Politrix: Fists of Freedom

Whatever medals the U.S. Olympiads win in Beijing during this year’s games, they might just owe them to the ever-mindful Chinese. Yup, eight is a lucky number out east, and thus the opening ceremony goes down tonight, 8.8.08, at 8 pm (China Standard Time). But when it broadcasts over here on the east coast of the U.S. at 7:30, I won’t be sitting in front of my television. Why?

The hubby and I were watching the documentary Fists of Freedom a few weeks ago, and it occurred to me that there are tons of parallels between this year’s Olympic games and the infamous games of 1968.

’68 was a rough year, considered by some to be one of the most pivotal times in the history of America. It brought us the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential nominee Robert F. Kennedy on April 4 and June 5, respectively; a deadly clash between Vietnam War protestors and Chicago police at the Democratic National Convention; the Orangeburg Massacre, where police fired into a crowd of 200 people on the campus of South Caroline State University protesting against segregation…the list goes on.

It was this environment that birthed the now-iconic image of 200-meter gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos holding up their black leather glove-clad fists during their medal ceremony. They weren’t trying to make a radical statement so much as stand in solidarity against the injustices forced on them by a country that was happy to let them run, but refused to let them do much else; a sport that reveled in the accomplishments of its Black athletes, but refused to hire Black coaches to train them; an International Olympic Committee that let South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) compete, despite their apartheid policies; a red-faced mob that had stripped Ali of his heavyweight title after he refused to kill folks who had never called him a nigger.

And while we can’t expect Beyoncé to visit the White House and tell our boy Bush that the war in Iraq is a shitshow (like Eartha Kitt did with Johnson and Vietnam back in January ’68, a move that got her blacklisted), there’s a decent chance that some brave soul will mount a protest at this year’s games-despite the International Olympic Committee’s plea for athletes to forego protests. There is certainly plenty to oppose when it comes to China.

Let’s start in Africa, because, well, everything starts there. China’s trade with the continent is at $55 billion a year and climbing, pumping oil out of Darfur, mining copper in Zambia, and pulling whatever riches they can from the ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m all for free trade, but the Chinese are not just exploiting the riches of the Motherland; they are also flooding the market with cheap Chinese goods that are undercutting the local market and selling weapons to African dictators from Zimbabwe (which we’ve covered) to the Sudan. Sound like another world power we know?

Then there is the situation in Burma (called Myanmar by military officials), where the people live under the rule of a murderously oppressive junta with the Chinese government’s blessing. Why push out the ruling party when it offers cheap labor to fuel your economic boom? And don’t forget about Tibet, where the Chinese have had control since the People’s Liberation Army stormed in back in 1951 and took over the government, forcing its leaders into exile eight years later. To this day, citizens are denied most of the rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including freedom of speech, and the rights to assemble, to express their thoughts and travel freely.

Heap all of that on top of the lack of free speech in China itself, and we have a protest waiting to happen.

Which brings me to why I won’t be watching the opening ceremony tonight: The broadcast will essentially be a 2.5-hour commercial for China, and I plan to stand with Mia Farrow (who has become quite the activist in her own right; see her site for more stuff to do) and stage my own small protest: I will turn the channel. It’s a simple way to show that we are not fooled by the happy, shiny pictures being shoved down our throats.

Then you can turn back next Friday for the track and field competition—I’ll be right there with you.


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A clip from Fists of Freedom:

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