Correspondent for The Capital Times — 7/25/2008
MADISON, WI - Building on the completion of the recent visit by the Dalai Lama to Madison, a dozen marchers stepped off from the Capitol Friday toward the Chinese consulate in Chicago and their ultimate goal of Tibetan independence.
"We knew that a lot of Tibetans would be here and we wanted to capitalize on their presence here and we knew we could go a two-week walk to Chicago and end there at the beginning of the Beijing Olympics on August 8," said Larry Gerstein, a professor at Ball State University who is president of the International Tibet Independence Movement.
Tibetan independence marchers have covered 3,400 miles on 360 days during the past 13 years bringing the message of autonomy for Tibet to North Americans while also giving hope to Tibetans, Gerstein said.
"The people in Tibet hear about our actions on radio stations that aren't jammed and it gives them some hope. We really represent the voices inside of Tibet that can't be expressed but have a strong desire for independence," he said.
State Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, whose district includes the Deer Park Buddhist temple in Oregon, said Tibetan independence is a concern to many of his constituents.
"People here are very knowledgeable and aware of events, and when they see events like what has happened in China and with the visit of his holiness the Dalai Lama last week, there's a lot more attention on this issue. Now with the Olympics coming up, it's important for people to see beyond the veil of what's going at the Olympic Games and see the brutality, murder and imprisonment of Tibetan citizens in order to keep the appearance of temporary peace at the Olympics," Parisi said.
While walking for Tibetan freedom, Gerstein has noticed a generosity of American citizens who embrace strangers to their communities.
"We've been staying in a house here in Madison, (owned) by an individual I've never met, I don't know her last name, and she's not even there, but she's opened up her house to us the past three nights," he said.
Along the way, the marchers will stay at Unitarian and Methodist churches as they make their way, 15 miles a day, to Kenosha and then Chicago.
Jigme Norbu, nephew of the Dalai Lama, has been marching for eight years in an effort to keep alive hope for eventual Tibetan independence.
"We're not giving up, we're going to continue our struggle, nothing is easy in life, and along the way we're going to educate people that what's been going on in Tibet can no longer continue," said Norbu, who lives in Bloomington, Ind.
Norbu said his father's generation fought China's military, but his generation and the following one need examples of Tibetans standing up in a peaceful manner to a powerful China, which occupied the mountainous region in 1950.
A call to the communications office of the Chinese consulate in Chicago wasn't returned before deadline, but officials there maintain that Tibet has been part of China since the 13th century.