WASHINGTON -- Several thousand citizens, rock stars and
politicians rallied at the U.S. Capitol on Monday to urge President Clinton to
press for negotiations between China and Tibet during his visit to Beijing this
The rally -- billed as a culmination of this weekend's Tibetan Freedom Concert
and part of the "National Day of Action for Tibet" -- featured speakers ranging
from politicians to Tibetan monks and included acoustic performances by
R.E.M., Gobalee/Porno for Pyros/ex-Jane's Addiction leader Perry Farrell,
Radiohead leader Thom Yorke and Sean Lennon with David Crosby.
Though several speakers called the event a day of celebration, the rally
was not without disappointment.
Just after his band closed an acoustic rendition of their early hit "Fall
on Me," R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe announced that President Clinton had
canceled a meeting with Stipe, R.E.M. bassist/guitarist Mike Mills,
Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and jam-rocker Dave Matthews that was scheduled
later in the afternoon.
"I have to say, with all due respect, that I'm very disappointed," said a
serious Stipe, eliciting a chorus of boos from the audience, which filled
about one-quarter of the Capitol west lawn.
"I was really looking forward to speaking with him about China, the U.S.
and Tibet," Stipe said. "Maybe he'll read the newspaper," he added
pointedly before the band tackled "Losing My Religion" (RealAudio excerpt).
During a press briefing Monday afternoon, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry
told a group of reporters that he knew nothing about a planned meeting with the
artists. White House spokeswoman Estella Mendoza declined to comment further.
Speakers at the noontime rally urged Clinton, who departs Tuesday (June 16) for a summit in
China, to wield the United States' economic and diplomatic muscle
in calling for negotiations between China and the exiled leader of Tibet,
the Dalai Lama. China has occupied Tibet since 1949.
"If China wants to be a part of the world community, it needs to uphold
basic human rights," said Beastie Boy and Tibetan Freedom Concert organizer
The rally under cloudy skies attracted scores of fans who attended the
weekend concert at RFK Stadium, which featured sets by Pearl Jam,
Radiohead, the Dave Matthews Band and others. The festival -- organized by
the Milarepa Fund, which promotes nonviolence and Tibetan freedom -- drew
66,000 concert-goers on both days, according to concert publicist Perry
Serpa. Although a freak lightning strike caused the early cancellation of
Serpa said there have been few demands for refunds, perhaps because 77
percent of ticket buyers bought seats for both days and several canceled
performances were rescheduled for the second day.
An estimate of the funds raised for Milarepa through ticket sales will not be
available until the end of the week.
During his speech at the rally, Congressman Christopher Cox, D-Calif.,
said lightning-strike victim Lysa Selfon was still recovering in a local
hospital. Although she remains on a respirator, her condition is listed as
serious-to-fair. A representative from the Washington Hospital Center,
where Selfon is being treated, did not return calls by press time.
Although the crowd at the rally filled only about a quarter of the 150-yard
lawn, many who turned out declared the demonstration the most important
part of the long weekend.
"This is the most important thing I've ever done," said Matt Calhoun, 19,
of Fairfax, Va. Clad in a "Free Tibet" shirt and wearing a halo of leaves
on his head, Calhoun said earnestly, "I've never felt I was doing anything
that mattered like this."
For Milarepa Fund co-founder and executive director Erin Potts, the event
marked the pinnacle of organizing three Tibetan Freedom Concerts in as many
"This is definitely a historic place -- Martin Luther King was here, this
is where presidents are inaugurated," she said before the start of the
rally. "It's an important spot to be in for the Tibetan movement. We're
excited to send a clear message to President Clinton to create unconditional
negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama."
Early in the three-hour event, a red turban- and robe-clad Perry Farrell
encouraged supporters in decidedly more mystical terms as he
delivered a spoken-word piece that used tales from the Torah to link the
struggle of Tibet to the Jewish Diaspora. "The king is in the mirror," he
sang next, spinning and high-stepping to prerecorded keyboards, bass and
Other speakers used more direct tactics, including descriptions of the torture
China is inflicting on Tibetans.
Physician and activist Blake Kerr, who has spent time within Tibet's
borders, told of a Tibetan woman he met who said she only heard her baby
cry twice: "Once when the child was born and once when a lethal injection
was administered [by government doctors] to the soft spot of the forehead,"
Kerr said. The woman was sterilized immediately after.
As some supporters clustered as close as possible to the stage at the Capitol
steps, others stood on the sloping lawn with banners reading "Free Tibet,"
"Tibet is dying while the world watches" and other slogans.
Backstage, rally speaker and former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach said
celebrity support of the Free Tibet movement has had a profound impact on
the struggle. "The political speakers have had a better reception than the
artists," he said. "That's good proof that the artists have done something
-- they've awakened and motivated their fans."
Radiohead singer and guitarist Thom Yorke is hoping that support in the
United States will spread to his British homeland as well. "British people
don't give a fuck," he lamented backstage. "Americans, once they're told
about something, they're very motivated. They'll stand up and shout.
That's one of the good things about America still."