How Do You Celebrate Independence?

TODAY MARKS THE CENTENNIAL OF TIBETAN INDEPENDENCE DAY, A SYMBOLIC DAY that Tibetans and their supporters pledge to mark every year. 2013 marks one hundred years since Tibetans proclaimed restoration of their independence.

Today’s observance comes at a time when conditions seem worse than ever for those living in in occupied-Tibet. Since 1999, nearly 100 Tibetans have set fire to themselves (“self-immolated”) to protest Chinese rule.

This is the most urgent cry for help a human being can make. In the face of a brutal Chinese regime which aims to erase Tibetan culture from the earth, the Free Tibet movement remains nonviolent. Independence Day is a reminder to renew the spirit of Tibetans, and to commit once again to the struggle for freedom.

Today I raise my Tibetan flag.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

Why You Shouldn’t Make New Year’s Resolutions


Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions yet? 2013 is the year you’ll lose that 10 pounds, quit smoking, finish the novel?

We’ve all been there (we’re there now). And there’s one main reason why you shouldn’t make New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolutions won’t make us thinner, famous, or rich. And here’s why.

Resolutions are a burden. Not only do I want to achieve a goal, but now I’ve got this self-imposed pressure to follow through on it. Suddenly there’s this extra weight on my mind.

If the goal is to lose 10 pounds then that means no ice cream or chocolate cookies. At first we jump on the treadmill. We load up on carrots and mesclun.

Then all that working out makes us tired. Or we get stuck working late and don’t have the energy when we get home. We crave the cookies and eat twice as many as before. We feel guilt. More struggle.

So what do we do?

There is a better, easier way to achieve our goals and improve the lives of those around us.

Think Outside the Box (And Yourself)

Resolutions are often centered around personal goals. My challenge to you is to think beyond yourself: try this, and the “resolutions” take care of themselves.

Instead of resolutions, we can choose to be generous with ourselves.

We can start by noting that those of us in the Global North are incredibly privileged. We have running water, food, shelter, clothing.

We have freedom of expression.

We have freedom, period.

Thich Nhat Hahn writes, “We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become.” His advice is perfect anytime, but especially this time of year:

Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be.

We don’t have to wait for resolutions to be “achieved” to feel fulfilled. That moment of fulfillment is now.

What this doesn’t mean is sitting by. Action is needed: in small and large ways. There is tremendous suffering in the world. As Thich Naht Hanh counsels, it is “our responsibility to bring peace and joy into our own lives, even though not everything in our body, mind, or environment is exactly as we would like.”

Is there someone you know who has experienced personal loss, or is looking for a job? Could they use a helping hand, a piece of advice, or simply someone to listen and talk with?

Is there a cause that’s important to you? What can you do today, right now, to help?

We can improve our society, and ourselves. This is something we can do for ourselves every day. And not just on January 1. When we don’t focus on our own “resolutions,” things get done and change happens. Why? Because only in that moment are we free.

Sounds counterintuitive? Yes, and that’s why it works.

How to Get Things Done in 2013

Let’s say you choose to volunteer one night a week. Suddenly you’re not sitting in the front of the TV eating chips. You’re helping people or contributing to a cause that’s important to you.

Meanwhile you’ve created a little peace and liberation.

Instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, try asking yourself, “how can I become a refuge for others?” (And watch those pounds fly off. Well, you know what I mean.)

Which resolutions will you not be making next year? Please leave a comment below!

And if you liked this post, please share.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

How to Help End Human Trafficking

SLAVERY IS NOT A THING OF THE PAST, but an all-too-real issue affecting 27 million people all over the world.

Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall victim to human traffickers: they are recruited, transported, or transfered through the use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

This crime can be fought and people helped. This weekend in Washington, D.C-based Stop Modern Slavery will be hosting its annual Stop Modern Slavery Walk on September 29th on the National Mall. Here’s an interview with the walk’s director, Joe Flippin, who talks about how you can help learn more about modern slavery and take action:

Q: What is the inspiration behind the Walk?
The first Walk was in 2009 at Meridian Hill Park (also known as Malcolm X Park) in Washington, DC. It was organized by DC Stop Modern Slavery (DC SMS), then just a community group, in coordination with Boat People SOS, the Polaris Project, Stop Child Trafficking Now, and other local organizations. The Walk turned out about 700 people and raised nearly $40,000, all on a shoestring budget and a few months planning.

Q: Why is this walk important?
A: The Walk is important because of what it represents, unity among the anti-slavery movement, and what it encourages: community education and action.

At the core of the Stop Modern Slavery Walk is the belief that anyone can get involved and have an impact on this issue. Our job is to bring people out to the Mall, tell them about modern slavery through narrative and empathy, and highlight the many ways that people are getting involved today.

We try to build a strong narrative of participation and belief in self, and by featuring strong, survivor leadership, we aim to leave each person in the audience thinking ‘if they can do it, so can I. If they can face the hardship they’ve faced, not give up, and fight every day for a world without slavery, then there has to be something I can do to.’

Q: What are some of the activities planned for Saturday’s walk?
We provide a resource fair with over 50 anti-slavery organizations represented so that each person can make that big leap and make at least one connection and set themselves on a path of participation. But it all begins with that first step, commit to coming out the Walk, to be open to learning about the realities of modern slavery, and to encouraging others to do the same.

Q: What outcome do you want from the walk?
Our goals are to raise awareness of the realities of modern slavery. We want to strengthen relationships among the anti-trafficking movement and connect our walkers to the 50 plus organizations that will be represented in our Resource Fair. And finally to fundraise to support programs and operations of our selected event beneficiaries.

Q: What successes have you had as a result of mobilizing people and bringing awareness?
People who learn about modern slavery for the first time and what an eye-opening experience that is, or who get connected to an organization and how rewarding that connection has proven. I don’t know anyone who is not in constant awe after meeting the many survivor-advocates who are active in the anti-slavery movement, for example people like Tina Frundt and Shamere McKenzie.

Q: How can people interested get involved, especially if they’re not in the DC area, what can they do to help?
Become well-informed. Explore the websites of the Global Freedom Center, End Slavery Now, and Free The Slaves to name a few. You can also visit the Polaris Project to learn about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

To learn about how to join the walk, or support DC SMS, go to Stop Modern Slavery.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

Related Posts:

What To Do Now to End Human Trafficking
Stories of Domestic Slavery
How to End Child Labor

True Stories of Brewing Tea in Afghanistan

© Ahmad Wahid Zaman

NEWS BROKE THIS WEEK ABOUT ALLEGATIONS OF INACCURACIES in Three Cups of Tea, the bestselling memoir by Greg Mortensen, the story of his school-building work in Central Asia. Mortensen is accused of fabricating events in the book, and now a charity run by Mortensen is also under scrutiny.

Despite the news and controversy about this particular project, there is a need to hear about the social conditions facing Afghans today. One place to find that perspective is Community Supported Film. They train Afghans to use video to tell their own stories.

Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War is a documentary focussing on the economic development process in Afghan villages. The project is spearheaded by filmmaker Michael Sheridan, who was inspired to mentor Afghan journalists and filmmakers.

Here’s the introduction to the film:

Community Supported Film has also just wrapped a series of shorts called The Fruit of Our Labor. You can view excerpts of the finished works on their official Vimeo channel.

Tibet: Military Crackdown and Enforced Disappearances

A CRACKDOWN AT THE KIRTI MONASTERY in Tibet’s Ngaba region has led to one of the most violent crackdowns yet by China’s authorities against Tibetan culture this month. On Friday, the Dalai Lama appealed to the international community to persuade China to act with “restraint.”

The Kirti monastery, in Tibet’s Ngaba region, has a history of protest against the Chinese occupation, and was the site for a major demonstration in March of 2008. On March 16 of this year, Tibetan monk Phuntsok [Phuntsog] self-immolated to mark the third anniversary since Chinese armed forces cracked down these protesters.

