One is routinely asked, why are you heading off to yet another Free Tibet demo? A few protesters pitched against the mighty People’s Republic of China, come on, get real, do something productive, like, upgrade your iPod. Aside from the fact that shouting China Out Of Tibet with your friends always reminds those passing by that Tibet is in chains, there are plenty of reasons to keep up the heat as the Summer Games approach.

The protests have already done the world a favor by exposing the CCP for what it is. The militarization that was summoned to “protect” the torch was met with resistance, and was thwarted. Not one demonstrator was critically harmed in the path of the Blood Torch, a testament to the power of a non-violent people’s movement. Now we’re approaching the main event, where China is going to test-run state-of-the-art surveillance and suppression techniques for the world’s biggest sporting event. If the PSB soars, God help us all. If they sputter, raise your flag and have a drink.

But the most compelling purpose for heading towards the Chinese Consulate with a Tibetan flag is to speak for people who are in jails, torture cells and graves, who would join you if they could. Just ask Palden Gyatso.

Palden has come to New York City with a new documentary about his life, “Fire Under the Snow”. It tells of his childhood in old Tibet, his monastic education, and how he was arrested by PLA soldiers in 1959, soon after Dalai Lama took flight to India. His crimes were only that he refused to denounce his Buddhist teacher or state that Tibet belonged to China. He was savagely beaten, he saw his friends die in torment, for decades he was given no more than two cold buns each day for his food. He had to pray in secret; if anyone was caught intoning prayers, they were severely punished. For two years his hands and legs were shackled with iron bars, in the years that followed he had electric cattle prods shoved into his mouth and stomach.

In 1992 Palden was released and escaped to India, smuggling a cache of electric cattle prods, knives and shackles used upon Tibetan prisoners. I met Palden in 1994, when he showed the torture instruments to the United States Congress. For decades many had struggled to bring information about conditions in Tibet under Chinese rule to the world when propaganda was accepted as fact. Palden came as a gift; a survivor of 33 years of enslavement, a living witness to Communist China’s cruel and vast gulag, to speak for the dead.

As he sits in my Manhattan home, Palden paints exquisite calligraphy of ancient Tibetan scripts. He studies history books, with a keen interest in the Mao and the Communist victory in China. He explores the New York streets with grace and delight, everywhere he makes friends, incites conversations. He listens to Tibetan broadcasts for news of his homeland, as the radio transmits desperate voices describing arrests, beatings, terror and despair. At the daily vigil before the Chinese Consulate, Palden joins local activists praying not just for Tibet, but also for those who died in China and Burma, in the earthquake and cyclone. Last month Palden asked a friend to take him to Ground Zero, to pray for those who perished on 9/11, and those now dying in Iraq.

The Tibet movement has no army, no wealth, pitted against the colossal PRC, but in the Rangzen Spring of 2008, the Tibetans rose up against the People’s Liberation Army and the people of the world stood with them. As the late great Abe Rosenthal wrote in his 1995 essay, “You are Palden Gyatso”;

“So why do some members of Congress hold hearings, Americans around the country raise money for Tibetan freedom, and why is it so useful to listen to a monk with a bent, twisted back, scars on his body and startling clarity in his eyes? The reason is that those who do what is within their talent, influence and means for Tibet become part of a movement for the abolition of slavery. Sooner or later abolition movements triumph; it is written.”

There’s a Free Tibet Demo happening every day, in a city near you. Come and bring your friends. Palden Gyatso will be there.

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