About this time last week, as the protests in Lhasa were getting underway, I consulted my friend Zig (of zigzackly)) about the means by which internet signature campaigns are begun. I said I wanted to add my twig to the slowly growing bonfire of discontent and I wanted to suggest that the world's athletes should boycott the Olympics. So he gave me several pointers and he also took the time to discuss the idea with me, for which I thank him. If ever you need protest/rabble-rousing/internet appeal advice, he's the one ...
So anyway, I wrote out the appeal that appears below, sent it off to Zig to ask for his opinion (which he gave -- I've incorporated his suggestion in this version of my appeal, in the final paragraph) and ... then I sat on it. Even by the time I got the appeal written, there were news shows debating the usefulness of Olympic boycotts. The fact that it's very hard on the athletes is of course the overwhelming reason for not liking this form of protest -- us keyboard-jockeys can hardly be the ones to judge the urgency of an athlete's need to compete in the planet's most prestigious sports meet. He or she gets a chance once in four years and if one such opportunity is missed, four years later is just too late.
Also, there were already a couple of internet signature campaigns in motion and I had the same reaction to them (sadly) as I always have: a sense of irritation and futility. I am sure that the campaigns always have the beneficial effect of raising consciousness (come to think of it, in our era, it's become something of an obligatory rite ... "What? You mean that disaster didn't even elicit a SINGLE signature campaign?? Wow.") but I don't know how useful any of them actually are.
Anyhow. Keeping all of these factors in mind, and yet wanting to register my concern about what's happening in Tibet I thought the very least I could do was to post my original appeal here, at my blog. So here it is:
A unique opportunity has arisen to do something about the situation between China and Tibet. As rioters in Lhasa take to the streets to protest the suppression of their culture, I believe it is possible to support the Tibetan struggle to free their homeland from Chinese rule by appealing to the world's athletes to boycott the Olympic games.
This is a hard thing to ask of athletes. They get opportunities to compete in the Olympics only once in four years. For many, each such opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to leave their mark on posterity.
But there's more than one way of leaving one's mark on posterity. If enough of the world's athletes choose to use their participation at the Beijing Olympics as bargaining chips, if they do so collectively and with single-minded determination, they can turn the tide of history for the Tibetan people. They can become heroes for an entire nation.
Landlocked Tibet has no oil or other conventional commodities to offer in exchange for the world's attention. In terms of spiritual riches however and as the home of Tibetan Buddhism, it is a powerhouse of enlightenment and higher consciousness. The Tibetan people have endured their oppression with pacifism and fortitude rather than guns and terrorism. They have met brutality with stoicism and resilience. They deserve the support of right-thinking people everywhere in their half-century-long struggle against Chinese occupation.
According to some news reports, as of March 16th, 2008, one hundred Tibetans have been killed in the rioting that began two days ago. Many hundreds more could die or be wounded or face imprisonment and torture in the days/weeks ahead unless the Chinese people can be made to understand the scale of the injustice being levelled against the Tibetan people and their culture.
It's not just the athletes who can make this protest a powerful one: advertisers and commercial sponsors can also withdraw their support from the games -- and TV viewers around the world can withhold their attention from the familiar, pulse-raising spectacle of the Olympics. Without sponsorship, without international viewers, even if the games DO take place as scheduled, they'll be flat and lifeless. That's a result that's worth aiming for and which we can ALL -- not just the athletes -- participate in.