Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

South Africa Union Workers Block Arms Shipment to Zimbabwe

I wanted to share this small piece of hopeful news, with a hat tip to grannyhelen, who was the first to share an article on this with me. For those of us who love peace and seek a nonviolent world, this is inspiring.

First, the background information:

As many of you may know, Zimbabwe's government is still refusing to release the results of the March 29th election. There has been violence in the wake of the disputed election, and Amnesty International reports that it appears to be coordinated.

(New York) -- As leaders of Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) states prepare for an emergency meeting on the political crisis in Zimbabwe, Amnesty International said today it was disturbed by reports of widespread violent retribution against supporters of opposition parties, including attacks reportedly orchestrated by soldiers and police.

The human rights organization called on police to end political violence and investigate any allegations of police and army involvement in some of the incidents.

According to information received by Amnesty International, incidents of post-election violence are widespread - suggesting the existence of coordinated retribution against known and suspected opposition supporters.

In light of this sad news, I would like to take a moment to salute the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, which on Friday refused to move a shipment of arms coming in from China and bound for Zimbabwe.

Also Friday South African port and truck workers said they would refuse to offload the weapons from the ship on the way to landlocked, politically troubled Zimbabwe.

The umbrella Congress of South African Trade Unions applauded the stance by the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, and reiterated its calls for Zimbabwean electoral officials to release the results of March 29 presidential elections.

"This vessel must return to China with the arms on board, as South Africa cannot be seen to be facilitating the flow of weapons into Zimbabwe at a time where there is a political dispute and a volatile situation," the union congress said in a statement.

Consider this diary, which I realize the union will probably never see, a big thank you from me to them for this principled stand against violence.

I am inspired by these folks as well...

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the archbishop of Durban and spokesman of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, called Friday for the South African government "not to allow any more arms and munitions to enter Zimbabwe through South Africa until an acceptable solution is found to the present situation." The bishops also repeated appeals for an international mediator to intervene in Zimbabwe.

Mary Robinson, the former U.N. human rights chief, applauded the unions for taking a stand.

"How positive it is that ordinary dockers have refused to allow that boat to go further," Robinson said during a conference in Senegal on governance in Africa. "They as individuals have taken the responsibility. Because they believe it's not right."

Let's take just a moment to reflect on this strong stand by the South African union and to contemplate how each of us can oppose violence in our own way.

I also want to take a moment to wish for true democracy for Zimbabwe and an end to human rights abuses around the world.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ANNOUNCEMENT: Live Blog with OR Senate Candidate Jeff Merkley Tomorrow on EENR Blog

Jeff Merkley, candidate for the U.S. Senate in Oregon, will be live blogging at EENR Blog tomorrow from 12pm to 1pm Pacific time (3pm to 4pm Eastern).

Please see Sarahlane's diary for more information, and please join us!

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Cherry Blossom Meditation

Last week was the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC. On Thursday, I took the opportunity to go and visit the Jefferson Memorial, which I had never seen, and see the Roosevelt Memorial a second time.

My walk around the tidal basin with the flowering trees in glorious bloom was like a springtime meditation on renewal for our country, as my visits to the memorials of two of our greatest presidents reminded me once again that we need visionary leadership that remembers that we have freedoms and rights and value as individuals.

With a scarcity of leadership on the national horizon, the leaders we seek may indeed be us, so I leave you to ponder some of the words of Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and what it will take to bring positive new growth and renewal in the United States.

God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.

- Thomas Jefferson, quoted on the monument

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind, as that becomes more developed and more enlightened. As new discoveries are made, new truths discovered, and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

-Thomas Jefferson, quoted on the monument

Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens -- are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion -- no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matter of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.

-Thomas Jefferson, quoted on the monument

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men. We ... solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states...and for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour.

-Declaration of Independence, written by Jefferson and quoted on the monument.

Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Worship
Freedom from Want
Freedom from Fear

-Roosevelt's 4 Freedoms, quoted on his monument

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man or one party, or one nation...It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.

I am thinking the above quote is Eleanor Roosevelt since it's next to a statue of her, but I don't know for sure.

Unless the peace that follows recognizes that the whole world is one neighborhood, and does justice to the whole human race, the germs of another world war will remain as a constant threat to mankind.

More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers, call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.

-FDR, quoted on his monument.

I think I'm going to make it a spring tradition to go visit Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Roosevelt every year as long as I live in this area. The nearby "Tulip Library" is also lovely...

More photos here.

