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Online solidarity

Free Burma!

A few days ago in my Facebook I received an invitation from a friend in Brazil to join the Support the Monks’ Protest in Burma group. I am new to Facebook and am still learning how to do things in there. My time so far has been focused on setting up my space, searching for friends and inviting them to join, and experimenting with the variety of applications I can add. I really haven’t spent any time exploring the groups that I could join and what this might mean. Setting up a group to connect like-minded people on a particular topic is something that appears to be easy to do in this environment.

I decided to join the Support the Monks’ Protest in Burma group – it was easy – all I had to do was click on a link. Activism has moved online and people are engaging. This I can understand. With that one click I joined up with what turns out to be thousands of people all over the globe who wanted to share their outrage at the violence being authorised by the military rulers of Burma (now known as Myanmar) against the Buddhist monks who are leading the Burmese people in pro-democracy protests.

Buddhists vs batons.

Photo source: falang_bah2002, 27 September 2007

The Support the Monks in Burma Facebook group has reached 300,000 members, making it one of the largest groups of Facebook, and one of the fastest growing. One thousand people are joining every hour.

“We are showing that the eyes of the world are still on Burma, that ordinary people are showing their solidarity and support,” said Johnny Chatterton, the UK co-ordinator for the group. “We are breaking new ground in grassroots e-activism.”

Source: Facebook Support the Monks In Burma Reaches Over 300,000. Yoko Ono sends message of support. 04 Oct 2007

I was interested to discover that this Facebook group was created by 19 year old Alex Bookbinder after a chance encounter in a Myanmar coffee shop and was launched on 19 September …

“I’m overwhelmed by the response,” Bookbinder told Reuters in an interview conducted, appropriately, over the Internet.

“I really just started this to tell my friends about what was going on over there. It’s just grown and grown. It’s unbelievable.”

The Internet has become a vital tool for activists rallying opposition to Myanmar’s rulers and also one of the few sources of information for news on the country.

So powerful is its reach, the junta shut down the country’s Internet connection with the rest of the world on Friday, although it resumed briefly on Saturday before being shut off again.

Source: Backpacker turns Myanmar activist via Facebook, Reuters, 2 October 2007

Even though the Internet has been shut down in Burma the story of what is going on is still getting out. Some things never change; where there is a will there is always a way especially in our current technologically rich world.

The Internet and traditional mass media is being flooded with images, video footage, and written information that the Burmese junta are trying to suppress.

Bloggers like Ko Htike, an online Burmese born activist now based in London, are making sure the word is being spread. There are also the bloggers on the inside, the ones walking amongst, and living with, the people on the streets.

Internet geeks share a common style, and Ko Latt and his four friends would not be out of place in cyber cafes across the world. They have skinny arms and the long hair, the dark T-shirts and the jokey nicknames. But few such figures have ever taken risks that they have in the past few weeks, or achieved so much in a noble and dangerous cause.

Since last month Ko Latt, 28, his friends Arca, Eye, Sun and Superman, and scores of others like them have been the third pillar of Myanmar’s “Saffron Uprising”. While the veteran democracy advocates, and then the Buddhist monks, marched in their tens of thousands against the military regime, it is the country’s amateur bloggers and Internet enthusiasts who have brought the images to the outside world.

… Now the bloggers, too, have been crushed … Ko Latt and his blogging comrades have abandoned their keyboards and gone underground, sleeping in a different place every night, watching and waiting to see if the democracy movement has been truly crushed or is simply on hold.

Source: Kenneth Denb in Fear and blogging in Myanmar, Section B1, The Dominion Post, 2 October 2007.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? People having to go in to hiding for fear of their own lives because of what they are saying and doing. We have all heard this story so many times before in different contexts.

The article continued …

Even in normal times it was hard to be a blogger in Myanmar. With characteristic paranoia, the government monitored and controlled every aspect of the process, from licensing computers to issuing accounts through government monitored Internet service providers (ISPs). This is what makes political blogging so dangerous here – it is easy for military intelligence to identify a dissident’s name and address through his registered account.

“They know who we are, they know we are bloggers, and I am afraid.” Ko Latt

Here is a list of blogs about Burma from the Free Burma web site.

