Just my two cents worth


May 2012

Obama, Romney and the Tibetan Americans

I wrote this for the ICT blog and am sharing it here.

Obama, Romney and the Tibetan Americans

May 10, 2012

Now that the dust has somewhat settled on the Republican Party’s search for its presidential candidate, the time may be right to look at how the tiny Tibetan American community and Tibet supporters should be approaching the forthcoming American presidential elections.

The trend among new immigrants to the United States is to start with being a single-issue voter and gradually evolve into considering multiple issues as factors that will affect their voting pattern. Obviously, to Tibetan Americans, the issue of how a Democratic candidate (namely current President Barack Obama) or a Republican Candidate (Governor Mitt Romney) stands on Tibet will have considerable impact in who they vote for. I personally know of Tibetan Americans who profess being Democrats but nevertheless voted for President George W. Bush on account of his attitude towards Tibet.

In the Mitt Romney campaign website there is no specific reference to Tibet. However, there are two paragraphs on human rights under “China and East Asia” wherein it says, “Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China’s regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights.” It continues, “A Romney administration will vigorously support and engage civil society groups within China that are promoting democratic reform, anti-corruption efforts, religious freedom, and women’s and minority rights.” It concludes, “Mitt Romney will seek to engage China, but will always stand up for those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.”

Since President Obama had already served a term and been a Senator before that, we have records of his position on Tibet. If you visit the website of the International Campaign for Tibet, you will get an idea of how he has approached different aspects of the Tibetan issue, both when he was a Senator and as the President (please see our compilation of Obama Administration Statements on Tibet.)

Additionally, as yet, it is only President Obama who has responded to a questionnaire on Tibet that ICT had sent to potential presidential candidates some time back. (Tibetan Americans and ICT members may want to encourage Mitt Romney to respond to the questionnaire. The ICT questionnaire web page provides links to Governor Romney’s webmail, Facebook and Twitter sites). In his response to the questionnaire, President Obama says, “As President, I have strongly supported the preservation of the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions of Tibet and the Tibetan people throughout the world.” He adds that “I have met with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama at the White House twice since taking office, in 2010 and 2011, and I commended his commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China and his pursuit of the “Middle Way” approach.”

The Obama Campaign website interestingly has a section targeted at Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders. May be this is an area that those Tibetan Americans for whom multiple issues will be a factor in their voting decision should be looking at, too. Whatever it may be, I hope to see the Tibetan American community becoming more proactive during this election and to strengthen the case that United States’ interest in Tibet is American interest, too.

Remembering Adam Yauch, with Respect

In the post-1959 period a new expression took birth among Tibetans in exile reflecting the importance of nurturing the next generation. Young Tibetans were referred to as “seeds of future Tibet” and given lots of advices on the responsibility that the nomenclature came with.

A generation has changed since then but the term is still used as a slogan to encourage the younger Tibetans to be actively involved in their community, whether politically, socially, culturally or even spiritually.

I recalled this when I read the sad news about the untimely passing away of Adam Yauch, he of the Beastie Boys fame. I have had the privilege of meeting him and working with him in the course of my responsibilities at the International Campaign for Tibet. If there is any organization or individual that has single handedly shaped the mindset of a large number of youngsters regarding Tibet, that would be Adam. Helped by his colleagues, Adam used the power of music and the energy of the young Americans (and subsequently youngsters in many parts of the world) to pay attention to the plight of the Tibetan people and the injustice taking place in Tibet.

The most radical change, if you will, took place with the establishment of the Milarepa Fund and its organization of a series of Tibetan Freedom Concerts. I saw the concert held in Washington, D.C. in 1998 at close quarters. Not just the concert goers, but even nature seemed to have been energized that afternoon, what with an unexpected storm and lightning strike on the concert venue. I saw the birth of a new generation of Tibet supporters that day. It was certainly a milestone in bringing the Tibetan issue to the attention of the younger generation of Americans, and took the Students for a Free Tibet to a new level. Even though I could not generate a taste for hip hop I did buy one of the Beastie Boys’ CD that was released subsequently, looking at that as my way of showing appreciation.

One of the issues that Adam and the Tibetan Freedom Concerts took up then was the boycott of the Holiday Inn in Lhasa because the Chinese authorities were using it in their propaganda to depict a peaceful view of the situation in Tibet. Subsequently, Holiday Inn announced the ending of its involvement in that hotel in Tibet.

I have also been a witness to Adam’s passionate way when Tibet supporters launched the campaign against a proposed World Bank support to a Chinese Government project to relocate Chinese to Tibetan areas in 1999. We were together in strategizing on how best to take up the issue in our negotiations with World Bank officials and holding press conference outside their office in Washington, D.C. Everyone who had some knowledge of Adam know of his unassuming attitude. At the same time he was yet another example that a celebrity could be more than an ornament to any cause he or she endorsed, which is the general perception. During the time Adam served on the Board of the International Campaign for Tibet, I have seen him engage in deep discussions with fellow board members on different aspects of the Tibetan issue. Even as he did this I noticed that he did not forget, simple things, even if it was to put the kettle to boil for tea to the participants of the Board meeting when it was held in his loft in New York City one year.

Adam’s marriage to Dechen Wangdu la could also be interpreted as a symbol of his unification with the Tibetan people, physically and mentally. My condolences to Dechen la and her family and pray that Adam will have a speedy rebirth to continue his socially useful productive work.

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