because of their courage the actions of Tibetans, Uyghurs, other ethnic minorities and Chinese nationals in 2008 will be remembered as even greater than the 1989 protests which commemorated Tibetan National Uprising Day.

Aug. 24, Chinese Embassy Rally: The march across 42nd Street ended with another rally. The Hudson River to our left and the Chinese Embassy to our right

As China tried to present a perfect, homogenous nation for the Bejing Olympics,

YouTubers watched in horror as monks, nuns, children, grandparents and citizens raised fists against clubs, thr

ew stones at tanks and ran from bullets. We may never know exactly how many people died or were disappeared during those riots, but most amazing was that the movement was not suppressed but instead vitalized beyond expectation. Thanks to the Internet, people who knew little or nothing about Tibet saw with their own eyes the horror of a totalitarian state. Concerned outsiders understood this issue would not go away without strong and sane intervention, but where to turn was problematic.

Aug. 24, Chinese Embassy Rally: Longing for home

“Free” media only reported the most sensational aspects of the story and gave little substance to flesh out the who, what, when, where and most importantly, why of what was happening. Alternative news was almost completely lacking in coverage, since overstretched activists were trying to cover everything from Iraq to Palestine, Oaxaca to Burma. The only westerners to consistently (and very loudly) speak about Tibet seemed dedicated to presenting Tibetans as pawns of the CIA or sympathizers with feudalism. Such bizarre allegations were as informative and useful as Fox News! The realization was beginning to dawn that while the USA was sinking under its own bloated burdens, China’s repression could just as easily be exported with the toxic toys.

Aug. 24, Chinese Embassy Rally: One of the speakers was noted Tibetan scholar, Robert Thurman

Being a minority at Tibet events hasn’t diminished my enthusiasm. The Tibetan cause is as true as the Vietnamese struggle was to reunite and take control of their country. I felt connected to the Vietnamese in 1965 and did everything I could to help. The connection with Tibetans is much more personal because I embrace Tibetan Buddhism as a way to live an ethical life in a world that seems bent on cruelty and destruction.

If you still don’t understand what the big deal is, that’s okay. Perhaps Tibet is too small a country for Americans to be bothered about. Time will prove whether or not their struggle is as enduring as the Iraq struggle, the Palestinian struggle, and the inherent desire for all people to be free from servitude, be it outside oppression or from within. It’s also true the struggle for self-expression, self-determination and real liberty can occur in many different places all at the same time. There’s no rule saying how best to advance liberty, no template for steps 1 through 12. The only rule seems to be to participate somewhere, somehow and in some shape or manner. Buddhism teaches cause and effect, and we measure each action with a potential reaction. If it is a good action, more good actions will arise. Maybe I’ll see you at the next event!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Josie Human! Thanks for the writing and the passion. I'm so glad people like you exist, for so many reasons. Be strong, promote your love for people, never doubt yourself.