Rally in Chicago marks the 49th anniversary of protest against China
By Deanese Williams-Harris
Dhechen Chodon, originally from Tibet, attends a rally in Chicago Monday to protest against Chinese occupation of Tibet. (Tribune photo by Kuni Takahashi / March 10, 2008)
More than 100 people marched down Michigan Avenue on Monday as part of a national effort to mark the 49th anniversary of a massive and historic protest against China's rule of Tibet.
The two-block-long line of protesters made up of Tibetans and supporters of the international movement to free Tibet of Chinese rule held life-size puppets of the 10 people who led the 1959 protest attended by about 300,000 people in Tibet against Chinese occupation. They shouted "Free Tibet!" and "Shame on China!" as they made their way to China's consulate in downtown Chicago.
Every year on March 10, the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago and other groups across the nation unite to symbolize the plight of the original 10 protesters who marched from India to Tibet.
This year, protesters focused on the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing as a chance to draw the public's attention to human-rights violations and political and religious prisoners in Tibet, said Pema Prinzin, president of the Tibetan Alliance of Chicago.
The protesters, some of whom came to Chicago from Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, oppose what they say is China's use of the Olympics to divert attention from its human-rights record in Tibet, said Jam Pel, 21, a student at Hamline University in Minnesota. "If we tried to do this in Tibet, we would be arrested and tortured."
Karma Khorlatsang, 22, a student from Wisconsin, said he and the other protesters are "the voice for the Tibetans that don't have a voice."
"They are ignored by the world," Khorlatsang said.
Khorlatsang's father left Tibet in 1949 and moved to India, but he has extended family members who live in Tibet, she said. China has ruled Tibet since 1951.
The protesters charged the Chinese government with trying to destroy the unique culture of Tibet, and they urged Americans to boycott products made in China. Larry Gerstein, president of the International Tibet Independence Movement, acknowledged, however, that a complete boycott of such products would be "nearly impossible."
"When we started years ago, before all of our manufacturing jobs moved to China, maybe a boycott would have been effective," Gerstein said. "Now, what isn't made in China? If we boycotted everything, we would be hermits."
Gerstein said he hopes the annual marches will bring attention to the issues facing Tibet and that the federal government will act soon to preserve Tibetan culture.
The protest ended with Jimge Tendhar, 41, offering a prayer in front of China's consulate in Chicago. Tendhar, a Buddhist monk, was born in Tibet and spent six months in a prison there before being released and escaping the country, he said.
Tendhar told of poor quality food, a lack of medical facilities and being tortured in prison.
"They would beat me until I told them what they wanted to hear," he said. "My biggest hope for today is to get freedom as soon as possible for my country of Tibet."
Officials at China's consulate did not respond to calls for comment on Monday. The Chinese government has long insisted that Tibet is an integral part of China.