Tag Archives: politics

Suu Kyi at the East West Center in Honolulu

So grateful today for this video from the East West Center on the UH campus in my homelands.  It’s inspirational to see Aung San Suu Kyi finally free, fulfilling her role as an international ambassador, harbinger of peace, and political leader of her own homelands.  With authenticity and eloquence she extends a hand to her Hawaiian audience, asking for companionship and advice as her country seeks their own version of unity in diversity (a phrase rather popular in one of my yoga lineages as well).  Her words resonate with love, pure intention, and a whole lotta practicality.

For more, check out the article from the EWC’s website, and video link below.

Suu Kyi: Negotiated Compromise Best Way Forward for Burma

HONOLULU (Jan. 28, 2013) — Nobel peace laureate and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in Hawai‘i on Friday that negotiated compromise with the current government is the best way forward for her country’s nascent political awakening.

1538 Since her release in 2010 from years of house arrest under the country’s former military regime, Suu Kyi has been working with President Thein Sein, a former general, on reforms that have brought increased political openness to the country, which the government has renamed Myanmar but Suu Kyi still prefers to call Burma. The reforms have resulted in a relaxation of international sanctions and an official visit in November by President Obama.

Noting that the country’s military-drafted 2008 constitution, while instituting civilian rule, still reserves one quarter of legislative seats for the military, Suu Kyi said military cooperation would be necessary in moving reforms forward.

“I think the members of our military, like the rest our nation, would like to see Burma a happier, stronger, more harmonious country,” Suu Kyi told a group of Hawai’i community leaders gathered at the East-West Center in Honolulu. “Because of that, I do note rule out the possibility of solutions through negotiated compromise. In fact, that is the way I want to go.”

Click here to view video of Suu Kyi’s remarks.
Click here for a list of east-West Center publications on Burma policy.

After East-West Center President Charles E. Morrison observed that Suu Kyi’s father, assassinated independence leader Aung San, was a general who founded the modern Burmese army but then disarmed it in order to negotiate for peaceful independence from Britain after World War II, Suu Kyi laughed: “That’s why I’m very fond of the military. I’ve often been criticized for saying that I’m fond of the Burmese army, but I can’t help it; it’s the truth.”

1540 Suu Kyi said one topic she especially hopes to be able negotiate are amendments to the country’s military-drafted constitution. “What we want to change about the constitution are those clauses which detract from democratic values, and there are a number of them,” she said. For example, one provision – which she said is aimed at specifically her – prevents anyone with foreign family members from becoming president. Suu Kyi’s late husband, Michael Aris, was a British scholar, and their two sons were born in London.

“The reason I object to this clause is because it was written with me in mind, and I do not think it is right for any constitution to be written with anybody in mind – whether it is to keep them in office for life, or to keep them out of office for life,” she said. “It’s not democratic, and it’s not what a constitution is all about.”

But the constitutional provisions that concern her the most, she said, are those that “may put obstacles in the way of a genuine union, because the aspirations of our ethnic nationalities are not fully met by the present constitution. Unless we can meet those aspirations, we can never hope to build up a true and lasting union based on peace and harmony.”

Suu Kyi was in Hawai‘i on a visit to receive a peace award at a global conference of Rotary International, in addition to meeting with community leaders at the East-West Center and addressing students as part of the Pillars of Peace Hawai‘i initiative that has brought several Nobel Peace Prize winners to the islands to share values and ideas.

She said she is very happy to be in famously multi-ethnic Hawai‘i, “because I want to learn about harmony between different people and cultures. We are a nation of many ethnicities, but we have never achieved the harmony that we wish for; we are still divided in many ways. I hope to learn from the people of Hawai‘i how we can reconcile differences and build unity out of diversity, how we can make diversity a strength rather than a weakness for our nation.”

1541 Elected to Burma’s national legislature in landmark elections last spring – less than two years after she was released from years of on-and-off confinement – Suu Kyi now chairs that body’s Committee for the Rule of Law and Tranquility.

