Six Years With Tibet
I had been loosely aware of Tibet's plight before I saw Lhadon talk. I'd seen the various Hollywood movies and I'd wanted to go to the Freedom Concerts, being a big fan of Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys. My father was a supporter of ICT and I'd even worn a Rangzen bracelet for a while that ICT had sent out with a mailing. But I'd never been involved in SFT or gone to an SFT meeting.
Lhadon spoke about China's brutal and unprovoked invasion of Tibet and how the Dalai Lama eventually fled into exile. She spoke about the horrendous repression that has occurred inside Tibet and the overwhelming punishments that met the smallest actions of Tibetan resistance. I heard about the complete lack of freedom of religion, speech, assembly, movement, employment, and education. Lhadon spoke about what it was like as a young Tibetan growing up in exile and how she longed to return to a free Tibet. If you've seen Lhadon Tethong speak about Tibet, you know how great a speaker she is and how strong her convictions are.
Maybe it was that I hadn't had the opportunity to think about Tibet in an full and authentic way before. Maybe I just was ready to give myself to a worthy cause -- despite dabbling in work with environmental protection, the homeless, and anti-death penalty campaigning, I'd never found myself fully invested in a movement. Maybe it was hearing an impassioned, educated, clear call for help for the Tibetan people by a Tibetan (and not, say Richard Gere or Steven Seagal). Whatever the case, I was convinced.
I immediately got involved in my high school's SFT chapter and before I new it I was participating in a relay hunger fast, selling momos to fundraise for SFT, interning at SFT's office in New York, and camping out outside the World Bank. I found it easy to devote myself to a cause that I saw as true and just and right. The Tibetan people in exile and inside Tibet needed help amplifying their voice for independence. I would do what I could to make it possible.
Six years later I'm working for SFT full-time. It's kinda shocking to realize that it's been six years, considering how much of a different place I find myself in now than when I first became involved. I've been connected to SFT for a much shorter time than my coworkers and other board members, but I think that speaks to the power Tibet has as a moral issue and the way Tibetan independence resonates with Westerners. Not many SFTers end up walking away from SFT and I'm no different -- just think, two former staff members voluntarily drove twelve hours to help out at our Santa Barbara conference.
I'm working for SFT because I believe Tibet will be free and I can see that coming true in the next six years. I don't think that's a radical statement or overly optimistic, but one that we can make true by the actions we take today. I'm working for Tibet because I believe that every nation has a right to choose their own government, practice their own religion, say or sing whatever they want, and meet in public to express their views. I believe people have a right NOT to be silenced, NOT to have their religious beliefs banned or limited, NOT to be treated as second class citizens, and NOT to be imprisoned for voicing their opposition to a harsh military dictatorship. These are not extreme positions to hold, but ones steeped in democracy and respect for the idea of the rule of law.
Tibet will be free and I believe that change will come by demanding the rights Tibetans, like all other people, deserve. Independence and freedom are only radical ideas when you live in a dictatorship. Those outside of China's totalitarian communist state have a moral obligation to do what we can to support the Tibetan people in their search for freedom and independence. I'm happy I've spent so much time over the last six years working with the Tibetan independence movement and SFT in particular. Hopefully in another six years you will find me blogging from a cyber cafe in a free Lhasa.
Bhod rangzen! Free Tibet!