Saturday, June 14, 2008

June 4, come and gone, Tibet alas, the earth quakes

I sent something like this to the local paper several months back, and received only silence in return. Well, OK, the writing's a mess, but it could have been pounded into something readable.

The politics are a convoluted stretch. But I still find plenty of irony in the constant and continuous pass made by any media for any real thoughtful attention to what's going on with the big picture. For archival purposes, then, here's what I thought might get published, if only because I was the news maker concerned (a small teapot tempest), and was offering a personal remembrance, which is the style of one of their columns:

* * *

I remember very clearly where I was on June 4, 1989, because everyone was calling me for guidance about what was going on in China that day. I was some years into a gig as a Chinese language teacher; in the fitful throes of an abortive career as an academic and Chinese scholar.

I was painting the ceiling at the actual moment, making a bedroom for my daughter who was born a short while before, 2 months early, 2 pounds – she just made Phi Beta Kappa in her Junior year in college by the way - and not thinking much about China, or about current events in general.

I had studied classical Chinese poetry in college, which wasn't much use in the event (we're talking 2000 years old), and I was focused hard on learning the modern language. Travelling to China, hanging with my cohort of Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation funded young teachers, mastering my pronunciation -- I put things in a classical perspective. I was shocked.

The next year, a small group of concerned citizens were brought together by some Chinese students in Buffalo who needed our help to arrange for a commemoration of the tragedy in their homeland. We were holding some funds spontaneously generated in horror and sympathy, and mayor Jimmy Griffin (R.I.P) stood in the way of our using the Rose Garden in Delaware Park, which had been the site of a spontaneous gathering the year before.

The mayor explained patiently to me over the phone that he didn't want people bashing heads in his parks. I patiently explained that this would be a peaceful commemoration, and that (unlike in China, I thought to myself) Americans had the right to gather and speak out. There was an excuse about a wedding being planned for the same time. That didn't check out, so we initiated a lawsuit and went ahead with planning.

The Police were helpful (I think they had labor differences with Hizzoner). The Shakespeare in Delaware Park folks were helpful. County Executive Dennis Gorski got us a band shell. I snuck in late at night to steal the electric from Shakespeare, purloined key in exchange for dressing room privileges at my nearby school – I was now headmaster. I got the city indemnified on the schools' insurance, and we hired the great David Jay to sue on constitutional grounds. Tom Toles depicted that we had a good cause – 'no democracy protests in Delaware Park either??'

An untimely divorce squelched my academic career – you can't go through those rigors with child support. So, I'm the other side of the single mom saga, and Buffalo doesn't understand dreams because as Obama knows, there's too much pain. My kids are great, thanks to their Mom, and I'm sliding out from under the IT world which keeps the kids fed if not Dad in his element.

Here's what I wake up to find: The powers that be clearly think that American Capitalism has got to take over in the face of all forms of ignorance afoot in the world. We apparently think this while simultaneously believing that life begins scientifically at conception while evolution is false.

I remember where I was -- fixing a computer in a Catholic church in Rochester -- on 9/11. I watched in horror with people who knew how to pray. I remember the coincidental smoke over Buffalo on the way home, and wondering if it was all over. I've since learned that the perpetrators deserve only my pity, but I'm really worried about China.

They too seem to feel that the world has to be one way. They always have, and they've always been right, for a lot longer than we've been a twinkle in some Chinese guy's eye. They seem to have turned the tragedy of Tian-an Men into a nationalist cause, keeping chaos at bay goes the argument, and are high on beating us at our own game, as we flaccidly fall prey to deregulationist creationism. We don't know the difference among commodities and competition and where the government's role is. We don't know who we are or what we want, and they only know that whatever happened back then made their life a lot better.

I was once inside the Communist party headquarters and watched with some fascination as my host wrote a message on a white board which simultaneously displayed on every board in every location of the "world's largest University," where all 300,000 cadre get educated upon "election" to local and regional office. There's still only one party there.

Remember those loudspeakers playing the same tune all over China? I woke up to them every day while studying in China, back in the day before they had cars and before the world had Internet.

We need to become friends with China. We share rich and liberal traditions of poetry, scholarship, culture, discovery, science, commerce, entrepreneurship. We both need to stop selling arms, and sucking oil. We can do better than this. Let's free Tibet, but not bash heads doing it.

I'm in love with the Pope these days, having spent my entire life immersed in Catholicism, but never able to buy anything about the medieval organization. Beyond that particular church, I always look for the gun and decide that isn't Jesus. I always look for the anger and hatred and fear.

I didn't see anger in the Pope, and I don't see it in the Dalai Lama and I don't see it in Barack Obama either for that matter.

Remember when the walls came down all over the world, following on the example of the young Chinese? Remember when we let deregulationist claptrap take hold because Reagan sounded so good? (I think Stockman's in jail, trying to do good, but hoist, as they say, by his own whatever) Remember when Hillary believed that universal health care was a no brainer beyond the pale of competitive economics, as should be electric, oil, college, education and the rest of mistaken "Goods"??

I'm afraid I love China more than the Chinese, and it makes me very very sad.

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