Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pasadena: Don't sell out principles

Don't sell out principles

In spite of the "human and civil rights violations," for the past year, I have wrestled with this matter of granting Communist China a platform for its political maneuver and propaganda. I cannot be outraged about the lead-coated toys and remain numb to Beijing's propaganda float.

As it currently stands, on Jan. 1, 2008, a Beijing-authorized float is to be paraded down Colorado Boulevard in the internationally famous Rose Parade, glorifying the Chinese communist regime in the name of the Olympics to an estimated 400 million television audience.

It is against what I believe the founding principles of our nation are, what I stand for as president of the Pasadena NAACP and what I served my country for - as a U.S. Army sergeant.

Some have defended the Beijing float citing previous floats celebrating Olympic Games in Athens, Mexico City and Los Angeles in the Rose Parade. It has been said by one elected officials that he supported the Beijing Olympic float because of "values represented by this long-standing, global tradition of athletic competition. The Olympics Games represent the finest value of human nature."

I believe by allowing this communist country a float in the Rose Parade,

Pasadena is also giving China an opportunity to exploit the Olympics for its politics. Some people may argue differently. Our Tournament of Roses president (Mr. Keedy) has stated that, "The Olympics is the issue, not the politics, that sports are merely sports and we should stay clear of other concerns."

In my opinion, the float and Beijing games, however, represent just the opposite of humanity, and is only comparable to the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin. The Beijing Olympics owns the conspicuous mark of being the only Olympics given to a host country based on a promise of improving human rights conditions. Since that promise in 2001, I have yet to read, hear about or see the human rights condition in China improved.

A Rose Parade float cynically used as a propaganda tool for the Republic of China would become a float of shame that would forever taint not only the image of the Rose Parade but the image of the city of Pasadena as well.

Some have embellished the float as a cultural exchange. Alan Lamson, chair of the China Subcommittee of the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee, has said, "Our position is that it's much better to get to know someone, even if you disagree with them."

Elected Pasadena and TofR officials, are we simply following the money and forgetting how this will gravely weaken our moral stand and principles? I hope this doesn't allow us to sell our principles, just to receive another cheap product, lead-coated toys and toxic food.

Many continue to inform me that the U.S. is not perfect when it comes to human and civil rights. This, I agree with. But there is a vast difference between imperfections in a democracy and deliberate crimes in a dictatorship. Others have tried to find a good thing or two to say about the Beijing Olympics. They have argued that the 1936 Olympics are best remembered for the heroics of Jesse Owens instead of Hitler's exploitation of the Olympics. That is the same as finding a bright spot in the Holocaust in the heroics of Schindler. It is unconscionable to use the heroics of others to excuse our own inaction.

Some have also tried to justify their support of the Beijing float by citing their good intention toward China. Just remember, support to oppressors, in any form, is a cruelty to the victims.

For Pasadena's honor, for the Olympic spirit, for the men and women who have served in this country and most importantly, for our own conscience, there is a choice: Re-visit our position on this communist country and its propaganda float. I thought (and many other veterans agree) I was serving my country to defend against this type of tyranny.

As late as the hour is, there can be no excuse to not act; it is time to add our voice to the international outcry. Many people have already taken actions. Congressional representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Maxine Waters have independently introduced resolutions calling for boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Mia Farrow's letter opposing a "Genocide Olympics" has already slowed the Chinese regime's aggression in Darfur. Steven Spielberg is reconsidering his role as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics. Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu is considering boycotting the Beijing Olympics over China's support of Burmese despots.

The words of Dr. King still ring loudly in my ear, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."

Joe Brown
President, Pasadena NAACP


Talk about human rights

The city of Pasadena Human Relations Commission recently issued a report regarding the controversy over the issue of human rights in China and the presence of a float commemorating the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the upcoming Rose Parade. The Commission recommended that the City Council: 1. Issue a statement promoting human rights improvements in China and 2. Talk with float opponents and supporters to discuss the furtherance of human rights.

The recommendations have upset some people. We review the commission's rationale here so the public may understand it.

We disagreed that the matter was outside the city's jurisdiction or competence. The city has previously reacted to issues beyond its borders. It adopted a purchasing policy boycotting businesses tied to apartheid South Africa. Last year it passed a resolution against a federal bill proposing harsh amendments to immigration law. And by entering into a sister-city relationship with the Xicheng District of Beijing, the city has already stepped outside its borders and within those of the nation whose human rights record is questioned. And China has stepped within ours via the officially approved float.

Now to the heart of the matter. There was no serious challenge to the fact of serious human rights violations in China. We received statements from protestors and float supporters and reviewed reports issued by Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department and other credible entities. The reports document illegal imprisonments, torture, repression of religious and press freedom and other injustices.

What particularly troubled us, however, was the lack of concern with these issues - intentional or unintentional - exhibited by most Chinese supporters of the float. Most of them dismissed the complaints as the "political opinion" of protesters and not appropriate for discussion. Others simply reported good experiences in China.

Certain fundraisers stated that the protesters represent small dissent groups and not the majority of Chinese who are "very happy for China." The chair of Pasadena's Sister Cities Committee stated that our recommendation was "foolish" and that "if we were lily-clean, we might have the right to take a stand. All it does is stir up a tempest in a teapot."

These statements are troubling. We acknowledged the importance of cultural and national pride and its place in the hosting of the Olympics. We recognized the economic strides China has made and the difficulty of analyzing human rights issues, especially in other nations. But none of these prior statements or the aforementioned complexities justify refusal to even broach the subject of human rights.

To equate expressed concerns over illegal imprisonment and torture as mere political opinions - even if one believes the Olympics has nothing to do with politics - suggests a profound insensitivity to the plight of fellow Chinese.

To say the Olympics has nothing to do with human rights is incorrect. The Olympic Charter proclaims that the "goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity," and that any "form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement." These values are the very ones enshrined in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

We did not understand why one's own good experience in China should logically preclude concern for others who suffer. And since when did the measure of morality and justice merely depend on majority view? If only we could ask the 10 percent of the population enslaved in early America.

Although the desire for justice often burns brightest in the hearts and minds of victims of injustice, the true test of progressive development is whether such desire attaches to the hearts and minds of those who are not victims.

Finally, to justify inaction due to the unclean hands of the U.S. exhibits a seemingly false and self-serving humility that flips moral responsibility on its head. China's human rights issues are very much worse than ours. And rather than be silent, we must be vigilant about human rights issues at home and, when necessary, abroad. To equate the false imprisonment and torture of human beings as a "tempest in a teapot" is appalling.

The commission did not ask the City Council to seek rejection of the float or the discontinuation of its sister-city relationship. It asked the City Council to voice concerns and take some action over principles that we are supposed to cherish.

Kenneth C. Hardy
Chair, City of Pasadena Human Relations Commission

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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