Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Activist remembers Tiananmen massacre

Note. Charlie Grapski is, and was in 1989, co-founder of the China Support Network. He has just published these recollections of what he did in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre -- the famous event of June 4, 1989:

June 4. This anniversary is one of the most significant anniversaries in my life. My political "virginity" was lost 25 years ago today and tomorrow - as I saw what was happening in Tiananmen Square and said to two friends - "we have to do something."

Throughout the 80s in college I had hoped to find a leader to follow and learn from. But in the early 80s - activism was not very widespread on campuses across the country. My nature is actually quite shy - despite what most know as my public persona. And I was far more interested in science than politics. But I had an inner voice calling me for years - telling me something was wrong in the world and that something needed to be done about it.

It was that total naiveté that was perhaps the best aspect of my character at the time. I had no idea what I was doing - I "just did it" (its not just a slogan for sneakers - but for citizens).

Within a few weeks of "doing it" - not knowing a thing about what I was doing - I was using the early internet to coordinate with people around the world - even finding one person in my own back yard - the hard way. This was years before the world wide web. The internet was mostly a haven for scientists - and thus for many of the students and scholars studying in the US who had been involved in the protests the previous months and whose lives were threatened by their government if and when they returned home.

I coordinated with people, gave my first public speeches (a shock when I was told I was going to do so - at the University of Central Florida - never having spoken in public before), took over the annual general meeting of Amnesty International, co-authoring a document about how they could keep young people and students involved (in the years following Live Aid).

And I wound up in Washington, D.C. I was using the office of a then freshman congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, to help get a bill through the House Judiciary Committee - where it was stalled because of certain members insisting on incorporating anti-abortion clauses in the legislation aiming to protect those students and scholars who spoke out in our country from having to return on their limited J-1 visas for certain harassment - if not worse.

Then I was asked to help get eight of the leaders who had escaped China and had made it to Paris - but were being denied US visas - come to America. OK, I said, again having no idea what I was doing - but just understanding that it needed to be done. So I just did it.

Then a whirlwind tour of Congressional offices with these amazing young leaders (not all were students - one Wan Runnan, was the CEO of China's equivalent if IBM, and Yan Jiaqi who was the aide to the Party Secretary Zhou Zhiang who was removed for his support of the student movement; perhaps the closest relationship I formed among the group was with Li Lu, who recently was named a likely successor to Warren Buffet at Berkshire Hathaway, and then was the vice-commander of students on the Square) along with press conferences and talks at places like the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the National Press Club, and televised in the then fairly new to most people C-SPAN an event at the Heritage Foundation. Again - I have to reiterate - I knew absolutely nothing about what I was doing - only that I needed to be doing something - and what came naturally is how I learned - including from my mistakes (I even at one point, I am not sure if this was a mistake or not, turned down a meeting with the Vice President as a substitute for a meeting with Bush Senior. Then, when they relented and offered a meeting with the Secretary of State, which was acceptable except for wanting us to cancel a previous commitment, had to turn that meeting down as well!).

That was twenty-five years ago today. In a sense - as a citizen - I am turning twenty-five (and that's better than my actual birthday coming next Monday) today. Yet I was so busy I had lost track of time until I had a moment to reflect during the evening - and realized the date.

I have probably made more mistakes in those twenty-five years than right moves - but at least, I can say, I was moving - I was going - somewhere. Where? I hope heading toward, with my own contributions being but small pieces of a larger puzzle, a future of democracy - true democracy - that was dreamed of by those students on Tiananmen Square in the days before the tanks arrived - and then crushed them, literally, where many lay in their tents. That dream, however, is still alive. It lives, at least, within me. And I hope I have helped over the past two and a half decades encourage and instill that hope in others.

Charlie Grapski 
June 3rd, 2014