Please use this as an open thread to discuss what this country needs or anything else that comes to mind.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tibetans to Bush: Don't Go to Beijing Olympics -- Rally in DC -- UPDATED

Please see the update at the end of this diary, with letters to the Chinese people and the world from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Yesterday, a large group of Tibetans, Americans of Tibetan ancestry, and other American supporters gathered at Lafayette Park outside the White House in Washington, DC to ask President Bush to make a statement for human rights and refused to attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in protest of Chinese government oppression of Tibet.

I have been very moved by the mostly nonviolent struggle of the Tibetans to regain their freedom, and by the strength and compassion shown by the Dalai Lama in urging them to maintain nonviolence at all times. I decided it was important to go and stand in solidarity with them. This is my report on the event.

The plan for the day was to meet at Lafayette Park, hear some speakers, and then march up Connecticut Avenue to the Chinese Embassy, which is just before the bridge that goes over Rock Creek Park. If you're not familiar with DC, I can tell you this is a fairly long walk. I didn't take any notes, but I did take a lot of pictures and a few videos, so this will be a very visual report.

When I first arrived at Lafayette Park, the event really hadn't started, but people were standing facing the White House and chanting slogans like "Free Tibet Now," "China is a liar," and "Long live the Dalai Lama!"

As I approached the gathering, a small cluster of Tibetan monks stood together and apart from the crowd with their banners. Maybe they were praying, or maybe they were just planning their involvement in the event. I was happy to see them. Buddhist monks always seem to have such a nice calm energy. I am slightly mystified by why I like them so much. Perhaps it's because they preach compassion and seem to do an admirable job of practicing it too. I just know that I feel like my heart opens just a little bit more every time I see Tibetan monks. I was saddened to see the messages on the banners they carried.

I stood with the rest of the crowd and chanted the slogans with them as best I could. Sometimes I had a little bit of trouble understanding what they were saying, either because the person leading the chant was shouting a little too loudly for his voice, or because of the accents and the general confusion of crowd noise. I wasn't there too long before the crowd started a mass movement in one direction, so I followed them, and we gathered around a stage that I hadn't noticed before.

The crowd around me was very colorful, or perhaps I should say very united in their color choices. Many of them carried or wore the flag of Tibet, often draped around their shoulders like a cape.

The first speaker described the current situation in Tibet, in which the exiled Tibetan government says there have been at least 140 people killed. The Tibetan government has released the names of 40 of them, and many people in the crowd held signs with these names on them.

Several other speakers followed, many of them from various Tibetan organizations in the United States. There was also a speaker from Amnesty International. U.S. Representatives Abercrombie of Hawaii and Kucinich of Ohio also spoke.

Representative Abercrombie had been to Dharamsala, India with the congressional delegation led by Nancy Pelosi to meet with the Dalai Lama. Representative Kucinich had also met with the Dalai Lama when he was in the United States to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he spoke about that meeting and also the great opportunity for the world and for China to learn nonviolence and compassion from the Tibetan people.

I have to apologize for the quality of my videos. I was standing on the side of the stage, and often could not see the speakers. Anyway, here is at least a partial picture of Dennis as he left the stage.

A few times the speakers spoke in Tibetan, and there was some singing in Tibetan, including what I think they called the Tibetan National Uprising Song. There is a portion of the end of that in the first video.

Although I didn't understand everything that was said, it is very clear that a harsh injustice is being done to these people and their friends and families in Tibet. Several times the speakers brought me to tears.

Some of the speakers mentioned the missing Panchen Lama, who disappeared when he was just a young boy and is believed to be a political prisoner in China.

There is also a serious environmental concern here, because China is doing a lot of mining in Tibet and is dumping nuclear waste in Tibet, according to some of the speakers at the event. If you saw Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, then you may remember that 40% of the world's water comes from the Himalayas. What China is doing in Tibet is polluting the water at the source for many people that live downstream.

One of the speakers was an emissary from the Dalai Lama, who reminded the crowd that Tibet has the world's sympathy because of their nonviolent approach, and urge them to have patience and maintain nonviolence at all times. He also spoke about encouraging signs in Europe and the United States that the world may be ready to help Tibet. I didn't catch the man's name, but the Washington Post says he was Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari.

After the speeches were over, people began to line up for the march up Connecticut Avenue to the Chinese Embassy. The monks led the way.

There was more chanting of slogans as we walked in our long procession. Many people driving by honked at us in support. Some people carried banners that bore photos of recent Chinese atrocities.

