As the Beijing Olympics begin, the world looks on with mixed emotions. It’s a moment which should bring us closer together, and Chinese citizens deserve their excitement — but the Chinese government still hasn’t opened meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama, or changed its stance on Burma, Darfur and other pressing issues.
Even worse, extremists in China are promoting the view that Olympic activism like ours is anti-Chinese. We can’t stay silent, but we also can’t let our efforts be abused to divide people. So what can we do? The answer comes from the Dalai Lama himself, in an unambiguous gesture of Olympic spirit and friendship: a handshake.
It began in London, passed hand to hand by thousands of us — now the handshake has gone online, and is criss-crossing the globe on its way to Beijing. All of us can join, Chinese and non-Chinese, and it comes with a promise: to hold ALL our governments accountable where they fall short, in Tibet, Iraq, Burma or beyond. We’ll deliver our message in a bold media campaign in Hong Kong and around the world: Click below to see how the Olympic handshake started, sign up to join in, and watch it circle the globe —
The handshake idea is nice (with all of the banality of that word fully intended), but let’s not forget to extend the dialogue to the Uighurs or with Taiwan. Ok, I concede, the “round-the-world” map animation showing virtual handshakes is pretty rad, but I digress.
There’s not a lot of hope for the kind of openness that allows for fruitful dialogue on the Chinese side when they beat up and harass foreign journalists trying to cover the attack in Kashgar. Then there is the systematic internet censorship. The guarantee of press freedoms for foreign journalists was part of the contract that the Chinese government agreed to in order to host the Games. The Chinese government isn’t living up to their side of the bargain.
And then there are those Beijingers who were forcefully and unlawfully evicted from their homes without proper compensation to make way for the Olympics. And the peaceful Chinese civil society activists (and regular residents of Beijing) who are living under lockdown as a result of the games. Their grievances can hardly be considered anti-Chinese; since they ARE Chinese. Same goes for the repression of Falun Gong practitioners and other religious groups.
Ok, so I’ve given a handshake for peace, but what is the Chinese government going to give its own citizens and the international community in return? Do Chinese leaders and hardline nationalists even want a handshake? Or do they want the world to kowtow in reverence and awe at the “new” China’s coming-out party? As much as we all wished that the Olympics were about sports and international goodwill, the truth is, they are also about state-sponsored political propaganda (and uncomfortable displays of nationalism if you ask me) as well as corporate bottom lines.
In the wake of a massive cyclone, at least 22,000 Burmese are dead. More than 40,000 are missing. A million are homeless.
But what’s happening in Burma is not just a natural disaster–it’s also a catastrophe of bad leadership.
Burma’s brutal and corrupt military junta failed to warn the people, failed to evacuate any areas, and suppressed freedom of communication so that Burmese people didn’t know the storm was coming when the rest of the world did. Now the government is failing to respond to the disaster and obstructing international aid organizations.
Humanitarian relief is urgently needed, but Burma’s government could easily delay, divert or misuse any aid. Today the International Burmese Monks Organization, including many leaders of the democracy protests last fall, launched a new effort to provide relief through Burma’s powerful grass roots network of monasteries–the most trusted institutions in the country and currently the only source of housing and support in many devastated communities. Click below to help the Burmese people with a donation and see a video appeal to Avaaz from a leader of the monks:
Giving to the monks is a smart, fast way to get aid directly to Burma’s people. Governments and international aid organizations are important, but face cahllenges–they may not be allowed into Burma, or they may be forced to provide aid according to the junta’s rules. And most will have to spend large amounts of money just setting up operations in the country. The monks are already on the front lines of the aid effort–housing, feeding, and supporting the victims of the cyclone since the day it struck. The International Burmese Monks Organization will send money directly to each monastery through their own networks, bypassing regime controls.
Last year, more than 800,000 of us around the world stood with the Burmese people as they rose up against the military dictatorship. The government lost no time then in dispatching its armies to ruthlessly crush the nonviolent democracy movement–but now, as tens of thousands die, the junta’s response is slow and threatens to divert precious aid into the corrupt regime’s pockets.
The monks are unlikely to receive aid from governments or large humanitarian organizations, but they have a stronger presence and trust among the Burmese people than both. If we all chip in a little bit, we can help them to make a big difference.
