Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives, led by California’s own Nancy Pelosi, approved House Resolution 226, recognizing March 10 as the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising, the flight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama into exile, and the courage of Tibetans in the past 50 years.
We are all too familiar with Tibet’s recent history: China’s unlawful invasion and illegal occupation of a sovereign nation; more than a million Tibetans dead from torture, starvation, and imprisonment; 6,000 monasteries and nunneries destroyed; economic and social marginalization, and the repeated crushing of basic human rights and freedoms. Those assaults are just a part of what the Dalai Lama recently called “such depths of suffering and hardship” that Tibetans “have literally experienced hell on Earth.”
House Resolution 226 was a clear declaration that America continues to stand for human rights and self-determination in Tibet, honoring the courage and perseverance of Tibetans and their continued efforts to keep alive their language, religion, and culture. Today, there is a similar resolution on Tibet before the California State Assembly. Sponsored by Sam Blakeslee, a San Luis Obispo resident representing the 33rd Assembly District, the resolution’s official name is Assembly Concurrent Resolution 6 or ACR 6, but it is more commonly known as “The Dalai Lama and Tibet Awareness Day.”
The goals of Mr. Blakeslee’s Tibet resolution are simple enough: “educate Californians about the teachings of the Dalai Lama and his efforts to preserve the Tibetan culture,” honor the Dalai Lama “for his contributions to world peace and leadership in seeking nonviolent solutions to international problems,” and re-affirm that “freedom of expression, assembly, and religious beliefs are fundamental human rights that belong to all people.” But for some reason, while the House of Representatives was able to pass their resolution 422 to 1, members of the California State Assembly aren’t willing to take a similar stand for Tibet. When the resolution was scheduled for a vote in mid-March, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont) set it aside. The resolution has since been referred to the Rules Committee—where bills and resolutions are sent to die a slow death.
Why can’t California’s Assembly members muster the moral voice to honor the courage of Tibetans and the life’s work of the Dalai Lama? It might be because the Chinese government, in what has been termed a shocking breach of the sovereignty of the State Assembly, continues a heavy lobbying campaign of these very same Assembly members.
Recently, in a letter to every member of the Assembly (except, of course, Mr. Blakeslee), Gao Zhansheng, China’s Consul General in San Francisco, accused the Dalai Lama of engaging in “activities aimed at splitting China and undermining national unity.” And just last year, Consul General Gao’s superiors in Beijing referred to the Dalai Lama as “a wolf in monk’s clothes, a devil with a human face.”
In his efforts to sway enough votes in the Assembly to crush ACR 6, Consul General Gao closed his letter urging “that you, as an influential dignitary, kindly refrain from supporting the ACR 6 Resolution,” and warned our legislators that “we can not take for granted what he [the Dalai Lama] says without watching his deeds.”
We agree: let us listen to the Dalai Lama, and let us watch his deeds. A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Dalai Lama has, in words and deeds, spent his lifetime in efforts to preserve the Tibetan culture, made contributions to world peace and leadership in seeking nonviolent solutions to international problems, and worked tirelessly to re-affirm that freedom of expression, assembly, and religious beliefs are fundamental human rights that belong to all people.
Recently the Dalai Lama’s words have included a message to the Chinese people, who, he said, “are beginning to demonstrate their deep yearnings for more openness and freedom in their country.” China might be better served if Consul General Gao were to spend more time listening to the frustrations of his own people instead trying to influence California’s legislators.
This week the Dalai Lama visits Santa Barbara, and again we will listen to His Holiness’s words, including those in a talk entitled “Ethics for Our Time.” As we do, will even a majority of the members of California’s State Assembly venture to Santa Barbara to listen to a man whose message, for more than 50 years, in spite of China’s brutal occupation of Tibet, has been a message of compassion and peace? If China’s Consul General Gao and his lobbyists get their way, it’s not likely.
John Isom is the executive director of Tibet Justice Center, Dechen Tsering is president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, and Giovanni Vassallo is president of Committee of 100 for Tibet. Contact the Tibet Justice Center at (707) 629-3652 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments to the editor at email@example.com.