“We must live together like brothers, or perish together as fools.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Civil Rights tshirt

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

“A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.” ~ A. Philip Randolph

Apparently, the protests against Ordinance 64 in Anchorage have gone the way of many American protests in recent years: The reds are bussing people in from churches in nearby cities. By doing this, the antis are creating the appearance that the majority of people in Anchorage are against Ordinance 64.

Children Bused in for Protests by AK Muckraker of Mudflats
Children Bused in for Anchorage Protests by AK Muckraker of The Mudflats

Just in case you didn’t read my previous post, this ordinance is intended to expand the anti-discrimination law that is currently on the books by adding wording that would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Now let me pause here. I am a big believer in free speech and the right to protest, but I am sorely dismayed by two things: Individuals who are not actually living in Anchorage are being allowed to voice their opinions in the open forum. This hardly seems to be fair play. The forum was created as a way to allow those individuals who live in Anchorage to voice their opinion before a vote is taken. The people from outlying areas are forcing an outcome that is not based on real data.

Now you may be thinking, ‘why doesn’t the pro side bus in some people?’ Well, I could respond that such a move is not normally employed by the pros, or if you will, those for the ordinance guaranteeing basic civil rights to all people. But that isn’t entirely true, and we all know it. Which brings me to the second things that dismays and disheartens me: Why do people who feel strongly about passing this ordinance not get out and join the protests?

As Janson commented on my earlier post:

I think the blue-crowd needs to remember that you have to show up and you have to be present to push for change. The reds know this. Every year I see anti-abortion demonstrations on campus. This is fine by me; they have a right and frankly I love to see students taking an active political stand in support of their beliefs (even if I disagree with them or disagree with the Rhetorical strategies they sometimes deploy). But when’s the last time I’ve seen a well-organized, effective Pro-Choice rally? Just for the sake of supporting Pro-Choice rights? How about, um… never? Maybe back at Florida State? Around 1994?

I rarely see proactive liberal demonstrations. A few Bush or Iraq protests are all I’ve seen in recent years. How about instead of arguing against something or someone, we argue for something? More pro-actively, more civically?

He’s right. The left doesn’t just protest for the sake of protest any more, and those of us who call ourselves liberal, pro-choice, pro-human rights need to remember that the opposition shows us time after time just how well organized they are. That type of willingness on their part to rush to the site of any protest is something that we on the other side should take note of.

If homosexuality is a disease, let’s all call in queer to work:  “Hello.  Can’t work today, still queer.”  ~ Robin Tyler

Ordinance 64 anti protest sign4Nevertheless, I still hold that some of the opposition’s signs are more ludicrous than effective. This one strikes me as particularly funny: “I was born Asian. You choose to be Gay,” as the picture  on the right shows. My response, as partially posted on Janson’s blog is twofold: “Well, I was born Asian, and I choose not to be stupid, uninformed, closed-minded, and bigoted.”

(And what’s with the peasant hat?)

And let’s not forget our science, people. Homosexuality is not a choice for most people. It is something with which they are born. If you don’t believe me, take a look at how homosexuality tends to run in some families. And I would contend that that is a strong case for nature not nurture, because in some of the families that I know of, those who are gay, hide it out of fear. These people will come out to their friends, but not to their families because they are afraid of becoming outcasts.

We still have so much more to do until more of those people on the anti side of the fence realize that homosexuality is not an abomination before god.  If the god of the New Testament is a loving god, how then do these people justify the hatred that they spew in the name of god?

 “When the government violates the people’s rights, insurrection, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.” ~ Marquis de Lafayette

June 20 protest image
Image from June 20 Protest

As for protests, the situation in Iran seems to be taking a turn for the worse. Approximately three thousand protesters defied the ban imposed by the Supreme Leader, and took to the streets once again. The police responded with tear gas, water cannons and guns, but no fatalities have been reported. Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam said on state television that officials “acted with leniency but I think from today on, we should resume law and confront more seriously . . . The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable.”

An MSNBC report from around 3:30 EST states that Mousavi has indicated a willingness to become a martyr. Mousavi is still demanding an annulment of the June 12 elections:

In a letter to Iran’s Guardian Council, which investigates voting fraud allegations, Mousavi listed violations that he says are proof that the June 12 vote should be annulled. He said some ballot boxes had been sealed before voting began, thousands of his representatives had been expelled from polling stations and some mobile polling stations had ballot boxes filled with fake ballots.