Click here to donate:
Ricken, Ben, Graziela, Paul, Iain, Veronique, Pascal, Galit and the whole Avaaz team
PS: Here are some links to more information:
For more information about Avaaz’s work to support the Burmese people, click here: http://www.avaaz.org/en/burma_report_back/
For more information about the cyclone, the humanitarian crisis, and the political dimension, see these articles:
New York Times: “A Challenge Getting Relief to Myanmar’s Remote Areas.” 7 May 2008.
BBC: “Will Burma’s leaders let aid in?” 6 May 2008.
India’s Economic Times: Indian meteorological department advised junta 48 hours in advance, 6 May 2008.
BBC: “Disaster tests Burma’s junta.” 5 May 2008
Times Online: “Aid workers fear Burma cyclone deaths will top 50,000.” 6 May 2008.
|Rocketing prices threaten to starve millions and make us all less secure — sign the emergency petition for action to stop the world food crisis|
Have you noticed food costing more when you shop? Here’s why — we’re plunging headlong into a world food crisis. Rocketing prices are squeezing billions and triggering food riots from Bangladesh to South Africa. Aid agencies say 100 million more people are at risk of starvation right now. In Sierra Leone alone the price of a bag of rice has doubled, becoming unaffordable for 90% of citizens. Fears of inflation stalk the whole world, and the worst could be yet to come.
We need to act now — before it’s too late. As Ban Ki-Moon holds a high-level UN meeting on the crisis, we’re launching an urgent campaign with African foreign minister and human rights campaigner Zainab Bangura. Click below to see Zainab’s video message and add your name to the food crisis petition — we need to raise 200,000 signatures by the end of this week to deliver a massive global outcry to leaders at the UN, G8 and EU:
The prices of staple foods like wheat, corn and rice have almost doubled, and the crisis is slipping out of control — so we’re calling for immediate action on emergency food aid, speculation and biofuels policy, while asking forthcoming summits to tackle deeper problems of investment and trade.
The global food crisis touches and connects us all, creating a tsunami of hunger for the poor and damaging economies and squeezing citizens in the rich world too. But solutions are on the horizon if leaders act fast  — sign the petition at the link below now, then forward this email and ask friends and family to do the same:
Paul, Galit, Ricken, Graziela, Iain, Mark, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team
1. BBC: “How to stop the global food crisis”: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7365798.stm
“The New Economics of Hunger”, Washington Post, 27 April 2008 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/26/AR2008042602041_pf.html
2. Zainab Bangura, Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone, video message to Avaaz members http://www.avaaz.org/en/world_food_crisis/9.php
3. Chinese news citing World Bank figures: http://www.cctv.com/english/20080426/102406.shtml
Reuters: “Rising food prices to top UN agenda” http://www.reuters.com/article/gc08/idUSL1890947220080424
4. See BBC article above, and “Rising Food Prices” by Alex Evans (Chatham House report) http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/files/11422_bp0408food.pdf
UN scientific report on fixing the world food system: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7347239.stm
The Guardian: “Credit crunch? The real crisis is global hunger”, George Monbiot http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/15/food.biofuels
I got this in my inbox this morning from Avaaz.org (My comments are in RED BOLD).
For those of you new to the blog or who do not know me personally, I worked at Avaaz for 1 year during its initial start-up phase. I’m now at Human Rights Watch, working with their China team on their China Olympics campaign, among other things. My commentary is solely my own as a concerned and engaged citizen blogger and activist and does not reflect the opinion of Human Rights Watch. I am doing this for the sake of open debate and dialogue about China, the Olympics and human rights.
The Beijing Olympics are a crucial chance to persuade China’s leaders to support dialogue and human rights in Tibet, as well as Burma and Darfur, and we need to seize it.
Dialogue alone is not enough, Tibetans, Burmese, Darfurians, Chinese and everybody else need concrete actions that result in better human rights. It’s also time to China to work on human rights in China as well. Learn more about the human rights issues surrounding the Olympics on Human Rights Watch’s China Olympics page.
