Saturday, October 06, 2007

Democracy ya-shee-ay!

As I approach the Burmese Embassy north of Dupont Circle, I hear some loud voices coming from the noon protest.

“Burma Burma must be free!
Freedom, Justice, Democracy!”

Initially, I see only a few dozen protesters in a sea of red to show support for the monks. Three police officers stand nearby, calmly watching the peaceful protesters.
One person with the bullhorn declares, “Free Free Burma! Free Free Aun Saan Su Kyi!”
The chorus of protesters repeats.

Some monks begin chanting.

This is my first protest. Ever. Since I heard last night, I considered it important to participate.

Addressing the Burmese Embassy, a man in a suit and tie speaks in an impassioned voice as he calls them a “Ruthless, brainless military government.” He says he speaks on behalf of the Burmese people, who cannot speak for themselves. I discover later that he is the Foreign Minister of the Exile Government in Thailand.

Priya, an Indian gentleman wears a hand-made sign with the world “Peace” in Arabic and Hindi. He’s been here 10 years now and is here to support the Burmese people.

As we leave for the Chinese Embassy, the police escort us. I head toward the front, where a couple of monks lead the group. The man with the bullhorn bellows forth his slogans:
“Democracy ya-shee-ay!” which means “obtain Democracy” but translates into roughly “Democracy Now!”

Another shouts: “Free Free Burma! Free Free Aung San Suu Kyi!” the Burmese leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1990s, but is now under house arrest.

For a few moments, I take the bullhorn and lead the group:

“Democracy ya-shee-ay!”

“Democracy ya-shee-ay!”

I feel exhilaration and energy from the crowd.

As we approach the Chinese Embassy, we stop momentarily at the Serbian Embassy. One protest leader addresses the crowd: “The Serbians sells arms to the Burmese Government!”

Immediately, the crowd yells, “Shame on you!”
“Shame on you!”

At the Chinese Embassy, the crowd has now swelled to more than 100 people. Cars pass by and honk in support of the group. One protester has a sign in Chinese that says, “Shame on you China. Free the Burmese People.”

A quick thought crosses my mind: if I were to do this in Burma, chances are that we would all be shot on site or taken away and beaten and then shot.

Democracy ya-shee-ay!