“The Iranian nation will not believe this unjust and illegal” act, Mousavi said in the letter published on one of his official Web sites.

The Supreme Leader Ayatullah Khameini has ordered the crackdown. Accordin to Britain’s Times Online, Khameini declared that “‘those politicians who somehow have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner . . . This extremism will reach a sensitive level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos.” 

As to Khameini’s assertions that the protestors are being motivated by the West, President Obama, in the face of mounting criticism, is still taking a cautious stance, which I believe has allowed the protestors more freedom than if our President had come out in full support of the opposition. According to White House Spokesperson Robert Gibbs, the administration’s view is that Iranian leaders would use fiercer U.S. support for the protesters to paint them as puppets of the Americans.

In spite of this, Republicans led a Congressional Resolution that expresses support for “all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and rule of law” and affirms “the importance of democratic and fair elections.”

John McCain on IranCertainly the U.S. embraces the values of freedom and human rights (sometimes), but coming out in open support of the Green Party will only escalate matters. Hawkish John McCain took the opportunity to slam President Obama on the Today Show and on Fox news, saying that the President isn’t doing enough and the U.S. should be more involved in the crisis. McCain must have a short memory.

The Congress is making statements that the U.S. should speak out because the protestors deserve their democratic rights. Iran is not a democracy. This is one important fact that those in favor of more harsh statements seem to be forgetting.

We must not forget how high tempers run in this country, and that Iran has never forgiven the U.S. for interfering in its politics by helping to establish the Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlavi as leader of the country during the Cold War. The repercussions for U.S. involvement in Iranian politics led to  the 1979 Iranian overthrow of the Shah and the subsequent capture of 52 U.S. diplomats who were held for 444 days.

 “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” ~ Alice Walker

Hendrix, Jimi
Jimi Hendrix in Concert

On a final note, Corey and I were discussing Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” which was written by Bob Dylan in the 60’s. We were talking about possible interpretations of the song, and I suppose since I have protests on the brain, I was telling Corey that I thought the song, as Hendrix sang it, was about alienation. Dylan may have written it as a folksong, but how many people actually listen to the Dylan version?

“Watchtower is a Hendrix song, and it speaks to me of the great disillusionment felt by that generation, an entire group of young people who felt let down by their country, let down by the system, misunderstood by their parents, and greatly alienated from white bread society.

I’ll leave you now with two versions of the song: Jimmi’s, of course, and a pretty cool version by composer and musician Bear McCreary (music for “Battlestar Galactica”).

More later. Peace be with you.

 

 

 

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

 The journey is more important than the inn

Photograph by L. Liwag

“What you are comes to you.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ Unknown English Professor, Ohio University

Well, eldest son did it. He walked up there and took his diploma, and the school Superintendent pronounced them graduates. The ceremony was a fast-paced deal that lasted only an hour and a half, as compared to my daughter’s graduation which seemed to go on and on and on. The venue was good too, open, roomy, not squooshed up against the person you are sitting against, so I had no claustrophobia problems.

Aside from immediate family, his cousin who is graduating tomorrow came, as did his friends since childhood, Gordon and Tailor. I made Eamonn stand for pictures with everyone, and he was actually pretty gracious about it.

The only downside was when I was trying to move up a row (because of course every seat in the row that I selected was being saved), and I scraped my thigh on the arm of the end seat. I have a nice, big black and blue spot on my leg, but I don’t plan to enter any hot legs contests anytime soon.

As far as people being overly rowdy and loud, it wasn’t too bad. The school’s principal had already made a few announcements prior to the start of the ceremony in which she said that if the noise became too loud, she would step back and stop handing out diplomas, and she kept her word. Twice she stopped the procession until the crowd calmed down.

It’s such a shame that she had to make the announcement in the first place, and that she had to follow through with it, in the second place.

“What is the most important thing one learns in school? Self-esteem, support, and friendship.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

The Road Less TraveledI always like to choose a fitting quote to go into almost every card that I give, and I found a really good one on Goodreads. The quote is by writer Neil Gaiman:

“I’ve been making a list of all of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who is dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

The reason that I like this quote so much is because it is essentially true. What do we take away from high school? How to conjugate a verb in French? How to find the square root of an isosceles triangle? What the Monroe Doctrine was?

If you remember this kind of information, you probably do really well at Trivial Pursuit and/or you have gone on to become a teacher. But what is my son taking away from high school?