Last week, residents attempted to stop Chinese authorities from taking monks away for “re-education.” Currently, the monastery is still surrounded by armed troops. Police also went house-to-house questioning residents, and there are now reports of arrests and enforced disappearances. The International Campaign for Tibet published a list of those who were forcibly disappeared.

The U.S government criticized China over its violent actions and says it is “monitoring the situation.” But that sounds like empty words yet again.

The world’s attention is currently on the arrest and disappearance of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. It’s the most obvious and high-profile example of China’s relentless violation against the rights of its own citizens, artists, and pro-democracy advocates.

Chinese authorities will continue to ignore the West’s tsk-tsking and appeals from rights’ groups unless people speak out. Sunday’s peaceful action in support of Ai Weiwei is a start. Now it’s time to do the same for Tibet. Go here and here to learn more and support democratic freedoms.

America 2049: Why Human Rights Is More Than A Game

IN THE FACEBOOK-BASED GAME “AMERICA 2049,” SOCIAL ACTIVISM-MEETS-’24’, all in the name of building awareness for human rights issues. The creators hope players will see human rights as more than just a game.

The global human rights organization Breakthrough developed the game and populated it with well-known celebs and stars (Victor Garber, Harold Perrineau) who act out the “story”: over 12 weeks, players take on missions dealing with immigration, race, sexual orientation, sex trafficking, religion, labor, and national security.

The nonfiction, issues-related part of the game comes through the involvement of groups who are members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

Will this social conscience aspect add or detract from the game experience? And can it make a difference in the real world?

Social justice and video games is nothing new, but with the proliferation of social media the idea of games for social impact keeps gaining momentum.

Social justice games have been the subject of a panel at the SXSW Festival. Breakthrough was also in attendance this past weekend at the National Conference for Media Reform panel on fan communities and social change.

And there is always old guard Games For Change, who will host its eighth annual conference this June in New York.

But leveraging the power and prevalence of Facebook with a game is an intriguing idea. There’s certainly potential for Facebook users to raise awareness for a cause.

The subject of human rights is not one that ignites a fire under those people who are more interested in Angry Birds or Call of Duty. Do either of those two games make one think about, say, food insecurity or the effects of war?

The fact is people already use Facebook to bring attention to a cause or issue. We all know Facebook has even been credited with a revolution (see: Egypt). Aren’t those who want to make a social impact already doing so, without the help of a game?

Will a Facebook-tied game make you more aware of an issue if it comes in the form of entertainment? Judge for yourself:

What Would It Cost To Save the World?

GLOBAL MILITARY SPENDING IS AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH of 1.5 trillion dollars—if you could spend that money on something else, what would you choose? Education, healthcare, or poverty reduction…?

What would it cost to save the world?

Two organizations, the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) advocate for a new paradigm where military expenditures do not exceed what is spent on human needs. They’ve organized a Global Day of Action on Military Spending on April 12.

The following video, from campaign partner Fundació per la Pau, demonstrates how much is spent on maternal and child mortality and combating infectious diseases, vs. military spending:

For more on today’s global day of action on military spending, visit the official website.

‘Bearing Witness’ for Survivors of Abu Ghraib

"The Broomstick Was Metal" 2008 © Daniel Heyman

LOOKING INTO THE FACES OF FORMER ABU GHRAIB DETAINEES is to confront pain and suffering, but also some measure of survival. It forces the viewer to see the human cost of the U.S. government’s recent history and practice of torture.

In his portrait series, “Bearing Witness,” artist Daniel Heyman looks into the face of this history directly. Heyman is a first-person witness to the aftermath of imprisonment of over 40 Iraqis held and subsequently released from Abu Ghraib.

Heyman sat in on interviews between human rights lawyers and these former Abu Ghraib detainees, sketching not only their images but adding their testimony as part of the overall work.

