10 April 2008

"Peace" through indignity.

I was up early (for me) with Eli this morning, and happened to catch the morning news shows that wake America up and point her in the right direction.

In their fine tradition of making something out of nothing, most outlets were talking about the San Francisco Olympic Torch riots....or lack thereof. It seems that the Torch Committee, totally within their power, chose at the last minute to alter the route the torch took through the beautiful city on the bay, disappointing many ordinary people out to witness history, and convincing all in the Haight-Ashbury District that they are once again sticking it to The Man. One protester, obviously disappointed in the cancellation of her Fifteen Minutes, said "This just proves that they're scared of us. Even though we're here peacefully, they're scared."

I'm not quite sure who the "they" in question is, but I am sure it wasn't the Chinese Government. According to one journalist in China quoted in a USA Today story that I can't seem to find anywhere at the moment, news footage of protests were censored, and official word is that these protests are from small separatist groups, not widespread.

And I think the history of this torch relay has proven that the protesters are not there peacefully. Paris cut short it's run because of rioting, and in London the same thing happened, with fire extinguishers being used.

Even on the truncated route through San Fran, I watched file footage of a protester waving a Tibetan flag in the face of a police officer, while that officer was riding on his motorcycle. That's not peaceful. If your protest actions could potentially lead directly to injury of another person, and you call that peaceful, you deserve your can of pepper spray.

I watched as another idiot with too much free time tried to push an officer off his motorbike. That's assault. You'd better get ready for your nightstick.

Later, I saw pictures from San Fran, including one man (I think?) being dragged off by four police, his hair wet with what I assumed to be pepper spray. Here's a bit of advice for those of you who would like to protest, but need some guidance: If you're being dragged off by four police officers dripping with pepper spray and mace, you have done something less peaceful than sitting somewhere. MLK never needed to be dragged kicking and screaming away from his sit-ins by multiple law enforcement officers.

Another picture showed a group of protesters jumping up and down on a bus, that happened to be a decoy. Again, not peaceful. If you want to stop a bus and make a point, just sit. No need to jump in it and start yelling and screaming and throwing stuff.

In short, Miss Disappointed Protester, yes, they were scared. But you're scaring the wrong people. A runner chosen to carry the torch dropped out after witnessing the protests in Europe. Let me tell you what an honor it would be to carry the torch, and how scared I would have to be personally to drop out. My wife's cousin got to carry the torch when it was in New York City last time around, and he is extremely proud of that. It was a very special moment for him and his family, and I can't imagine how upset we all would have been had he been assaulted in his run. Or ride, rather. Cousin Johnny is in a wheelchair because of Muscular Dystrophy.

In this blogger's humble opinion, this whole situation is being handled all wrong. The original decision to hold the Games in Beijing was controversial, and I admit that I was against it. China is no gleaming beacon of Truth, Peace, and Justice, and it seemed that they were being awarded an honor they did not deserve.

With a long list of human rights abuses, oppression of their citizens at home and support of oppression abroad, China does indeed have some major work to do in order to become a truly open and free society. Indeed, the decision to hold the Games in China was rooted in part in an attempt to extend a "hand up" of sorts. We're inviting you to this party, and it's time to behave like you belong at the party. Unfortunately, it seems even the prestige of the Games was not a big enough carrot.

We can no more stop the Games from being held in Beijing than we can stop ocean waves. But we need to view this as an opportunity. Not simply an opportunity for protest, to say what we feel. Not an opportunity for boycotting, because that will ultimately only destroy the dreams of those athletes lucky and skilled enough to enter the ancient arena and compete in this oldest of athletic competitions.

No, this will be an opportunity unparalleled in history to showcase the real China. There will be censorship, of that I am certain. There will be Chinese oversight and control of broadcasts. But in this Internet age, the capacity for information to flow freely is unprecedented. The Truth(you all know why I capitalized it) will be made known.

I feel with all the media scrutiny that will descend on China in the next few months and then during the Games, we will get a more complete glimpse of what happens inside the borders of this reclusive communist nation. And I also feel, with that glimpse, China will be the target of increasing worldwide popular pressure for change.

In all, the Beijing Olympics have immense potential for a positive outcome. Will they live up to that potential?

Only if those who protest stop making asses of themselves and the causes they believe in.


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