A group of friends who have stood by him during the worst times of his life (so far) and the best times of his life (again, so far). Memories of some really great times that he would prefer his mother never finds out about, and more than a few regrets that he didn’t follow through on a few things (track, football).

He is also taking with him the following lessons:

  • Mom knows if you are lying if you giggle too much
  • It’s hard to explain why you were absent from a particular class if your mom dropped you off at school that morning.
  • The school is serious when they say they will confiscate cell phones
  • You cannot make the team if you never go to practice
  • Yes, you have a deceptively charming smile, but that smile only works with some teachers, probably females
  • Mom was right when she told you that you really would survive the second breakup with your first serious love
  • Girls do talk to each other, so it’s probably not a good idea to date friends no matter how hot they are
  • Asking your mom to type your paper that is due the next day at 9 the evening before does not put her in a good mood
  • It takes money to put gas in the Trooper, and it’s probably a good idea to check the oil sometimes
  • Your mother knows when you have been smoking in her car, even if you leave the windows down all night

“High school: Oh man. This is where boys and girls go from tweens to teens and become complicated and cruel. Girls play sick mind games; boys try to pull each other’s penises off and throw them in the bushes.” ~ Eugene Mirman

Zen leapOkay, those are the fluffy lessons, so to speak. But he also learned some really hard lessons, like how much it hurts when your first love breaks your heart. And how hard it is to keep your word if you never meant it in the first place. Or how someone who claims to be a friend can stab you in the back without breaking a sweat. And how your parents can become real hardasses over things like curfews, and grades, and conduct notices, even though you don’t really understand what the big deal is.

I think that it is profoundly unfair that you first discover love at a time when you least know yourself in life. How is a teenager supposed to cope with all of the drama and accusations and breaking up one day only to make up the next day? How are they supposed to handle all of this angst and study for calculus too?

Frankly, when I put things in perspective, it’s no wonder that 11th grade becomes the make or break year for so many people. The pressure from their teachers is incredible because they are pushing students to think about college, and they are trying to cram as much information as possible into a brain that is essentially a sponge: and while a sponge can absorb a great deal, it also lets a whole lot seep out.

The pressure from worried parents intensifies in their junior year because there is college to think about, and if not that, then how have they prepared for a trade? And aren’t they spending too much time on the phone, and shouldn’t there be limits on the computer?

And the poor teenager is thinking “God, I wish that I could talk on the phone in peace, and I really don’t think that chemistry is going to make or break my career, and I’m responsible enough to stay out until midnight on a school night.”

And then comes the summer before senior year, and everything changes. By October, your senior is already thinking about graduation and getting an apartment, and you are wondering where all of the years went and praying that nothing goes horribly wrong in the next seven months.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Eamonn made us tremendously proud today, but I have to admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure that he would make it. There were moments when it seemed that there was nothing more than Pooh fluff in his brain, and there were many nights when I would get anxious about his state of mind and just how much he was in control of himself when he wasn’t under guard at home.

But I really believe that the senior year is more for parents than it is for their teenagers. It’s nine months in which you can begin to accept the fact that you son or daughter isn’t 7 any more, that you are not the most important part of their world, and that they are thinking about life without you.

Starry skiesIt’s a hard reality to face, and if you are anything like me, you don’t accept it gracefully. Even as your man-child or woman-child is thinking of new paths of discovery and a brand new chapter in life, you are reconciling yourself to fate and the need to close a chapter that has ended much too soon.

I hope that Eamonn figures out what his great adventure is going to be. I hope that he never stops dreaming, and trying, and loving, and living. I wish him star-filled skies at night, and red-orange sunrises that will take his breath away. I want for him all of those things that are possible, and even some that may not seem possible. I wish him joy, and I wish him love, but most of all, I wish him a life that is filled with hope.

Hope for better tomorrows, a world more at peace, people who are more in tune with their environment, friends who will be there at 3 o’clock in the morning if he needs them, and the immutable knowledge that home is always waiting.

And in the words of the incomparable Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”

More later. Peace be with you and yours.

