Friday, 29 October 2010

Many Causes -One Struggle

Last weekend I led a workshop at the Students for a Free Tibet UK Conference entitled Many Causes – One Struggle. It focussed on how the Tibet movement can –and should – strengthen and deepen its relationships with other groups opposing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dictatorship.

The list of potential allies is huge. In addition to Tibet, the CCP occupies East Turkestan and Inner Mongolia –destroying their cultures and subjecting their populations to horrendous human rights abuses. They similarly tyrannise the Chinese population – particularly minority groups such as Falun Gong and campaigners on issues like HIV/AIDS. Elsewhere in South East Asia the CCP props up Burma’s brutal military dictatorship and Kim Jong-Il’s insane regime in North Korea. Looking further afield Robert Mugabe and Omar Al-Bashir rely on Chinese support for their respective rapes of Zimbabwe and Sudan. For the democracy movements in all these countries- opposing the CCP is therefore tantamount.

Broader campaigns such as those for free press and environmental protection have equally valid cases against Hu Jintao and his cronies owing to the environmental devastation wrecked by CCP policies (not least their deliberate sabotaging of global climate change deals) and the constant suppression of journalists in China and the occupied territories.

Given the vastness of opposition to China’s dictatorship it would therefore, be a wasted opportunity not to work together. This is especially vital considering the limited resources of many of the groups involved (in terms of numbers, finance, political contacts and host of other areas) as well as the natural boost that any movement gains from large-scale mutual solidarity and support.

Of course, to an extent this is already happening. Chinese, Uighur and Tibetan Solidarity UK – a coalition formed in the wake of the 2009 East Turkestan uprising, was an unprecedented advance in the UK. Similarly Students for a Free Tibet UK’s membership of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition represents an important recognition of the links between human rights issues and the environment. Yet there is so much more that can be done; contact between groups is still largely ad-hoc and many campaigns such as the North Korean movement barely feature in even the loosest coalition activities.

The situation is perhaps, a microcosm for the broader picture of activism in the UK: a good start but with much further to go. For example, relationships between environmental and developmental groups – in recognition of the devastating impact of climate change on the world’s poorest people –are well established; whilst groups such as Oxfam and Christian Aid have similarly begun to link up with campaigns opposing injustices like the arms trade and the occupation of Palestine, forming a united front against these root causes of poverty. At the same time, initiatives such as Put People First have brought together diverse arrays of groups in the quest for social justice. And yet a lot of activists still feel reluctant to stray from their “home” campaigns. The developmental-environmental link-ups received criticism from many in both camps (often preferring the respective focuses to be on building wells and saving whales) whilst fledging groups such as the Free West Papua Campaign are receiving relatively little support from more established yet similar movements such as those for Tibet or Sudan.

Ultimately all groups involved in activism, be it for human rights, democracy, the environment or any other of the numerous plethora of issues relating to progressive social change- have a vested interest in seeking common ground so that they can pool resources, share skills and bolster moral. It would be a natural next step for so many time-honoured campaigns and a vital boost to so many new ones. The old mantra of ‘united we stand-divided we fall’ is especially prevalent for activist groups in an age when –as a rule- grassroots support bases have shrunk, financial contributions have declined and reliance on specialist skills has risen.

Many Causes – One Struggle is more than a catchphrase: it’s an essential realisation for the UK’s activist community if we are to raise the challenge not only to the CCP but against those responsible for human rights abuses and environmental destruction the world over.

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