“When people ask me what I mean by democracy, I often say that what I mean is a system that will give us both freedom and security in the right balance,” she said. “In the name of security, many authoritarian governments have deprived their people of freedom, but then in the name of freedom, the security of peoples has also been destroyed. What we are looking for is a society where there is a harmonious balance … based on a foundation of compassion and respect for differences between cultures and traditions.”

Suu Kyi said she knows this will be difficult, but that she is a great believer in hard work: “I always say ‘there’s no hope without endeavor.’ If you hope for something, you have to work toward it. If we want our society to survive the new challenges that we’re facing now, we’ll have to work very hard to do that. But we also hope that our friends (in other countries) will help us to achieve our goals.”


Thankful for Referendums

Could it be?  Have I finally gotten a taste of this thing called patriotism?

It’s old news by now, but today when I was on the phone with my dad, summarizing the last few weeks of news in my life, I realized just how jazzed I am about the referendum results in this month’s elections. I actually sounded proud to be American, maybe for the first time in my life!

(…but not that proud.)

OK, so these weren’t nation-wide changes, granted.  And I may not smoke pot anymore, or be looking to marry another lady, but the referendums that passed in Washington, Colorado, Maryland and Maine are nothing short of inspirational.  There could be hope for this old spread of land afterall …

Colorado & Washington Go Green

A giant step in the right direction, not only from my rather liberal point of view, but economically sound as well!  Just think of all the potential profit from marijuana sales, not to mention all the money saved trying to capture harmless potheads!  It’d be nice to think NYPD wouldn’t be wasting $75m per year making arrests for something as innocuous as reefer possession (the number one reason for arrest in the state – say what?) . . . when they could be making bank:

green = good


Let’s just hope the Federal Government doesn’t smack down a court case in retaliation . . .


Big Gay High Fives for Maryland, Washington & Maine!

According to Wiki, “Since 2000, eleven countries (Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden) and several sub-national jurisdictions (parts of Mexico and the United States) have begun to allow same-sex couples to marry.”

It’s an obvious fact: the right to marry should be a basic human right.

And as a tasty little cherry atop this delicious justice sundae, according to the Wall Street Journal, same sex marriage is a huge benefit to the economy!  Washington state is looking to rake in a cool $89m dollars in the first three years of legalized same sex marriage alone.

That may be the kind of language we need to use with some of the more “stubborn,” shall we say, pockets of society who are still holding tight to an out-dated definition of marriage being between a man and woman.  And don’t get me started on the Bible as proof of this kind of “logic!”  If we take that thing as our rulebook, it’s polygamy, women as property, and slavery for all!  (No offense, Christians, I’m down with most of the other stuff in there :o))  Religious dogma can have a paralyzying effect, but not in spiritual traditions like the Quakers, Episcopalians, the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Church of Canada, Reform and Conservative Jews, Wiccans, Druids, Unitarian Universalists and Native American religions with a two-spirit tradition, which all practice same-sex marriages.

Maryland, Washington and Maine have now joined the ranks of nine state governments (along with the District of Columbia, the Coquille Indian Tribe, and the Suquamish tribe) that have legalized same-sex marriage and offer same-sex marriages: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York  . . .  Could Illinois be next?  Or could it be Oregon, Hawaii and Colorado?

(Eeew, look at all that red!  Those conservatives sure are proactive . . . )

Democratic Action in Varanasi (and some old tunes!)

What started out as a natural instinct for community service has turned into so much more.  This is isn’t the first time that’s happened on a yoga sojourn to India.  But what’s happening in Varanasi this time is something very special indeed.

On November 20th, 2011, I’ll be joined by hundreds of community members, foreign and local, to clean the river Ganges as well as the surrounding alleyways and streets.  The list of organizations supporting us is now very long, and includes other non-profits like Jago Banaras, religious groups of all faiths, schools like WH Smith and Sunbeam and media outlets like Gandiv, the Hindustan Times and the Sahara Network. 

It’s going to be a great day for the city’s sense of unity and cooperation.

But the question we’ve all been asking for the last few weeks of planning: what happens after the big day?  How could one day possibly make a difference in this mammoth task of cleaning one of the oldest living cities in India?

An Idealist’s Vision

Speaking to the citizens of this town, I’m starting to form a vision for what this project, Kashi Ganga Cleanup, could really mean in the longterm.

