Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., understands fully that the 60,000 people per day
attending the upcoming Tibetan Freedom Concert have music first and
foremost on their minds.
"I would emphasize the music and the beautiful words," he said recently of
the concert taking place Saturday and Sunday at Washington, D.C.'s RFK
But after the sets by R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Beck and others, Wellstone said he hopes that music fans will be inspired to take part in a rally on the Capitol
steps to press for human rights in Tibet.
"There has to be joy with the determination, so I really think it's a good
combination with the concert," said Wellstone, a longtime advocate for
human rights in Tibet and China.
Organizers have scheduled the June 15 rally to take advantage of the
proximity of this year's concert to the halls of national power. Beastie
Boy and TFC head Adam Yauch, along with Sean Lennon and other performers, will join Wellstone and several of his congressional colleagues in urging President Clinton to press for human rights in Tibet during his June summit in China with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
"The whole reason for coming to D.C. is to talk at the politicians a little
bit," said Erin Potts, executive director of the Milarepa Fund, which
organizes and benefits from the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. "The ball is in
their court, and the American people are demanding that real progress on the
issue of Tibet be made."
White House press aide Estella Mendoza said President Clinton had no comment on the concert or rally.
Last week, Clinton renewed China's most-favored-nation trade status, which
affords the economic giant greatly reduced tariffs in spite of the
country's record of human-rights abuses.
The history of Sino-Tibetan relations extends back for centuries, but
human-rights advocates are most concerned about the years since 1949, when newly communist China invaded and annexed Tibet. Since then, the United Nations has repeatedly condemned the suppression of human rights in Tibet by the Chinese government. In 1959, after a failed Tibetan revolt, the country's
Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and thousands of fellow Tibetans
fled to neighboring India, where a government in exile was established.
"I think we have a chance to make a great impact, not necessarily because
the location this year is in D.C. as opposed to New York or San Francisco
[the locations of previous concerts], but more because of the timing,"
Wellstone said. "This is the time for all of us to say, 'Mr. President, we
want you to speak out for human rights for people in China, to speak out
for human rights for the people in Tibet.' To not do so is to betray the
best of our country."
Next Monday's rally -- part of the National Day of Action for Tibet, which will
also include letter-writing and lobbying campaigns -- will feature
performances by as-yet-unrevealed artists from the Tibetan Freedom Concert. In addition, advocates such as actor Richard Gere, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-
Calif., and environmentalist and former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach are scheduled to speak.
"We cannot forget that the human-rights situation in China and Tibet
remains abysmal," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who also will speak
at the rally, during a Senate hearing last month. "Hundreds, if not
thousands, of individuals are detained or imprisoned for their political
and religious beliefs. The press is subject to tight restrictions. And
monks in Tibet are harassed for showing reverence to the Dalai Lama."
"Through the Tibetan Freedom Concert and the National Day of Action for
Tibet, many more Americans will hear of the terrible reality of life in
Tibet under Chinese occupation," Pelosi said last week. "I hope that those
who participate in the upcoming activities will communicate their concern
to their elected officials in Congress and in the White House."
The post-concert event is expected to draw human-rights supporters of all
political stripes. During a demonstration when Jiang was in Washington for
meetings with Clinton last year, conservative Christians joined Buddhist
monks to demand religious freedom in China and Tibet; the AFL-CIO called
for fair labor practices; and the Sierra Club assailed the displacement
of citizens by an environmentally destructive damming project.
During that rally, Yauch told SonicNet Music News, "We need to make
human-rights issues the number-one priority in everything we deal with.
It's unacceptable to put that on the back burner for big business."
Milarepa's demands for Clinton's China visit are concise, Potts said: "We
want him to create unconditional and immediate negotiations between the
Chinese government and His Holiness the Dalai Lama and representatives of
the Tibetan government in exile."
Some human-rights activists, including Wellstone, are particularly upset
that Clinton intends to visit Tiananmen Square, the site of the 1989
massacre by the Chinese government of hundreds of pro-democracy supporters. They're calling on Clinton to recognize the links between the massacre and China's occupation of Tibet.
"He ought to visit the families of some of the students that died in
Tiananmen Square," Wellstone said. "And he ought to encourage a meaningful
dialogue with the Dalai Lama. He ought to say, 'Look, you've got to ease
the repression of Tibet. Release some of the imprisoned monks and nuns and
other Tibetans.' "
For Potts, next Monday's demonstration will signify the culmination of
several years of human-rights activism. "The three concerts have been
leading up to the rally as a show of force of young people in America and
what we believe in," she said.