By Lobsang Tsering Namru
At 10 p.m. Sunday, the March 16, the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress (RTYC) of Minnesota sent e-mails to all the Tibetans, “We need volunteers to protest at the Chinese Consulate in Chicago city.” The RTYC and co-coordinators have arranged two buses to drive 7 hours to Chicago. Immediately after the e-mails reached the Tibetan population, every homes and hospitals where majority of the Tibetans work were abuzz with the talk of going to Chicago. The buses were to leave Minnesota at 12 a.m. on the following Tuesday. The e-mails were sent at short notice. I wondered if we could gather enough strength of people to sign-up. Amazingly enough, about 400 Tibetans signed up and organizers had to increase to six buses. When the unprecedented protests broke out in Tibet, the air in Minnesota was heavy with mixed emotions of anger, sadness, suspense, and excitement. Just like my fellow Tibetans, my mind was thinking nothing but the situation in Tibet 24/7. At work or home, I was glued to the Internet surfing every headlines that captured the Tibetan unrest. Be it BBC, CNN, Times of India, Aljazeera, CBC, Taipei Times, or Phayul.com. This plethora of global media coverage was unprecedented, never before seen in the 49 years of Tibetan exile.
At 1 a.m. Tuesday, the March 18th, the six buses from Minnesota drove to Chicago. When we gathered at the heart of Chicago City at around 11 a.m., there were some 1000 Tibetans in the city square with Tibetan flags, banners, and graphic images from Tibet. Tibetans from Madison, some from Indiana, Chicago and the greatest number from Minnesota congregated at the city square. One local Tibetan from Chicago told me that this city never saw a bigger gathering of Tibetan protesters since the first Tibetans arrived in the city some 18 years ago. There was huge media presence. We marched though the city centers shouting against the Chinese occupation. The passing cars were honking to express their support. The press personnel were following us. The people in the street were cheering. It was overwhelming and surreal to some extend. I was for a brief moment lost in my reverie. I found myself a part of the Tibetan Olympic team marching during the summer Olympic Opening Ceremony with cameras flashing at my face, the air filled with loud cheers. I was representing a newly born independent Tibet. I felt proud and ecstatic. Amid that excitement, I heard a Tibetan woman sobbing. I looked around and saw a Tibetan woman crying and waving her fist in the air, shouting “Free Tibet.” I looked up in the air. There were no spectators, no cameras, and no roof of the Olympic stadium but a clear empty sky. Tibet was not free. It was just a dream.
Tibetan protestors marching through the heart of Chicago City, USA
After marching for about an hour or so, we finally reached the Chinese Consulate. That crowd of 1000 became much louder with fists in the air. It was Tibetan patriotism at its finest. Some 100 or so Chicago police guarded the consulate building on all corners. Police vans were put on standby incase of any violence. Some of them were facing at the protesting crowd from only about 10 feet away. The protesters were loud and there were some Chinese officials peering through the closed window of their building. Even though it was a business day, the consulate was closed to the public and doors secured by iron railings. Even the curtains were closed. There were clearly Chinese officials working inside the building. They were scared and meek as mice facing predatory cats. Almost unexpectedly, someone from a crowd hurled a stone and broke a large window of the consulate building. It reenergized the crowd. The police grew more cautious and drew closer to the crowd. Quite unexpectedly, a young Tibetan guy appeared atop the consulate building waving a Tibetan national flag. The crowd then chanted in unison, “Free Tibet,” “Long live the Dalai Lama.” It was a moment in history.
Tenzin Jamyang from Chicago atop the Chinese Consulate
A lone Tibetan was standing atop the building that was representative of the Chinese might and cruelty. For that brief moment, I envisioned him atop the Potala Palace. It is the first day of Tibetan Independence Day celebration. Millions of jubilant Tibetans have congregated on the grounds of Potala Palace. The air is filled with the smell of incense. The celestial beings were witnessing the event from the heaven above. On that particular day, Tibetans saw the sun rising from the west, indicative of the rise of Tibetan power in the world. Tibetans of all ages and places have gathered to celebrate the defining moment. I was cheer leading the crowd, “Tibet is Free.” Amidst this celebration, I saw two Chinese officials taking the young guy away before he could replace the Chinese flag with the Tibetan one. Suddenly I felt as if an oracle has left my body. It was just a dream. There was no Potala Palace. It was just my dream. It was Chinese Consulate in Chicago city. Later that guy was taken to the police station.
During the entire 6 hours of protest, the Chinese officials were contained in their building. They looked helpless and powerless. China seemed so vulnerable. The past week’s protests seemed to have made rhetoric of China’s economic, political and military might a mere facade. After we left at 5 pm, one Tibetan saw the Chinese officials coming out of the building and assessing the broken window. No one still knows for sure how that lone Tibetan guy broke through the full proof police cordon to climb atop the Chinese consulate. I don’t care to find out. It was encouraging enough to know that Tibetan youth are fierce and patriotic. Despite their falling pants and passion for hip-hops, their hearts remain Tibetan to the core. One old Tibetan lady of 73 years old sitting next to me during return bus ride to Minnesota said to me, “What a semshook these youth have? I am sure one day Kyi-pay Nyima will shine on Tibet.” Comforted by her words, I went to fast asleep. Few hours later at around 3 am, our bus stopped at the gas station. I went to buy a coffee and looked at the pile of Chicago Tribune newspapers standing there. The front-page photograph, almost half the size of the whole page shows Tibetans protesting in Nepal. When we resumed our journey back home, I realized March 2008 would be a defining moment in Tibetan history. It is even greater than 1989 protest because of cell phones, Internet, YouTube and instant messages. Most importantly, because of the Olympics, Tibetans have stolen the limelight from Beijing and hit China where it hurts most. Years after the Beijing Olympics, I am sure the Chinese government will regret hosting the Olympics.
Many us believed that democratic changes in China would one day lead to eventual freedom in Tibet. Judging by the present scenario, it seems the other way round. Just recently on March 6, Chinese President Hu Jintao told Tibetan members of parliament, “Tibet's stability has to do with the entire country's stability, Tibet's safety has to do with the entire country's safety.” Hu Jintao was prophetic and seemed more clairvoyant than most Tibetan lamas of what was to come four days later. This time, at least, it was not my dream. Lobsang Tsering Namru is a Tibetan residing in the state of Minnesota, USA. He can be contacted at thinkoftibetATyahoo.com.