The world will note and long remember what was said and done there

Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others they send forth a ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples built a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ~ Robert Kennedy

Man in front of Tanks Tiananmen

  The Tank Man of Tiananmen Square

“Be isolated, be ignored, be attacked, be in doubt, be frightened, but do not be silenced.” ~ Bertrand Russell

Today, June 4, 2009, marks the 20th anniversary of the student uprising in Tiananmen Square in China. Students from various universities led a series of mass demonstrations in Beijing, calling for greater freedoms and economic reforms that challenged the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party. The key event that sparked the protest was the death of  former Secretary General Hu Yaobang, a well-liked figure who was forced to resign because he supported economic and political reform.

On April 17, small groups of people gathered at the Great Hall of the People, part of Tiananmen Square, to mourn Hu Yaobang. By midnight, the group had grown to include students from Peking and Tsinghua Universities. The initial reason for the gathering changed as students began drafting a list of pleas and suggestions (list of seven demands) that they wanted the government to listen to and carry through. The night before Hu’s funeral, April 21, 100,000 students gathered in Tiananmen  Square. The students called for a strike on the universities.

The demonstrations began in earnest on April 27, 1989 when students from Peking University, People’s University, Tsinghua University, University of Political Science and Law, and Beijing Normal University met up in a march through the city towards Tiananmen Square. As the students walked, more and more came out and joined in the march. Even some non-students participated in the march. As described in an excerpt from Eddie Cheng’s book, Standoff at Tiananmen Square:

There were also occasional non-students in the march. At the front of the TsinghuaUniversity block, several old professors marched witha particular display of dignity. Their silver hair danced in the sunshine as they proudly held up a sign: “[We have been] kneeling for too long, [now we] stand up and walk a little.” The sign was referring both to the students’ kneeling petition and the sufferings these professors had endured under the decades of communist rule.

By the time the student procession reached Tiananmen Square, it was estimated that over 200,000 people had marched, with over one million citizens cheering them on along the route.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On May 4, approximately 100,000 students and workers marched in Beijing to make demands for free media and to call for a formal dialogue between the authorities and student-elected representatives. A declaration demanded the government to accelerate political reform. The government refused the proposed dialogue, but agreed to speak with selected student organization representatives.

The students held repeated meetings on what their next actions should be. The idea of a hunger strike was brought to the table as a possible means of forcing the government to hold talks with the student representatives. In China, the government, by law, must intervene in a hunger strike after 72 hours, so the students who were considering the strike never really thought that such a strike would go on for very long. It was decided that the hunger strike would begin on May 14, while the Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev was visiting China.

One of the protestors, Chai Ling, announced her intentions to strike and made a very moving speech to the crowd:

Why should we go on a hunger strike? Because we want to use this method, the only freedom we have left, to see the true face of our country and the true face of our people. I want to see if this country is worth our sacrifice and contribution . . . The government has time and again lied to us, ignored us. We only want the government to talk with us and to say that we are not traitors. We, the children, are ready to die. We, the children, are ready to use our lives to pursue the truth. We, the children, are ready to sacrifice ourselves.

We want to fight to live. We want to fight to live withthe resolve of death.

Chai Ling’s heartfelt speech moved many in the crowd to tears, and her extemporaneous speech was shaped into a Hunger Strike manifesto. In the beginning, over 100 students participated in the strike. By May 17, day 5 of the hunger strike, a reportedly two to three thousand people were participating in the strike. On May 19, the students called off the strike and turned their protest into a sit-in at Tiananmen Square. They had been informed that the government was going to impose martial law on May 20.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.” ~ Frederick Douglass

On May 20, troops approached the site of the protest, but thousands of regular citizens barred their way. May 24 marked the 5th  day of martial law. Sunday, May 28,  was designated as a day for global demonstration for democracy in China. All over the world people of Chinese heritage and descendancy, as well as those sympathetic to the protestors’ cause showed their solidarity with the protesters in Tiananmen Square.

May 30, the students were supposed to end their protest and leave the square to return to their universities and their studies. Funds were running low, and many of the participants were losing hope of obtaining any lasting changes. However, a decision was made to stay in the square for three more weeks.

Goddess of Democracy erected in TS
The Goddess of Democracy and Freedom

On the night of May 30, students erected their Goddess of Democracy and Freedom. Constructed of foam and papier mache, the statue stood at about 33 feet tall. The students who built the statue transported it to Tiananmen Square on four carts, and used two other carts to carry the tools necessary to assemble it. Ironically, the statue faced the huge portrait of Chairman Mao.

