On a chilly winter Thursday morning, before the crack of dawn, Tibetans from all over Minnesota made their way to the Tibetan Community Center of the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota in Saint Paul. With banners, flags and placards they gathered and by 7:30 a.m. this formidable group of 120 dedicated people, Tibet and non-Tibetan supporters of all ages began a journey by rallying together to sing the Tibetan national anthem.
By 8 a.m. the group filled two chartered buses and were on their way to Illinois, where the Chinese President Hu Jintao was present to sign lucrative agreements in Chicago following his White House visit earlier that week.
The group reached Chicago around 3 p.m. where they converged outside the Peninsula hotel in a joint endeavor to protest Hu Jintao’s arrival. They met with hundreds of other protesters from Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of Minnesota, Wisconsin Tibetan Association, Students for a Free Tibet-Wisconsin, Regional Tibetan Women’s Association of Minnesota, Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, Students for a Free Tibet-Minnesota, Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of Wisconsin, Tibetan Alliance of Chicago, and Indiana Tibetan Association,
Tenzin Lhamo, the President of the Regional Tibetan Women’s Association, commented on the joint efforts stating that “working together as one has proven to be powerful and effective.”
Several police patrol units were seen swarming around the area, presiding over the barricades created specifically to control protesting crowds which included members of the Falun Gong, a persecuted group that was labeled a dangerous cult and outlawed in China. Members believe the group that believes in compassion and nonviolence was considered a threat to China for its membership that was said to outnumber the China Communist Party.
Tibetan voices filled the air, shouting in unison “Liar liar, Hu Jintao” and “Free Tibet Now” towards the Chinese President. They watched his “welcoming crowds” as they were organized and strategically placed to surround the hotel entrance.
Local and national media were spotted milling around the crowds of Tibetan protesters interviewing several members of various Tibetan organizations. As news spread of Hu Jintao’s arrival, the crowds gained more momentum, their cries of protest becoming more fervent with each passing minute.
Despite the recent city ordinance banning loudspeakers, protesters were determined to have their voices heard. Later in the evening, lead organizers under the watchful eyes of police escorts, ushered around 200 Tibetan protesters through the streets of downtown Chicago towards the Hilton hotel where Hu Jintao was to dine with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and several American CEO’s and local socialites.
Throughout the long, cold march, prayers and songs of dedication to His Holiness The Dalai Lama poured out of loudspeakers while streams of Tibetan flags and anti-CCP signs were visible in the Chicago streets. As the Tibetan protesters reached the Hilton Hotel on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue, they rallied once again upon the sight of throngs of Chinese bearing flags and banners welcoming the CCP leader.
Security was heightened around the Hilton with barricades set up all around the streets to keep protesters at bay. Nevertheless, cries of protest declaring Hu a “murderer” and a “failed leader” were heard through the streets. The accusations stem from Tibetans who claim that Hu Jintao was a brutal party chief for the Tibetan Autonomous Region prior to becoming president.
Amidst the cries of protests, a group consisting of two monks and two female community organizers attempted to walk past several barricades bearing a letter for the Chinese representatives. The letter denoted the mass destruction of religious institutions amongst other human rights abuses in Tibet.
“The fact that the Chinese refused to take this simple letter from us says a lot about the power of our movement and our protest,” said Tsering Dolma, General Secretary of the Wisconsin Tibetan Association.
The chants and cries of protesters lasted well into the night, even after the departure of the Chinese welcoming crowds.
“We had bottles of water sitting out, that froze in less than an hour; and our Tibetan protesters were rooted to the spot protesting for more than three hours,” said Jigme Ugen of Minnesota, who is also President of the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress. “We’re here because we want Hu Jintao to know that wherever he goes, Tibetans will be there to expose his failed leadership and anti-Tibet policies that marginalize Tibetans in Tibet and attempt to annihilate Tibetan identity and culture.”
Tenzin Khando is the General Secretary of the Regional Tibetan Women’s Association of Minnesota.