What I cannot understand is how human beings are prepared to inflict violence against others. This is not just happening in Burma, it is happening all over the globe. We hear about it on a daily basis. It comes under many different guises. It is not just political and on a grand scale. It is also happening in our homes. Family abuse is one example of this – violence against a child, a wife, an elderly parent.

Why are we doing this? Have we learnt nothing from history? Is there some genetic code hardwired into our beings that every generation must repeat these atrocities; that we must hurt, even kill, those who are different, or those who believe something we don’t agree with or understand, or those people who won’t follow us. Why do we find ourselves driven to violence as a solution for fear? Why do so many people have to die in the name of money, power, land ownership, religious beliefs, and the desire for freedom and democracy? Is peace, love and respect for all people on our earth only an imagined possibility?

A statement in the newspaper article I refer to above springs to mind …

As Superman [a Burmese blogger] puts it: “Now Burma is like the Stone Age”.
Source: Kenneth Denb in Fear and blogging in Myanmar, Section B1, The Dominion Post, 2 October 2007.

I have to wonder whether this is not true of elsewhere as well. I keep wondering if humanity has really progressed when we get down to the basic requirements of human existence.

I know I am approaching this from a simplistic viewpoint yet in my ideal world we should be able to sort out differences in a way which doesn’t involve hurting one another – either psychologically or physically. In my mind it is simple. We are all equal. We all matter. No one person is any better nor any more important than any other no matter what position they hold in society. We all contribute different things to the rich tapestry of life. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We all have a right to our viewpoint. We all have a right to be listened to even if others do not agree with what we think or have to say. We all deserve to be treated with respect and valued for who we are and what we have to contribute.

I do not believe that solving problems using violence of any kind is the answer to anything. Yet for many this all that they know.

I feel so helpless as I sit here and write knowing that so many people are suffering out there. There are so many things that need to be done to help and support the people of our world.

“What are you doing Marica? What are you contributing to bring about change?” I ask myself.

“Nothing,” is my response and I feel bad about it.

I am reminded of the words of a special friend of mine, Trevor Romain.

We often forget, myself included, that sometimes the smallest difference can have the biggest impact.

We don’t need a mammoth mission in life to do something incredible with our time here on earth.

Being a good friend, a great parent, a compassionate bystander, a good listener and even simply just being there for someone who is scared and lonely, can have a huge impact.

Not everyone is destined to be Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela but so many people feel that their life will be of little value unless they do something on a large scale. This is not true. Often it comes down to one act of kindness, one word of encouragement, one expression of gratitude.

So today I am writing a blog post in support of International Bloggers’ Day for Burma. In the bigger scheme of things this is an insignificant action. Yet to me is important. I will participate in other e-activist activities and do what I can within my reality. I will continue to live and work in such a way where I hopefully make a difference in the things I do on a daily basis – the little things that often go unnoticed – with my family, friends, colleagues, and anyone I meet along the way.

I will continue to have an open mind and open heart, and keep the idealist in me nurtured and strong.

What can you do?

Here are some suggestions but I am sure you will have far better ones:

  • Write a blog post. Tell someone in whatever format suits you about what is going on. Talk, listen, reflect and pray for those who are suffering in Burma and elsewhere in the world.
  • Keep informed. Be aware.
  • Sign this global petition which is aimed at pressuring the international community (particularly China) to take real action to stop the bloodshed and oppression in Burma.
  • Support a Free Burma. Visit www.free-burma.org.
  • Be clear of your beliefs and values. Pass these on to your children. Show them there are other ways of dealing with issues than resorting to violence. Let love be an overpowering influence in your life and the lives of those around you.

One final word …

At the moment in New Zealand we are holding our local body elections. We are fortunate to live in a country where the individual does have a voice and where we can vote in a democratic way. We have what the people of Burma, and many other countries, don’t. Yet how many of us are complacent about this. How many of us have joined the Support the Monks’ Protest in Burma group and yet we haven’t voted.

Some things are definitely hardwired from within. It seems normal to take what we have, and what we need to be grateful for, for granted because it is there. It would be a different story if this right was threatened in some way or taken away from us.

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One Response to “Online solidarity”

  1. […] As I sang along and thought about the words it struck me how some messages are timeless. The issues Michael talks about in this song are still with us. I believe his suggestion of beginning to solve these problems by looking at yourself is still relevant. It connects to my message in the post I wrote on the Burmese conflict. […]

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