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How to Protest the Beijing Olympics

April 11, 2008

David Wallechinsky
The Huffington Post
April 8, 2008

As the Olympic Torch Relay makes its way around the world, it is being
met by significant human rights protests. To those who wish to protest,
I would like to offer some suggestions.

1. Do Not Protest Against "China"
Do not protest against the Chinese people or against "China." Instead,
do protest against the policies of the Chinese Communist Party.

China is a repressive dictatorship run by a single political party, the
Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Only 5% of China's citizens are members
of the CCP; 95% of Chinese are not. From the point of view of the
Chinese Communist Party, the purpose of hosting the Olympics is to prove
to the subjects of their rule that the rest of the world accepts the CCP
as the legitimate leaders of the Chinese people. The Chinese Communists
want the citizens of China to think that international criticism of the
policies of the Communist government are attacks on the Chinese people
as a whole.

Apologists for the Chinese Communists try to convince us that the
Chinese people are angered by foreign criticism of China's human rights
policies. For all the talk one hears about the spread of the Internet in
China, it is worth keeping in mind that 85% of the Chinese population
does not use the Internet. The vast majority of Chinese get all of their
news from government-controlled television and other media, and they
have little, if any, exposure to opposing points of view. To those of us
outside of China, Chinese Communist Party speeches and press releases
about the Dalai Lama and the "Dalai Clique" orchestrating the violent
confrontations in Tibet seem, at best, ridiculous, as does Chinese TV's
assertion that the Torch Relay disruptions have been caused by "a
handful of Tibetan separatists." Yet most Chinese probably believe these
accusations to be true because this is the only version they ever hear.

To protest against "China" is to play into the hands of the CCP,
allowing its leaders to make the case that the protests are anti-Chinese
rather than anti-Chinese Communist Party.

2. Do Not Protest Against the Olympics
Do not protest against the Olympics or against the International Olympic
Committee (IOC).

The IOC made a mistake by choosing Beijing to host the 2008 Olympics.
With 125 democracies in the world, there was no excuse for awarding the
Games to one of the 70 or so countries still ruled by a dictatorship.
But the vote (56-49) was hardly unanimous, and almost half of the
members of the IOC feel as badly about the choice as do demonstrators.
The 10,000+ athletes of the world who will qualify to compete in the
Olympics deserve to do so. They also deserve the right to express their
political opinions if they so desire. When demonstrators attack the
Olympics, they weaken the message of the protests.

3. Do Not Attack the Relay Runners or the Torch Itself
Whatever one thinks of the Olympics, the Torch Relay has come to
symbolize the peaceful joining together of the peoples of the world.
Four years ago, prior to the Athens Olympics, the Olympic Flame was
taken all over the world and there were no problems. To attack it is to
give fuel to the arguments of those who support the Chinese Communist
Party. A more effective means of protest is to non-violently slow the
progress of the Relay from a run to a walk.

4. Use Bilingual Signs
To hold up signs and banners in English is fine if you want to influence
other Westerners, but if your goal is to show the Chinese people that
the rest of the world wants to make contact, translate your message into
Mandarin. You never know what images will seep through the notorious
Great Firewall of China. Why not try something like a Mandarin
translation of "The Chinese Communist Party does not speak for the
Chinese people."

5. Do Not Commit Acts of Violence
Violent acts of protest are just the sort of images the Chinese
Communist leaders want to use for their portrayal of pro-Tibetan or
pro-democracy protestors. Don't allow yourself to become a prop in a
Chinese Communist propaganda campaign.

6. Look Beyond the Olympics
Protests and demonstrations surrounding the Beijing Olympics are not
enough to bring independence to Tibet, democracy to China or allow the
Chinese people to finally practice freedom of speech and freedom of
religion. The Chinese Communists may make superficial gestures to
appease the IOC, but once the Olympics are over, the leaders of the CCP
will return to their repressive ways. The only pressure to which the
leadership of the Chinese Communist Party will ultimately respond is
economic pressure. Because the West is now dependent on Chinese labor,
Chinese customers and Chinese loans, it will require long-term
strategies to force the Chinese Communist Party to open up more than its
economy. In the meantime, why not ask some of the Olympic sponsors what
they think about human rights issues in China? Why not ask Coca-Cola,
GE, Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, McDonalds, Panasonic, Samsung or VISA?

Please treat your concern about Tibet, Darfur or China as a lasting
concern rather than as a passing fad.

David Wallechinsky is the author of The Complete Book of the Summer
Olympics and Tyrants: The World's 20 Worst Living Dictators. He is the
Vice-President of the International Society of Olympic Historians.
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