Also, don’t forget the issue of Taiwan and the rise of rampant nationalism in China. I hope a Taiwanese athlete wins a medal. As in previous Olympic games, China has pressured the international community into forcing Taiwanese athletes to compete under the name “Chinese Taipei.” The Taiwanese (Republic of China) flag and national anthem are banned at the Olympics. When an athlete wins a medal, s/he gets to stand with the other medalists while their national flags are displayed and national anthems are played, but if and when a Taiwanese athlete wins a medal, s/he will stand without the Taiwanese flag and in silence. I’m not one for flag waving and national(ist) anthems, but I have to admit, the silent symbolism will sure be poignant.
China wants the Olympics to be a coming out party for a newly modern, powerful, and respectable nation. But the Olympics are about humanity and excellence–we can’t celebrate them in good conscience while ignoring the suffering of Tibetans and others. The Olympics are also about perpetuating nationalist propaganda and corporate sponsors making millions of dollars (or Euros or Yuan since the US dollar is becoming increasingly worthless).
So Avaaz is launching a major new campaign: SAVE THE OLYMPICS. We’ll ask China to save the Olympics for all of us (and more importantly for the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda team and for the shareholders of the corporate sponsors), by making specific, reasonable progress in dialogue with the Dalai Lama, securing release of Burmese and Tibetan political prisoners, and supporting peacekeeping in Darfur.
Ok, so even if the Chinese government does talk to the Dalai Lama, what will they say, what are the asks? Talking for the sake of talking is a start, but there has to be an agenda and a concrete roadmap for improving the human rights of Tibetans.
Our appeal will be placed on billboards and ads in major Olympic cities, in Chinese overseas publications, and we’ll hire a Chinese language team to engage directly on China’s lively blogs and in chatrooms. Sounds like a great idea, I hope they can pull this one off, especially the billboards and ads. Do the major Olympic cities in Beijing? Probably not, since I don’t think the Chinese government would allow that to happen. That’s pretty indicative of the lack of freedom of speech in China, isn’t it? We need 10,000 donations from people from 100 countries to kickstart the campaign this week with a truly global sponsorship–click below to see the ads and donate whatever you can, however small:
Within China, where the Olympics were once seen as a victory for greater openness and internationalism, the internal debate has taken a bitter turn. Most Chinese are now growing angry over Olympic activism, seeing it as biased and “anti-Chinese.” Most Chinese also live on a highly controlled media diet, which along with a fiercely nationalistic education system, indoctrinates them to think that attacks against the Chinese Communist Party and government (which are one and the same) are attacks against “China” or the Chinese people.
If the games are a fiasco, China’s repressive hardliners will win the day–and we could see the worst crackdown yet.
We need to stop this, and fast. So our campaign aims to reach out to China and Chinese people to show that we’re not anti-China but pro-humanitarian, and that our desire is to save the 2008 Olympics, not ruin them. Click below to donate now: China, Chinese People, and the Chinese Communist Party are three very different things. One can be pro-human rights, anti-Chinese Communist Party, but still be pro-Chinese people.
The Slogan of the 2008 Olympics is “One World, One Dream”. Let’s reach across barriers of perception and division, and ask the Chinese to make this dream come true for us this summer.
Does the implied “we” in “let’s reach across barriers of perception and division” include the Chinese government and state-controlled press? The Chinese government can help “reach across barriers of perception and division” by going easy on the jingoist national propaganda, letting journalists report unhindered in China, and by bringing down the “Great Firewall of China,” which prevents netizens in China from accessing fair and balanced news and other information about their own country and the world.
Ricken, Ben, Graziela, Galit, Pascal, Iain, Milena, Sabrina and the whole Avaaz Team.
PS – If you are new to Avaaz, we are a new global campaigning organization launched in January 2007 that has rapidly grown to over 3 million members in every nation on earth. The Economist magazine has written of the power of Avaaz to “Give world leaders a deafening wake up call”, and we have been featured on the BBC talkshow HARDtalk. David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, calls Avaaz “the best of the new in foreign policy”. You can see the results of our last campaign fundraiser, on Burma here, and the results of our last campaign on climate change here, as well as other campaign results here. Avaaz Foundation is a legally registered non-profit organization.
Avaaz.org is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means “voice” in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Paris, Washington DC, and Geneva.