Saturday, September 08, 2007

Burma, Laura Bush, and Why It Doesn't Hurt to Be a Dreamer

Laura Bush: First Lady. Librarian. Education advocate. And now...radical activist?

I was shocked last week to read that the First Lady, in a highly unusual move, decided to use her voice to intervene on behalf of a populist freedom movement in Burma.

Some background: Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a Southeast Asian nation controlled by the iron rule of one of the fiercest military dictatorships in the world. The country been struggling for fifteen years to free its people from the junta. Aung San Suu Kyi (photo below), now held under house arrest in Burma's capital city, has led the fight for freedom. She's a terrifically courageous woman--probably the bravest woman I've ever heard of--and received the Nobel Peace Prize for her incredible strength.

This August saw the biggest peaceful pro-democracy protests in Burma in ten years. Around the world, activists have been joining the Burmese people in solidarity. Groups like the US Campaign for Burma have brought together everyone from Hollywood actors to U.S. Representatives in calling for freedom in Burma. Even President Bush issued a statement condemning the Burmese government for arresting protesters.

And last week, the First Lady made an extraordinary move: she telephoned the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and called on him to denounce the Burmese government.

This is the first time the First Lady has taken a stand on international issues--until now, she's concentrated her efforts on national issues that avoid controversy, like literacy, education, and healthcare.

But this May, she joined the 16 women in the Senate to appeal publicly for Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. In June, she met in the White House with refugees and exiles from Burma and wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on behalf of Mrs. Aun San Suu Kyi. And now she's called for the United Nations to draft a resolution on the human rights abuses in Burma.

She told TIME, "Like many people, especially women, I got interested because of Aung San Suu Kyi, and I learned about Burma and how she represents the hopes of the people of Burma, and how those hopes were being dashed by her house arrest and the fact that her party won the elections and never had the opportunity to have power at all...One of the things that's really important for the world to know is that the people of Burma do listen to radio, and when they hear that people around the world are speaking out for their rights, I think it gives them hope."

Mrs. Bush, 60, also responded to comments that her new role is a little unusual, saying: “I think this is sort of one of those myths: that I was baking cookies and then they fell off the cookie sheet and I called Ban Ki-moon."

I know that many of us don't count ourselves as supporters of the Bush administration. But I'm thrilled to see a woman who is willing to speak out for justice, to bring light to a cause that our country has all but forgotten. It's true that the First Lady is a politician, and her motives aren't necessarily genuine idealism. But her actions are a great reminder of the power of idealism.

Maybe her words won't make a difference. But she argues otherwise: “So ‘why bother,’ I guess, is the question people ask. But I think the answer is, ‘Why not?’ I mean, why not continue to put pressure on the regime in any way we can?”

The First Lady is a great reminder that it never hurts to try. We have nothing to lose from taking a stand for what we believe in, even if our goals might seem impossible. In fact, idealism is the only way that we've ever made progress. After all, weren't most great leaders once dismissed as dreamers? As the feminist Emma Goldman once declared, "Idealists...foolish enough to throw caution to the winds...have advanced mankind and have enriched the world.”

Today, I was lucky enough to attend Fighting Bob Fest, the biggest political event in the Midwest. Thousands of activists converge to talk politics, meet some big-time leaders, share ideas, and just have fun. One of the speakers I heard was peace activist Cindy Sheehan, who is as much a hero of idealism than anyone else. Her words stuck with me. She said:

People don't want change. They want the status quo. Why do we want the status quo? The status quo tolerates racism and sexism and homophobia...Our job is to tear down, not protect, the status quo.

No matter who we are--First Lady or first grade student--it doesn't hurt to be a dreamer. Think big. To quote Gandhi (sorry, getting a little quote-heavy now): "We must become the change we want to see in the world."

And to all those who complain that I am prone to blog posts decrying terrible things in the world, yet never leaving suggestions of ways to take action against these injustices, I leave you with a website: Do Something is a one-stop-shopping resource for girls out there looking for ways to make a difference. They'll hook you up with volunteer opportunities, activism groups, mentors, girls working on the same issues you are, and lots more resources... Best of all, they have a handy section called "Do Something Today," where they feature one little thing you can do to make the world a better place. Because little things make a difference.

And that's your daily dose of idealism, folks. Peace.

A disclaimer: Certain bloggers (ahem, Natalia) are prone to writing about politics and activism. Because that is what they feel passionate about. And we at New Moon like to share our passions. But the views of any New Moon blogger--whether New Moon staffer, guest blogger, or girl writer--do not necessarily reflect any views of New Moon Publishing. And, for the record, New Moon never endorses political candidates. We just endorse the power of girls' voices. So tell us what you think...and we'll do our best to help make your voice heard! Love, LunaOnline (that's Luna's twin sister, who spends more time wired than she should...)


Anonymous said...

She sure surprised us all didn't she? But let's not forget there's an election coming up.
I suppose she knows how odious those military rulers are, yes bad and ugly like Saddam Hussain. So what should she do? Her husband should know.

Free Burma! said...

Free Burma!
International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.