"They Took Me To A Dark Room," 2008 © Daniel Heyman

On his site, Heyman writes about the impact of hearing first-hand the experiences of the detainees:

I am a proud American citizen who needed to know the truth of what was happening. In 2004, when the first reports of Americans torturing Iraqis appeared, I no longer recognized my own country. My only stake in the matter was that I love my country and what it stands for in the world —civil rights, the rule of law, habeas corpus, and something as simple as the right to wear clothing in prison. I have no special access to information and no security clearance. I only have my ears and a desire to listen to what happened. I continue to be astonished and disturbed at what I’ve seen and heard. (Source)

“Bearing Witness” is currently on view at the White Box Gallery at the University of Oregon in Portland through May 14, 2011. See more of Daniel Heyman’s portraits at his official site.

Burma’s Hope for A New Democracy

THE STORY OF HOW A FORMER JUNTA MEMBER and soldier, Myo Myint, changed sides and became a pro-democracy activist is the subject of the film Burma Soldier. Now, secretly made copies of the film are making the rounds in Burma. The producers of the film have also made the film available in Burmese through Vimeo, and it’s gone viral.

The film’s upcoming release in the U.S. (it’s scheduled to air on HBO in May), is good timing for Burma watchers: all eyes are on how the recent regime change will play out.

The film, co-directed by co-directed by Nic Dunlop, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, goes inside the military and effectively reveals how Burma became a military dictatorship. It’s also a very personal look at one man’s life and how he comes to understand his nation’s history and his place in it. “I will fight for peace,” he says in the film. “That’s what I decided.”

Here is a photo essay about Myo Myint, and the story of how he switched sides. You can watch the film in its entirety on Vimeo (in Burmese):

The Price of Freedom In China

© Ai Weiwei

LIFE FOR ACTIVISTS AND DISSIDENTS IN CHINA GROWS MORE DESPERATE after this week’s extrajudicial detention of artist Ai Weiwei. He was last seen Sunday as he tried to board a flight to Hong Kong.

It’s the latest, and most high profile, arrest of any dissident so far in China’s latest crackdown on dissidents and artists.

China is afraid of an Arab-style uprising. Persistent and anonymous calls for a “jasmine revolution” keep cropping up. Ai Weiwei, always an outspoken critic of China’s ruling communist party, made no secret of his support for civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, the dissidents are rounded up: there were dozens of arrests last week.

It was not until Ai Weiwei’s forced disappearance that governments joined human rights groups in condemning China’s actions, including the United States, France, and Germany.

The EU and China have a scheduled dialogue for the end of May. This is yet another opportunity for democratic nations to fully engage China and call them out for their lack of human rights. The EU must not let China slither away with its double talk about “misunderstandings.”

The appeasement of China must stop.

Time and again China acts preemptively, and with impunity, to silence dissent, while the West looks the other way or wrings its hands, and releases mealy-mouth statements to “free such-and-such.”

Liu Xiaobo is still in prison. So are thousands of political prisoners held in China. And China’s occupation of Tibet continues with the arrests, torture, and deaths of thousands of Tibetans.

Dissent in China is real, otherwise the government wouldn’t be reacting so violently. The nascent flowering of revolution was nipped in the bud (here’s a timeline of how the original non-protests went down), but repression will not make it go away.

We’ve forgotten that revolutions once happened without cell phones, the Internet, or computers. They happened by word-of-mouth, pamphleteering, meetings between people.

In 1989, there was no Internet—but students organized in Tiananmen Square anyway.

It’s true this generation doesn’t know a world without digital connection. And the people who remember Tiananmen, or who were there and survived, may not be able to speak of it today. But that’s what China needs now: the passed note and human voice. It’s time to rescue the old tools of revolution.

The human voice is ultimately the most powerful tool we have: we must speak up, and speak loudly. We must all do this now to support democracy and defend the voiceless.

For more on how to support human rights in China, visit Chinese Human Rights Defenders or Human Rights in China.