Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Art of Activism

Last Saturday, September 19, I went to listen to “The Art of Activism”- talks by Lhadon and Tsundue and Q&A, in Astoria, NY. It was Tibetan time central. The talk was to start at 2pm. We got to Diki Daycare on Steinway St. about 15 minutes before 2. Thupten Nyima and Losel were setting up the tech- oh yes, there was to be livestreaming. Since, you know, SFT’s very technically advanced and all that, esp. for an activist organization headquartered above a Chinese Laundromat. At 2pm there were five people there. Maybe. This was worrying. What if people didn’t show? It was Saturday afternoon, after all. A significant population of the younger Tibetan crowd would be nursing hangovers picked up from the Irish Bar. But actually, people started filing in, and although only half the seats were filled when the talk started, eventually all seats were taken.

The actual talk and Q&A went from 2:30-4:30PM. It went off really really well. Tsundue and Lhadon are of course two of our most eloquent speakers. The audience was really engaged too. There was an online audience too, as Tendor kept reminding us. He was clearly delighted about the livestreaming, and the fact that there was an online audience. 

Lhadon talked about how we need to know ‘how to organize, how to be strategic, how to understand history’. She said, “So much of the art of resistance is studying, looking at other movements.” She also said that this is not new, what we are going through and we need to remember it: so many other people and nations in history have gone through colonialism, gone through oppression and torture and death, and finally gained freedom. “It’s acute pain, but it’s not new.”

Lhadon mentioned Estonia- their freedom struggle, how all sorts of different people came together, performed their own role etc- the freedom fighters, the ordinary brave people, the collaborators who weren’t really etc etc. I realize that I don’t know much about the whole of Eastern Europe. An entire swath of earth which recently came out from under Soviet occupation. Probably worth it to learn a bit about those countries and their struggles. Yep.

Tsundue talked about the “indignity of exile”, the indignity of being out of one’s country. The struggle gives him dignity, he said. I understand this- I mean, the indignity of exile. All Tibetans understand this- we face it in so many small ways as we live in and out of our communities, but nothing brings this home -like a slap in the face- than travel. Of course, being invested in anything worthwhile gives one dignity, but resistance and the struggle to return as counter to the indignity of exile is neatly appropriate, poetic even. 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Intersections at Wasabi Point

I have been meaning to write about an unusual gathering of young Tibetans in NYC about two months ago. The gathering was called by the Global Tibetan Professional Network* at Wasabi Point, a nice little restaurant in Woodside, Queens. GTPN (which suffers from an unfortunate acronym –for a long time, I thought it was possibly a dharma center or perhaps an STD) is a new and growing network of Tibetan professionals in the US started by Drs. Tsering Amdo and Tenzin Jamyang.

There were about 30-40 young Tibetans there, professionals and budding professionals in all walks of life – geology, aerospace engineering, dentistry, advertising, nursing, doctoring, lawyering, film-making, activisting (activating?), you name it. We got together, and we speed-dated basically. Each of us was paired up with someone we hadn’t met previously –since the point of the whole gathering was to network, meet new people, form new connections- and told to make conversation. We talked about ourselves, our interests, why we were there and what we hoped to get out of this new network.

There was a nice poetic touch to the choice of restaurants. Just as we, the attendees, were a fusion of Tibetan and foreign environments, in greater and lesser proportions, so the restaurant too was a fusion of Tibetan and foreign cuisine. The whole thing was actually very well organized.

There was even an admirable (but doomed) short-lived attempt at simulcasting audio through the flat screen TV on the wall. However, as Shakespeare would say, knowing how to fiddle with a few touch screen buttons on your iphone does not a tech expert make. We have still a good ten years to go before we produce any real life tech geeks. Still, I did come away from Wasabi Point with the pre-dawning hope that we are farther along the path to developing the human resources necessary for a functional civil society than I had mournfully assumed.