Awakening

By | October 3, 2007

I found a bunch of my old clips buried deep in my closet recently. Some were columns I wrote for The Hartford Courant 10 years ago.

It is illuminating for me to read and remember how I perceived myself and the world a decade ago. Much has changed.

The Value Of Taking A Stand

By MARIE K. SHANAHAN, Courant Staff Writer
Monday, November 10, 1997 | Column: Excerpts

In the quarter century I’ve been on this earth, I’ve never protested anything — except for the parental curfew imposed on me as a teenager.

My older colleagues are often shocked to learn that I’ve never felt compelled to organize a protest, meet with others in church basements, construct makeshift signs or march along street corners.

Growing up in suburban America in the ’80s and ’90s managed to leave me without any kind of mind-boggling, earthshaking event to ignite my passions.

Like many members of my generation, I did not have to fight against an oppressive government. I had no Vietnam War. The civil rights and women’s movements of decades past had already improved my life.

I could afford to be self-centered. I didn’t know any better.

But a week ago, as I worked my way through some 5,000 demonstrators at Harvard University, I realized good fortune has also managed to leave me and many of my contemporaries apathetic. Dispassionate. Blind. Taking our carefree lives for granted.

The Courant had sent me to Cambridge, Mass., to cover the Nov. 1 demonstrations connected to the visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin. And what I saw that day as I wandered through throngs of people amazed me.

Behind the barricades on one side of the street, pro-China demonstrators hollered, “One China! One China!” and sang the Chinese national anthem. The other side, filled with advocates for human rights, Tibetan freedom and Taiwanese independence, cried back, “Free Tibet! Free Taiwan! Jiang Zemin, Go Home!”

For many baby boomers of the ’60s, the scene would have been deja vu. For me, it was a sight that never seemed real until now, taking it all in with my own eyes and ears.

Everywhere, people were carrying signs, wearing bands around their heads and waving flags. They packed together on sidewalks, street corners and the lawn of a small church. They were chanting and singing, climbing street poles and shouting slogans.

I was impressed by people like Tashi Rabgey, a 27-year-old exiled Tibetan who helped organize the Harvard protest. Every Sunday, she meets with other Tibetans in a church basement to preserve their culture and figure out new strategies to free their homeland from Communist Chinese rule.

There was Robert Gao, a twentysomething from China who attends Yale, who came to offer his support to his president. Waving the red Chinese flag, Gao hoisted himself above the crowd and led the pro-China demonstrators in chants.

Two teenage Tibetans, Kayzom Ngodup and Tenzin Nysang, yelled so much on that morning their voices grew hoarse.

“We have grown up knowing this kind of protest,” Kayzom told me. “It makes us feel stronger. It gives us hope.”

Maybe because I grew up in Connecticut with a comfortable life, I never thought I had anything to fight for. It’s also been easy for me to hide behind my profession — journalists are paid to be observers who can remain objective and never take a stand.

But that day, I also found young Americans with absolutely no personal connection to the issues, who were protesting anyway.

Mark Hilliard, a Cambridge resident dressed in a Revolutionary War uniform and three-cornered hat, tended to stick out. He walked around with a sign that read, “Massachusetts Still Hates Tyrants.”

Hilliard didn’t have to be there, but for some reason he had the compassion to stand up for strangers in a place thousands of miles away, simply because he thought it was the right thing to do.

I’m missing out on something by not joining the fight.

Not the fight at Harvard in particular, but any fight – whether it be marching to end hunger in Hartford, writing letters to protect the environment or protesting to stop repression in foreign lands.

Because we have the freedom here to do something, shouldn’t we?

If not but for the most basic reason of all – because it gives the not-so-lucky people, like those Tibetan teenagers, what they need to persevere:

Hope.

This column is content is copyrighted by The Hartford Courant and may not be republished or distributed.


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