Tuesday, July 11, 2006

follow-up to Burmese Democracy Day posting

After I sent around that press release (see previous post, below) I received some negative feedback from a group of Burmese activists who seemed to be upset about Ithaca taking the historic step of declaring August 8 "Burmese Democracy Day."

That date was chosen in honor of the fallen from 8-8-88, when the people of Burma rose up in a nationwide call for democracy and freedom from tyranny, but were brutally put down. Many were killed, and many others forced into hiding and eventual exile.

About 50 Burmese refugees resettled in Ithaca. Our city's resolution is intended to bring attention to the struggles still underway in Burma, where the military regime still practices widespread human rights abuses, and to show the people within Burma and Burmese exiles around the world that we support their efforts. We wanted to show solidarity with them and with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, their illegally incarcerated democracy leader.

Excerpts from the letter from the group, which calls itself 8888 New Blood Comrades:
. . . We take this opportunity to oppose the Ithaca Community Council
resolution to acknowledge August 8, 1988, nationwide uprising as Burma's democracy day. . . .
. . . As long as the present ruling military dictatorship is still in place in Burma, no individual or organization in Burma or overseas has the reason or right to claim or name that auspicious day (8-8-88) as anything, much less 'democracy day' as the struggle is stil[l] ongoing and we have not yet achieved our primary objective - freedom and our right to exercise our inalienable rights.
My response:

Dear friends, 

I feel compelled to reply to this memo, simply as myself and not as a representative of any group. I am an American who is deeply concerned with the terrible human rights situation in Burma, and I have worked closely with the Burmese community of my city, Ithaca, New York, in getting this resolution passed (which I do not think you have read). . . .

The intention of our city's legislators in passing this resolution is to honor the freedom and democracy struggles of the Burmese people both inside Burma and now in exile around the world, including in our own community, where at least 50 Burmese exiles now reside. Contrary to what your memo says, we deeply honor the courage and sacrifice of those who rose up on 8-8-88 and those who carry on the struggle 18 years later. Making a 'Burmese Democracy Day' in Ithaca means simply that we will stand in solidarity until the dreams of 8-8-88 are realized and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners are freed; Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD party take their rightful positions in political leadership of the country; and a peace and reconciliation process, and transition to democracy, are well underway.

My heart broke to read your memo, because it suggests to me that you do not understand that others may be part of the same struggle for human rights and justice. Just because we are halfway around the world does not mean that we do not care about the people of Burma and their terrible hardships. We are all human beings, all the same family, and unless we all realize that there can never be peace, freedom, justice, or equity.

Please take a moment to reflect on what it is you really want: Is it freedom and peace and equality for all, or only those who belong to your particular organization? Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, when she is freed and back in her rightful place as the leader of Burma, would be deeply saddened to know that the factional elements of her supporters cannot work together for the same end.

It is a basic characteristic of human nature that everybody wants his or her own agenda to be at the forefront. And that points to the truth that real democracy is messy. It requires careful negotiation, and equally important it requires respect of others' opinions and desires, even if they are different from our own.

Please do not fall into the trap of division and rancor; that will only hurt your cause. And please accept gracefully the honest desire of a small city in New York State to stand by the cause of democracy and freedom for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma. We made this resolution out of love and respect.

Respectfully, and in solidarity,

Maura Stephens
Ithaca NY USA

1 comment:

John Fracchia said...

How sad that such a noble sentiment would be seen as anything other than a message of hope or solidarity. Perhaps their reaction is a reflection of the underlying despair that they undoubtedly feel about the situation. An excellent response, Maura, and it goes without saying, excellent work on this issue!

- John