Snitch James Woodard takes a look the blowback for China hosting the ‘08 Olympics – mad Tibetans using the occasion to say, “Um, could you get off our necks, possibly?” The Free Tibet movement will take their cause to major American sporting events all Summer, with mixed results. Tell us more, James. –d2
Baseball, Beer and Buddha
Tibetans embrace America’s pastime to share story of struggle
By JAMES WOODARD
It was a sunny Saturday on August 4, at McAfee Coliseum as the Oakland Athletics prepared to face off with the Los Angeles Angels. The fans were dressed in the normal attire you might expect at an A’s game: team jerseys, A’s hats, oversize foam #1 hands, wait a minute…are those prayer beads?
Around 60 Tibetan activists, wearing orange Team Tibet shirts, face paint, and some with the aforementioned beads, came out in force to share their message, while taking in the summer fun of a baseball game. The group, made up of a number of Bay Area and national Tibetan action organization were there in an attempt to expand media awareness of China’s human rights policies. Tibetan youth organizers have mobilized their collective forces to try a different approach to raising public awareness—by bringing their message to baseball games.
The action, which was carried out at 10 different ballparks across the United States and Canada, was part of a series of peaceful protests being held on the year countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “Team Tibet” organizers hope that by being present at the games they can get the attention of television cameras at the stadium by waving flags, holding banners and chanting slogans.
At first it looked as if security might crack down on the orange-clad protesters, even though far more rowdy and unruly fans crowded the stadium. Some fans were curious about what the protesters were all about, and once they talked with them were generally supportive.
Yangchen Llamo, from Students for a Free Tibet, said that the choice to visit sports events coincides with the Olympics, and is a great way to bring their message to the general public, even though baseball is not that well known in Tibet. Basketball, however, is another story.
“They’re really big on basketball in Tibet and in China,” Llamo said. “NBA is really huge there. They know all the players and the teams.
“But baseball seems perfect because you have such a huge crowd, unlike at a basketball game,” she said, until a near-perfect double play brought an eruption of cheers from the stands behind her.
Banners saying “Athletics’ fans stand with Team Tibet” and “Beijing ’08 Olympics, Whose side are you on” were cautiously displayed at first because of security guards, who had informed some of the protesters that they were keeping an eye on them. By the middle of the game, however, the mood had relaxed greatly, and the flag-waving went on unabated.
“Baseball really is a symbol of democracy,” said Jigdol Ngawang, who walked from Tibet to Nepal with his cousin in order to be free when he was 21. “It was a long journey, but we safely made it. It was such a feeling of freedom, especially when we made it to the U.S.”
One of the issues Ngawang had to deal with was getting official identification. He said that Tibetans could not get Chinese passports because they aren't Chinese, but they also are refused any sort of official Tibetan identification because of China’s claim on Tibet.
Kalsang Tashi, from the San Francisco Tibet Alliance, wants the message to be a highly visible message that will prompt regular Americans to confront China on its human rights record.
“Americans love baseball, and we want to insert Tibet into the mainstream by being at the games,” she said.
The protests are unique to baseball games, though earlier protests have spawned controversy. In June of 2007, demonstrators at a Major League Soccer exhibition in Salt Lake City were ejected from the stadium after protesters waved flags of Tibet and Taiwan. The Chinese national team was playing an exhibition game against Real Salt Lake City, but refused to take the field until the protestors were removed. This comes the same week that Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders strongly criticized China for repressive media practices, such as jailing reporters, according to BBC reports. No such drama at the A’s game, and people generally had a good time. With the A’s coming from behind to beat the Angels 2-1 at the top of the 9th inning.
A larger protest and march also occurred Wednesday, August 8, when organizers said they would give a letter to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom at City Hall before marching to the Chinese Consul General’s office at Laguna and Geary. The marchers intended to meet at Civic Center BART station in San Francisco, where they should've begun their trek to meet with the mayor. An action is planned for 1:30 at the Chinese Consulate.