Why We Must Protest – Part II

Lhadon Tethong, September 17, 2014

On the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, I wanted to share a few more thoughts on the importance of protest.

Resistance is not the cause of repression. Our protests are not the cause of China’s crackdown in Tibet. As long as there is oppression in Tibet, there will be resistance. And as long as there is resistance, there will often be retaliation by the Chinese government because that is the nature of authoritarian rule. The Chinese authorities crack down on Tibetans in Tibet – as well as on millions of Chinese in China, Uighurs in East Turkestan, and Mongols in Southern Mongolia – because they simply do not tolerate any dissent or opposition to their rule.

Over the past few years, as Tibetans inside Tibet have taken more of a visible and strong stand to speak out against and protest the occupation – whether it be language policies, environmental destruction, resource exploitation, economic discrimination, etc. – there has been a violent backlash from the authorities. But we must realize that this backlash is not caused by Tibetans in exile. It is not caused by our protests, nor by His Holiness’ many public engagements and political meetings, nor even by expressions of government or grassroots support for Tibet anywhere in the world. China’s occupation and brutal policies are the root cause and ultimate source of Tibetan suffering. Tibetans in Tibet are fed up and can’t ignore the horrific injustice and abuses being carried out right in front of their eyes. They are fighting for their right to exist and live life as they see fit. They are trying to protect their homes, their families, their lands and their precious culture. As long as they do this – as long as they fight back – there will be backlash from the Chinese authorities.

And while it is excruciatingly painful to have to watch from the relative safety of exile as Tibetans continue to suffer at home, we have to understand the significance of their resistance. In fact, the new wave of resistance we have seen since 2008 has been hailed by many Tibetans in Tibet as the “awakening.” While incurring a direct human cost on many of the people who dare to speak out, this wave of resistance is playing a key role in ensuring the survival of the Tibetan language, culture, environment, and all of the things every Tibetan cherishes, amidst and beyond the current era of repression.

Rather than emphasize only the immediate suffering and short-term cost of protest, we have to see the long-term results of resistance that will be reaped from this movement. The protests of 2008 and the resistance that has followed, including our global mobilization and protests in exile, has breathed new life into so many of our people – especially the youth – inside Tibet and given them the energy and determination to keep up the fight for at least a few generations yet.

Though we should try to find a way to reduce the suffering of Tibetans inside Tibet, we must be careful not to blame our own people for what is ultimately the fault of the Chinese authorities. The blame, the cause, the root of Tibetan suffering lies with the oppressor and the oppressor alone. Those who speak out against the injustice and suffering in Tibet – whether through street protests, government lobbying, books, films or articles – are doing only what is right and what must be done to shine a light in the dark corners where the Chinese want no one to look. Our combined efforts and actions, inside and outside, need to get stronger and louder, not softer and quieter. What the Chinese government wants most is to tone our embarrassing public protests down to a whisper and lock them behind closed doors where they can be forgotten, so that the Tibet issue will slowly slip from the world’s conscience and into oblivion. We cannot – and we will not – let this happen.

“Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr., “Why We Can’t Wait”