Two Sides of the Tibetan Coin: The Calm and The Storm
Olympic Torch Relay in San Francisco, 8 April 2008
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8 April 2008 an incredibly long day, continued  After chanting in front of the Chinese Consulate, we marched downhill back to UN Plaza to continue the rally.  Although my photos are primarily of pro-Tibetan supporters, there were quite a number of Save Darfur and Free Burma and pro-Uighur activists standing together in solidarity against the human rights injustices of China's government.

All photos and text by Ken Lee, Chief Engineer of The Tibet Connection Radio Show.

Marchers head back from the Chinese Consulate to UN Plaza along the windswept streets of San Francisco, 8 April 2008.

Hundreds of Tibetan flags flapping in the strong winds as we marched along the streets back to UN Plaza, flanked every step of the way by the San Francisco Police.  They were very supportive.  One smiled and shouted, "You guys are doing a great job!" while another one sidled up to me and talked to me for several minutes about photography.

On the march back, Tenzin Chodon, North American representative of the Tibetan government-in-exile, discusses the day's upcoming events. 8 April 2008.

The interesting juxtaposition of signs:  "TRUTH" on a nearby building and "DON'T BELIEVE CHINA'S OLYMPIC LIES", as we arrive again at UN Plaza in San Francisco, 8 April 2008.

Don Farber, noted photographer of Buddhist life, and one of the Tibetan supporters on our van, photographing some of the monks speaking to the crowd in Tibetan and English.

Don's gentle manner of speaking, even when describing his tense conflicts between him and pro-China supporters, made an impression on me, and I frequently had to lean forward to hear what he was saying.

Monks address the crowd while holding up a small thangka of the Dalai Lama.

The rally at UN Plaza, with City Hall in the distance.

Flanked by colorful flags, a Tibetan woman reacts to some of the news coming out of the monasteries in Tibet.

Holding the banner up high over the windy proceedings, 8 April 2008.

A fervent Southern California protester demands the stopping of "torch-ure" in Tibet and Burma.  China supplies the ruling military dictatorship in Burma with weapons, and his sign refers to a recent brutal crackdown on unarmed monks in Burma that left dozens, if not hundreds, killed in recent months.  Thousands of monks in Burma still have not returned to their monasteries, their whereabouts unknown.

Two generations of activists, each creating signs in their own style.


Students for a Free Tibet passed out chicken sandwiches.  Wanting to get out of the cold, several of us went to a nearby Thai restaurant and drank hot soup while discussing the day's events and even seeing our protest on television.

When we came back out just after 6:00 pm, the crowd had swelled to several thousand people, anxious to hear noted speakers such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and actor Richard Gere.

San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly, wearing a Free Tibet button, addresses thousands of supporters.  On his blog, Chris Daly wrote about the protests in Lhasa:

On the same day 300 brave monks set out from Drepung monastery outside of Lhasa on a protest march to Potala Palace in the heart of the city. The arrest of dozens of these monks led to further protests and uprising on the streets of Lhasa and other cities across Tibet. The Chinese government met these protests with a brutal crackdown, killing over 100 Tibetans and arresting hundreds of others in door-to-door raids.

This wicked turn of events in Tibet catapulted what would otherwise be a highly symbolic resolution into the national and international spotlight — drawing significant attention to San Francisco as we called out China’s abysmal human rights record – a laundry list of dirty abuses that extend from cultural genocide in Tibet to persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, from suppressing labor and environmental activists to stifling freedom of speech and press, and from militarily aiding genocide in Darfur to propping up a brutal dictatorship in Burma.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu addresses the thousands of Tibet supporters in United Nations Plaza.

An animated Tutu told the crowd that South Africa stands as an example of a people who, with the help of worldwide demonstrations, boycotts and vigils, overcame their oppression.

"We have come to say this is a moral universe ... that right and goodness and compassion and freedom are going to remain," Tutu said to the cheering crowd.

"We want to say to China, 'We thought that the Olympic Games would help you improve your human rights record,' " Tutu said. "We still hope ... but what we are saying to the heads of state, to President George Bush, is, 'For goodness sake, don't go to the Beijing Games ... for the sake of our children, for the beautiful people of Tibet. Don't go! Don't go! ' " as he exited the stage while the throng continued chanting "Don't go!".

Actor Richard Gere, a long-time supporter of Tibet and a follower of the Dalai Lama, said this is an "epic" moment in the history of Tibet-China relations. He called China's veneer of a harmonious society a fraud, and urged an open discussion between the two.

"There is no harmony, no genuine harmony, without truth," Gere said. "Without freedom of religion, freedom of movement, freedom of culture."

He then read from a letter the Dalai Lama had addressed to Tibetans a couple of days earlier, which implored that Tibetans "should not engage in any action that could remotely be interpreted as violent. ... We will achieve success through our nonviolent path."

Several monks led a prayer with Gere on stage.

Following the speakers, The Tibetans held a candlelight vigil.  Although exhausting, the day's events were filled with togetherness and camaraderie. 

This would stand in stark contrast to the Olympic Torch relay the next day.

Tibetan Protest at Olympic Torch Relay, San Francisco April 2008
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