by Josh Schrei
"I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed". For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see... that justice too long delayed is justice denied."
-- Martin Luther King, writing from jail in Birmingham Alabama, 1963
As a non-Tibetan, I know for a fact that I will not be present at the upcoming meetings in Dharamsala to discuss the future of the Tibet movement. Nor should I be. The future direction of the Tibet movement does -- and should -- rest solely on the shoulders of the Tibetan people. But as someone who has supported Tibet for many years -- 2008 in fact being the 25th anniversary of when I, as a wide-eyed child, had the great fortune to meet His Holiness in Bodh Gaya -- I hope Tibetans will permit me a few words on the subject. An outsiders words, yes.... but I hope they can provide something of value.
Recently, I have heard rumblings within the movement among Tibetans and TSGs that the entire context of the Dharamsala meeting is basically a set-up by the Chinese -- that the timing of Beijing's recent press conference indicates that they want nothing more than for Tibetans to abandon the Middle Way and finally admit to being the secessionists they are. Dr. Lobsang Sangay, in his recent article on Phayul, states that if the meeting "resolves to cut off dialogue and pursue independence, then the Chinese side could claim a Kodak moment and say We told you so! "
First off, pursuing independence does not automatically lead to cutting off dialogue, as Mr. Sangay seems to suggest. I would argue -- and have argued for the last five years -- the exact opposite: the only reason the Chinese government has been engaged in dialogue with the TGIE is precisely because the Tibetan people have unrelentingly pushed for independence. The Chinese have not been at the negotiating table because of the inherent "rightness" of the Tibetan position, they have been at the negotiating table because they have been terrified over what the independence movement would do in the leadup to the Olympics. Now that the Olympics are over, guess what? No negotiations.
So sure, of course its a trap. Everything the Chinese government does is a trap. Every approach they take to Tibet is made from the fundamental position of a dictatorial regime wanting to maintain power over its colony. This enemy was exposed a long time ago. Why then do we spend so much time trying to "figure them out."? The question here is not whether the Chinese government will agree to something -- anything -- if only we offer them exactly the right political concessions, or whether Beijing will somehow parlay Tibetan radicalism into international support for their position on Tibet -- the question fundamentally is whether the position of the Chinese government should affect Tibetan strategy whatsoever. And to answer my own rhetorical question, no it shouldn't. So Beijing held a press conference denouncing His Holiness as a splittist and rejecting the Middle Way? What else is new?
The enemy is unchanging. They have -- as they always will --- delayed justice (through false negotiations) specifically so they can now deny justice (by finally rejecting the middle path once and for all...again).
The question is, in the face of an unchanging enemy, what does one do?
In his article, Dr. Sangay says that "experts have concluded that any non-violent movement must adhere to three principles in order to succeed: unity, planning, and discipline." All due respect to Dr. Sangay, but there's a mighty big principle missing from this statement. Action. Experts in nonviolence may not in fact agree that unity is a necessary principle for success -- the Civil Rights movement made tremendous gains while Malcom X and Dr. Martin Luther King were at odds over strategy -- but I know of no historical example of a nonviolent movement that has succeeded without concerted, unrelenting, passionate, inspired action. Action forces negotiation.
In the words of Dr. King, "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
He wrote these words as he sat in his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. This famous letter was directed towards his fellow people, some of whom thought that the time was wrong for action, the time was wrong for protest, the time was wrong for him to break the law. Dr. Sangay asserts that nonviolent movements do not succeed unless the exact environmental conditions are right for their success. I think Dr. King would strongly disagree. Nonviolent movements that believe they can succeed -- truly believe they can succeed -- that relentlessly, constantly, brashly, and brazenly push for their goals, no matter the opposition they face, no matter the odds, no matter the timing, succeed. That is a time honored truth.
Tibetans, you dictate the terms. Your protest, your pressure, your belief, your unrelenting desire for freedom, for Rangzen, that is what dictates the terms. True freedom movements succeed despite the environmental conditions, despite the timing, against all odds, precisely because they never listen to the pundits, they never listen to those who say "now's not quite the right time," or "you're not doing this in exactly the right way," or "let's not be rash." Generally, those pundits are the ones who get left by the wayside while the Dr. Kings and the Gandhis of the world make history. If my newly elected President, Barack Obama, had spent time changing his tactics and strategy in order to respond to every political trap his Republican rivals set for him along the way, if he had altered his message every time the wind blew, he would not be where he is today. Instead, he stuck to what he wanted to achieve. He took the path of steadfastness and resolve. And he won. He said: "When I am President," for the same reason we say: "When Tibet is free."
I am not going to use this article to advocate what the TGIE's position on independence should be. I'll leave that to the meeting -- and I agree with Dr. Sangay that it would be a shame if those in the meeting spent all the allotted time debating Rangzen vs. Middle Path. The closest I'll come to a position in this article is to say that regardless of the TGIE's position, those Tibetan people who want independence absolutely must continue to advocate for it, more strongly now than ever. To be blunt, you never get what you want if you ask for something else. And whatever the outcome of the situation in Tibet, the Rangzen movement plays the most vital of roles. It is what keeps Hu Jintao awake at night. It is what forces the Chinese to take notice. It is what has and what will continue to cause negotiations.
Am I falling into Beijing's trap? Perhaps. But whats the alternative? There is simply no way that all Tibetans present at the upcoming meeting will respond to this perceived trap by unanimously agreeing on the Middle Path. We all know there are too many Rangzen warriors out there for there to be a collective decision on autonomy. And all it takes is one Rangzen advocate for the Chinese to point fingers back at His Holiness and accuse him of being a splittist and we are right back in the same position we've always been.
But lets say by some miracle the meeting unanimously agrees on The Middle Path. The big problem, the massive elephant in the room here, is that the Chinese Government government themselves have -- methodically over the last five years and resoundingly with the most recent press conference -- completely rejected the Middle Path. So where does that leave the Middle Path? Not in a position of strength. Not in a position to force real negotiations.
The enemy is unchanging.
To me, the lesson here is simple. The only alternative, in this struggle, in life, in the world, is to passionately, courageously, and unapologetically go after what you want. Go after what you want, with all your heart and the entire force of your will, spirit, and character. And what awaits on the other side of your profound struggle for freedom is what Martin Luther King called... the promised land.
We've all seen it. Blue skies over the high white peaks. Sweet plumes of juniper smoke rising above the Jokhang on a crystal clear day.
Anything short of this, anything short of the promised land, is justice denied. And Tibetans, it is about time for some justice. Your unrelenting pressure on the Chinese government is working. It will continue to work. To quote the overquoted yet highly appropriate words of a man who just sailed into the highest office in the world despite the timing, despite the odds, despite the critics, despite an entire legacy of history against him, a man whose political journey was made possible not by those who accepted concessions but by those before him who demanded, unrelentingly demanded, their fundamental right to freedom ... Yes you can.
The author is based in New York city, he is a former producer of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts and former Chair of Students for a Free Tibet.
The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.