The recent violent suppression of peaceful protest by the Myanmar military junta has provoked protests in various parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle.
Unlike the student uprising of 1988, the September-October demonstrations in Burma were initiated by Theravadan Buddhist monks protesting the human degradation they witness on a daily basis.
Recent actions in the Portland area have included peace marches, sangha vigils, petition campaigns, and the ongoing work of the local chapter of the 88 Generation Students (http://solidarityprojects.org/88students/about). Every Saturday in downtown Portland, Burmese refugees stand at Pioneer Courthouse Square with signs and pictures, petitioning the international community to help free Burma. Portland is home to a large population of Burmese refugees.
Portland State University’s human rights group Amnesty International hosted “Burma Week” November 13-15, a three-day workshop series to raise awareness of the humanitarian consequences of the Burmese political struggle and to mobilize support for the Burmese people. Amnesty International facilitated a constructive and timely response to the ongoing crisis by bringing together dedicated activists, Burmese refugees, and the concerned public seeking an answer to the question, “What can I do to help?”
During the first evening dedicated to educating participants, keynote speaker Edith Mirante, local author and activist, shed light on the plight of the Burmese people, and local Burmese exiles testified to the numerous human rights abuses inflicted by the Burmese military junta in power. During the second evening a panel of activists shared their thoughts on ways to support humanitarian efforts, including a talk by Ian Petrich of Green Empowerment, a Portland non-profit providing solar electricity for refugee clinics.
Local Burmese refugee and democracy activist Athein announced his intention to raise awareness by marching next year from Portland to Washington, D.C. Twenty years after the 1988 protests that began his life of exile, he will petition the U.N. and the U.S. government for aid.
During the last day of the workshop, participants wrote letters to political leaders and created stencil art in solidarity with an international movement dubbed the “saffron revolution.” (To view images of this movement and download the monk stencil template, visit http://saffronrevolutionworldwide.blogspot.com.)
In Seattle, several rallies and informational sessions have taken place downtown and on the University of Washington campus. Principal organizers have been the UW Burma Action Group (http://students.washington.edu/burma/) and the Seattle-Burma Roundtable. A rally October 6 at Seattle’s Westlake Mall attracted over 100 demonstrators. In addition to Burmese refugees and other supporters of the democracy movement in Burma, Asian and western monks from various traditions participated, including Burmese monks from the Tripitaka Buddhist Temple in Kent.
Contributors: Susan Andree, Julie Welch.
Photos: Portland photos copyright Jan Van Raay.
Photos: Seattle photos copyright Mona Han.