However, by June 2, it was becoming clear to the protesters and the rest of the world that the government was sending in more troops to encircle Tiananmen Square. Tensions were running high. The student protesters were tired; many were dispirited, and some wanted to end the protest. On the morning of June 3, protesters awoke to find military troops wearing white shirts and army pants surrounding Tiananmen Square. That night, the shooting began.

The assault began when APC’s (Armored Personnel Carriers) and troops with bayonets descended on the crowd. The government had also sent infantry troops bearing assault rifles to the site to deal with the protesters once and for all. Tents that had been erected during the time of the protest were crushed indiscriminately, whether or not individuals were inside. A tent gives little protection against an oncoming tank.

At first many in the crowd believed the soldiers to be firing rubber bullets and were not afraid, but as soon as the blood began to appear on shirts and skin, the horror of  what was really happening became real. Students were shouting, “Why are you killing us?”

Reporter Charlie Cole was on scene and reported that at about 4 or 5 in the morning of June 4, tanks began smashing into the square, crushing vehicles and people. By 5:40 a.m. June 4, the Square had been cleared.

In all, the movement lasted seven weeks. Accounts of the number of people killed vary considerably. China reported that only 241 people died. The media said it was as many as 800, but  Amnesty International estimated that 1,000 people were killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre, including people who were just onlookers. Reactions from around the world were predominantly negative. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed “utter revulsion and outrage,” and was “appalled by the indiscriminate shooting of unarmed people.”

“It is in the inherent nature of human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity. Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic desire for freedom and dignity. ~ The Dalai Lama

In China, the massacre is known as the June 4th incident—such an innocuous name for a barbaric act. Chinese censors have managed to erase all mention of that tragedy from the country’s textbooks and state-run media. Chinese youth born after the event are never taught anything about what happened during those seven weeks. If they know anything about the Tiananmen Square massacre, it is because they have learned about it from family members. The tradition of oral history ensures that June 4, 1989 is never forgotten.

If you are too young to remember the detailed events of what happened in the People’s Republic of China during those seven weeks, I hope that you will take a chance to learn more. So much can be gained in examining these events. For one thing, students and others from all over joined in this protest because they believed that it was time for a change in the Chinese government. The protesters viewed themselves as Chinese patriots, carrying on the May 4th Movement for “science and democracy” in 1919.

The students’ activity gradually developed from protests against corruption into demands for freedom of the press and an end to, or the reform of, the rule of the PRC by the Communist Party of China and leader Deng Xiaoping. Some bore signs and carried banners that read, “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Granted, the protest suffered from a lack of unified leadership, with different people making decisions for all involved at different times. There was infighting, as is usually the case in a massive protest. Most of the students were privileged and looking for more freedom in the media and in speech; while the workers who supported the protest were alarmed by the government’s new economic reforms, growing inflation, and government corruption. 

The protesters themselves urged people not involved in the protest not to harm the soldiers, not to throw bottle rockets. In spite of this, those involved in the protest never dreamed that it would all come to such a violent, bloody end.

A few other points:

  • The world once again stood by and watched as an atrocity unfolded before their eyes.
  • A tyrannical government under military rule chose to use force even though many of those in power preferred to keep things peaceful.
  • The PRC leaders who were in favor of a soft approach to the demonstrations, including General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, were overruled.
  • Because journalists from the West had been invited to cover the Gorbachev visit, many were on-hand to document what happened on June 3rd and 4th in Tiananmen Square.
  • If we are to believe the PRC, none of the above ever happened.

I will never forget for as long as I have memory, the image of that single man who had the courage to face down a column of tanks. He had no weapons, only grocery bags. He was no one famous. In fact, he has never been named. His act was completely spontaneous, but that act reflects exactly the difference that one individual can make in the history of the world.  Show anyone who is old enough to remember that picture, and I can almost guarantee you that they will pause for a moment in what they are doing because that image is seared into our collective conscious.

The PRC would not have us remember this anniversary. They have wished it all away. But it is our job, as everyday people, to remember history-changing events like Tiananmen Square—if for no other reason than to be able to recount what happened orally, that we pass down this knowledge to those who come after us, that we make sure that however many people who died during those hours, that they did not die in vain.

I have always been a big Abraham Lincoln fan, ever since I had to memorize The Gettysburg Address in fourth grade. But Lincoln was wrong: The world did note, and everyone remembered Gettysburg. I find it wholly applicable that these same words be used to describe those students who sought in 1989 what we too often shamelessly take for granted:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

I leave you with these indelible images. Peace be with you.