Community holds Tibet flag raising to advocate for human rights
The sun broke out of the clouds just in time on Wednesday morning for the first Tibetan flag raising in Santa Barbara County history.
March 10 marked Tibetan Uprising Day, and Santa Barbara joined 425 cities in Germany and numerous cities in California and several in Wisconsin in raising the Tibetan flag to raise awareness for human rights and freedom for Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians and people in Hong Kong.
County supervisors Das Williams and Joan Hartmann co-sponsored a resolution this year declaring March 10 Tibetan Uprising Day.
“I think that it’s important for Santa Barbara to declare ourselves in solidarity with the struggles of the people of Tibet, but also, even more importantly, to try to minimize our economic aid to the government of China in perpetuating human rights crises,” Mr. Williams, the 1st District supervisor, told the News-Press at the flag-raising site. “If we keep buying Chinese products — many of which are made in the slave labor camps in the country — then we are actually helping oppress the Tibetan and Uighur people, so I think the second part is to raise consciousness about that.”
Mr. Williams and more than a dozen community members gathered at 9 a.m in front of the County Administration Building on Anapamu Street. The group included Tibet native and Buddhist lama Thepo Tulku who now lives in Santa Barbara, the Rev. Larry Gosseling from the Santa Barbara Mission and Kevin Young with Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet, who organized the ceremony.
Speeches were given, and the Rev. Gosseling said a prayer, followed by a flute performance by Emiliano Campobello, a board member on the Santa Barbara Summit for Tibet.
Then the group played the Tibetan National Anthem as the flag was raised.
“When I first started doing local resolutions, I wondered, ‘Is the People’s Republic of China really going to pay attention to things like this, what the state of California or what a city in California does?’” Supervisor Williams said to the attendees. “I found out when I was the chair of the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus: they actually do. They’re very sensitive about it. It bothers them, and I think that’s something we should keep in mind in our advocacy.”
He added that because the U.S. buys a lot of products from China, “we are fueling, economically, this human rights abuse,” and if Americans are fueling it, they must have a stake in the solution.
“What I ask people to do is not only stand in solidarity with Tibet, but to think about it in our purchases and daily lives, because we will affect Chinese policy, more than anything, by our economic outlook,” Supervisor Williams said.
“It really pains me to hear about the ongoing pain in Tibet,” Mr. Young told the News-Press. “It’s cultural genocide, it’s arbitrary arrests, it’s involuntary organ harvesting, it’s labor camps with millions of Uighurs, it’s unfair trials without representation. They’re thrown in prison for peaceful demonstration for their points of view, and it goes on and on.”
Mr. Young said that by sharing the flag raising and support for Tibet and the People’s Republic of China on social media, he hopes to amplify their voices and send a message to China “about how the world feels about its continued human rights abuses.”
“Chinese lives matter,” he told the crowd. “As a movement, we must always remember, it is not the Chinese people who are responsible for these abuses. It’s not Chinese people that we campaign against — it is the communist government of China and the nations that encourage them by agreeing to the one-China policy.”
Tibetans today still strive to gain their freedoms back to practice and preserve their identity as they remain under China’s communist rule, and Santa Barbara Friends of Tibet is one of hundreds of Tibet Support Groups around the country and world working together to amplify their voices. China made possessing the Tibetan flag illegal in Tibet, and any Tibetans who own, wave or fly their flag face imprisonment, so the flag has become a symbol of protest and unity for Tibetans.
This year is the 62nd anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising of 1959, where tens of thousands of Tibetans took to the streets of Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, rising up against China’s invasion and occupation of their homeland. They surrounded the Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lama, to protect his life and the future of the Tibetan nation.
Chinese statistics estimate that 87,000 Tibetans were killed, arrested or deported to labor camps during the uprising, and it led to the forced exile of the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of Tibetans.
“We must remember the March 10 uprising because the Tibetan people are still fighting for their basic human rights and freedom,” Mr. Tulku, Tibet native and now a Santa Barbara resident, said at the ceremony. “Material progress in Tibet has been mainly for the Chinese, and our religion, culture, our land and our identity as people are slowly being destroyed. To save Tibet is not just for the Tibetans, but for the whole world.”
Mr. Tulku placed white Khatas around each attendees’ shoulders at the flag raising. A Khata (Khada, Khadag or Hada) is a traditional ceremonial scarf used in Tibet and Mongolia that symbolizes purity, goodwill, auspiciousness, compassion and sincerity of one’s offering.
They’re typically presented at festive occasions as a symbol of good luck or congratulations.
“Your concern and your support for the freedom and the human rights of the Tibetan people is support and concern for human rights everywhere,” the native of Tibet told the crowd.
Before praying for Tibet, the Rev. Gosseling told the people at the ceremony, “You can attempt to destroy a nation, but you can’t delegitimize a culture or society … The strength, the foundational, gravitational pull of a people who are bound together by fear and by a culture that is wrong — you know that is Tibetan people. You know your culture is strong. You can’t delegitimize that.
“We are in solidarity and we are people of hope. Destruction cannot destroy our solidarity and hope.”
Mr. Campobello played a song on his Native American flute, and he said that finally having a flag flown for Tibet prevents the nation’s people from becoming invisible.
“It’s recognition of the people,” he told the News-Press. “I’m indigenous, Native American, so you know, the recognition for the people being oppressed is something very important, and I’m very happy to have this kind of visibility, especially from our esteemed county supervisors.”