We stopped for a rest when we got to Dupont Circle, probably partly because it was a very visible location for people driving by, but also because it was time for lunch. This may be the only big protest I've ever been to where the organizers fed everyone. How cool is that? They really took care of us. It was only bread, granola bars, water, and a bit of chocolate, but people need something when they are marching for that long, and it was kind of the event organizers to think of that.

Soon it was time to continue toward the Chinese Embassy.

We arrived at the embassy and gathered on to a little patch of garden in front of it. The big colorful crowd continued to chant slogans as a few people watched us from the embassy windows, and passing cars honked in support.

As the monk's banner in that last photo points out, there is an issue about the Olympic torch going through Tibet. Right now, China plans to have the Olympic torch go through Tibet, which is a slap in the face of the Tibetan people while they are living under oppression. The Olympics are supposed to be a symbol of international cooperation and friendship. To have it run through Tibet while Tibet is being brutally oppressed by a foreign dictatorship is not in the Olympic spirit, and it is an insult to the Tibetan people because it ignores the fact that they are not free.

Please help by signing this petition to keep the Olympic torch out of Tibet.


The Dalai Lama has issued letters to the Chinese people all over the world, and to the world and its leaders.

The letter to the Chinese people express is the Dalai Lama's willingness for Tibet to remain part of China, as long as the grievances of the Tibetan people can be addressed. It shows great compassion to the Chinese people.

Today, I extend heartfelt greetings to my Chinese brothers and sisters around the world, particularly to those in the People’s Republic of China. In the light of the recent developments in Tibet, I would like to share with you my thoughts concerning relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples, and make a personal appeal to all of you.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in the recent tragic events in Tibet. I am aware that some Chinese have also died. I feel for the victims and their families and pray for them. The recent unrest has clearly demonstrated the gravity of the situation in Tibet and the urgent need to seek a peaceful and mutually beneficial solution through dialogue. Even at this juncture I have expressed my willingness to the Chinese authorities to work together to bring about peace and stability.

Chinese brothers and sisters, I assure you I have no desire to seek Tibet’s separation. Nor do I have any wish to drive a wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. On the contrary my commitment has always been to find a genuine solution to the problem of Tibet that ensures the long-term interests of both Chinese and Tibetans. My primary concern, as I have repeated time and again, is to ensure the survival of the Tibetan people’s distinctive culture, language and identity. As a simple monk who strives to live his daily life according to Buddhist precepts, I assure you of the sincerity of my personal motivation.

I have appealed to the leadership of the PRC to clearly understand my position and work to resolve these problems by “seeking truth from facts.” I urge the Chinese leadership to exercise wisdom and to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the Tibetan people. I also appeal to them to make sincere efforts to contribute to the stability and harmony of the PRC and avoid creating rifts between the nationalities. The state media’s portrayal of the recent events in Tibet, using deceit and distorted images, could sow the seeds of racial tension with unpredictable long-term consequences. This is of grave concern to me. Similarly, despite my repeated support for the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese authorities, with the intention of creating a rift between the Chinese people and myself, the Chinese authorities assert that I am trying to sabotage the games. I am encouraged, however, that several Chinese intellectuals and scholars have also expressed their strong concern about the Chinese leadership’s actions and the potential for adverse long-term consequences, particularly on relations among different nationalities.

This is a very long letter, but it is worth reading in full.

The letter to the world explains what the Dalai Lama is asking of each of us and our leaders.

I therefore appeal for your continued support in calling for an immediate end to the current crackdown, the release of all those who have been arrested and detained, and the provision of proper medical treatment. We are particularly concerned about the provision of adequate medical facilities, as there are reports of many injured Tibetans being afraid to go to Chinese-run hospitals and clinics.

I would also request you to encourage the sending of an independent international body, to investigate the unrest and its underlying causes, as well as allow the media and international medical teams to visit the affected areas. Their presence will not only instill a sense of reassurance in the Tibetan people, but will also exercise a restraining influence on the Chinese authorities.

I continue to be inspired by this great man and hope that his kindness and compassion can be an inspiration to the world to solve this problem and create new bonds of friendship. As he says to the Chinese:

However, instead of cultivating enmity towards the Chinese leaders responsible for the ruthless suppression of the Tibetan people, I prayed for them to become friends, which I expressed in the following lines in a prayer I composed in 1960, a year after I arrived in India: “May they attain the wisdom eye discerning right and wrong, And may they abide in the glory of friendship and love.”

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