First and foremost, Jago Banaras is drafting a petition to stop the plastic bags from being important into Varanasi.  We’re hoping this will serve as a wakeup call to the government.  To encourage good habits, we’re looking for sponsors to place bins throughout town, and praying they won’t be stolen or destroyed.  And as a call for social awareness, fliers in Hindi have now been drafted for city-wide promotion not only of the project, but to spread the word about the following facts:

  1. Plastic bags are banned in Varanasi but are still being imported without regulation. These bags find their way into the rivers and breakdown in the waters.
  2. 1000 babies die in India everyday from diarrhea.
  3. The Ganga in Varanasi has 3000 times the safe levels of sewage for bathing.
  4. This is due to the 24 open sewage pipes flowing into the river.
  5. People living along the Ganges have higher rates of cancer and enteric disease.
  6. India is the world’s largest democracy.
  7. It is a citizen’s democratic responsibility to
    • Protest when the government isn’t doing its job in providing basic needs
    • Take action through petitions
    • Organize town meetings
    • Support private groups sponsoring social service

    8.  Elected politicians are not royalty; they’re public officials and servants of their constituents.

The research and ideas on this flier were born of several meetings with active leaders in the community, as well as with citizens on the street.

I couldn’t believe Varanasi doesn’t have an equivalent to the American Town Hall Meeting.  It’s where the action goes down!

I Believe the Children Are Our Future

Another way I’m hoping to make an impact is by reaching out to the children of Varanasi, to ensure they have the big-picture perspective on what it means not only to be a responsible member of your local community, but to be a responsible member of the global community.  At the time of writing, I’m tentatively scheduled to speak at three schools in the area, and hope to initiate interdisciplinary projects based on the ideas of pollution, the environment, civic duty, and human rights.

What’s Freedom Got To Do With It?

India is now the biggest democracy in the world, and according to the IMF, the fourth fastest growing economy in the world.  To prevent the economy from running away with basic human rights, it’s absolutely vital Indian citizens remain informed and take action against violations of their basic human rights.  70 years after the end of colonial rule, India is enjoying a kind of freedom that engenders mass development, and, unfortunately, deeply embedded corruption.  The call to action is already out there – and here in Varanasi, it’s really amazing to see solid results.

But if it were all about freedom, we’d be facing a full-fledged Democrazy. 

India has the opportunity to redefine what it means to live in a democracy today.  With an internet user base of 100 million, the country now stands third in the world in terms of the number of people surfing the net.   There’s no excuse for being in the dark on important issues.

The Right to Clean Water

According to Wikipedia, in November 2002, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights issued a non-binding comment affirming that access to water was a human right:  The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.”

This principle was reaffirmed at the 3rd and 4th World Water Councils in 2003 and 2006. This marks a departure from the conclusions of the 2nd World Water Forum in The Hague in 2000, which stated that water was a commodity to be bought and sold, not a right.

Recently the World Bank pledged over $1 billion to India to clean up the Ma Ganga.  This project we’re working on is just a small part in the big picture, but I have to believe that every little bit counts.  That to keep the momentum going, we need every act to step up and step in.  Even if it means literally stepping into that nasty river and picking out the trash

Rollin’ on the River

Perspectives are inevitably distorted by cultural relativism.  Afterall, I come from a place that was built on the pioneering mindset, “You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.”  Whereas religious loyalty here often results in the mantra, “No point in trying, it’s all up to God anyway.”  My irreverent wording is clear evidence of a biased undertone, I’m aware.

But with the insight and knowledge of the Kashi Ganga Cleanup committee, it feels like we’re getting through to the community.  And this one day of seva may serve as another catalyst in the global green movement here in Varanasi.  After November 20th, it’s in the hands of the citizens!

 More Good News of the day from Varanasi:

The city government is making moves to clean up human poop on the streets: http://nnvns.org.in/data/CSP/CSP%20Ex%20Summary_VNN.pdf

So what do you think?  Is there any point in initiating a cleanup that lasts one day?  Could a foreigner really offer any valuable perspective on a community’s needs or responsibilities?