Speech at Daley Plaza, Chicago

2012/06/05

My speech at Robin Hood Tax Rally, in Chicago, May 18th, as part of the kick of for series of actions during the May 2012 Chicago protest that climaxed on May 20th large anti-NATO march.

Text of the speech:

I’m standing here, as a Chinese exile from Tiananmen, as an immigrant, and as an Occupier for the 99%, to pledge again my commitment to nonviolence, to civil disobedience, to social and economic justice.

Back in 1989, we were inspired by nonviolent principle and carried out the largest civil disobedience with over 100 million direct participation in street protests.
Our struggle ended with bloodshed, and I narrowly escaped the Tiananmen Massacre. But we have continued our struggle nonviolently.

While in exile, here in America – my second home, I’ve learnt the precious but fragile nature of democracy. Democracy has journeyed from,
1 propertied white man 1 vote,
to 1 white man 1 vote
to 1 white person 1 vote
to 1 person, 1 vote thanks to the Civil Right movement
But Now we are trending to $1m, 1 vote.

Last Fall, Occupy Wall Street revived my spirit of nonviolent struggle, I AM BECAUSE WE ARE

We are the 99%, we got sold out when banks got bailed out
We are the 99%, our youth is carrying more than a trillion dollar student debts
We are the 99%, we bare witness in this land of ours with more empty homes than homeless families
We are the 99%, we can not care for the sick or feed the poor among our least fortunate,

We are the 99%, we are mad as hell

We are the 99%, we find strength in our commonality and in our numbers
We are the 99%, we are here to celebrate the dawn of a just & fair society
We are the 99%, we have stepped up to occupy

We dares to imagine
This is the beginning of the beginning
BECAUSE
The people united,
will never be defeated.
The people united, will never be defeated.

March on May 20th in Chicago with 25,000 protesters against militarism for social and economic justice including 99% Solidarity Riders from Occupy Wall Street movement from a dozen cities coast to coast

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I am because we are – a civic revival (Lessons learned from #OWS Series No.1)

2012/02/09

The American public has been curious, interested, and at times confused about Occupy Wall Street since its birth last fall, and especially given the recent perceived tactics in Oakland. They’ve watched with some fascination and some uncomfortableness a series of social, political and organizational experiments unfolding in the middle of a widespread, if not yet very large-scale, protest movement. Most well-known have been the general assembly with a set of unique facilitation procedures and hand signs which became somewhat iconic, the poetic and effective people’s mic, emphasis on being leaderless with the intent to set the lowest possible entry barrier for everyone to get involved, emphasis on non-conventional demands with the intent that all demands are possible through changes of laws and votes only when we change enough hearts and minds, and militant non-violent civil disobedience. These and many others have been lessons for me about values and about code of conduct, and ultimately about beliefs of which I have been reminded sometimes, and challenged at other times.

Lession No. 1: I am because we are — a civic revival

Coming from collective cultures of both traditional Chinese culture, and the violent modern implant of the communist revolution, being individualist had saved me from “conventional wisdom” and “hive mind” when our society had gone through the madness of the Cultural Revolution, rampant government corruption, and heartless gold rush. My individualism has faced a surrealist challenge coming to America after I was exiled from China. The extreme individualist in Nietzsche’s superman with willpower, or more directly the influential Ayn Rand, seem to have so successfully produced the myth of a corrupt version of the American Dream. Instead of an America being the land of the free and equal opportunity; the myth tells American youth that even though billionaires are few, and getting fewer and richer, in fact, you can be one of them tomorrow.

Joe the Plumber did not have a business that makes over $250,000 a year; he was making $40,000. But why someone like him would worry about higher tax for $250,000 earner and above? I don’t know Joe the Plumber, or the McCain metaphor. but I have known similar behavior and speech. I think many like him sincerely believe that given some hard work and a little bit of luck, only the sky is the limit for their personal wealth accumulation, if only the government does not get into the way of the magic of a free market that self-regulates.

This extreme individualist triumph measured almost exclusively by monetary success has more than one cause, chief among which is the decline of the collective and the decline of the commons. This myth is not just a daydream, but a nightmare when it fosters a culture of political apathy. The apathy I speak of here is not lack of political ambition — there is plenty of that in extreme individualism and elitism. The apathy is the decline and even distrust of civic virtue as a participatory common citizen, as seen in our low voter turnout, and as seen in almost complete lacking of sustained grassroots mobilization to tackle the worst problems with broad impact this country has faced.

When I first stepped into Zuccotti Park last fall, I immediately felt that the magic was in the communal participation. It’s the communal connection, not so much who these individual occupiers were before the movement that was inspiring, that was transformative, and that was even transcending. I had thought, on my way over there, that with a life of experience in social movement and philosophical deliberation about what constitutes a just society, I’ve had a lot to teach the first-time young activists. Instead, I quickly realized that I had little to teach the movement. (The only speech I’ve made at Occupy Wall Street eventually was to repeat the most successful and inspiring memes of OWS to Liberty Plaza occupiers on Thanksgiving Day 2011.) I had realized the power of the park is for anyone who cares to go there to have a conversation about our common problems and shared future (and doing so in a way outside the current system symbolically and physically — this is another lesson to be discussed separately). I have noticed that there are many others who have more profound ideas than I, and more thorough understanding about movement tactics, and about the sophistication of the policy, legislative, and electoral issues. I’ve also noticed that so many of them are eager to teach the occupiers the best thing the occupiers should do. There are many more well-meaning, politically conscious people who didn’t come to the park, but wish that occupiers come up with solutions that fit nicely in their comfort zone. To them, the movement is only meaningful and mature if OWS carries out this or that demand and agenda.

I have buried the lede with this long rambling. I’m one of the early converted who felt that “to step up and occupy with fellow citizens” is a clear enough demand for now, and should be the most important demand for the foreseeable future.

The movement has called for communal conversations in hundreds of American cities to successfully shift national dialogue from hypocritical austerity discussion to social and economic fairness, and achieved a moral high ground that’s rarely associated with political campaigns. The fact that all of these took place in a short two to three months’ time has not been enough for the broader population who are curious, interested, or even supportive of OWS to feel connected, a challenge for the movement if OWS is to build a broader base and to continue to inspire and mobilize. It indicates to me the profound apathy of the American general public. We have long failed to translate our own guts’ feeling of a deep problem related to money and politics into civic participation; and we can only relate to politics in the form of policies, votes, and electoral candidates. We have so comfortably lived in a loser mentality of being treated as consumers, voters, and viewers in commerce and in politics, retail or wholesale. We don’t know yet that we are all part of this, collectively. We bought the lunacy of this corrupt version of the American dream, thinking that if we kept our heads down and moved long, and if we worked hard and were lucky, we would do better, we would get ahead, way ahead as a triumphant super individual.

There is a deeper realization in this amazing and much-needed civic revival. The individualist culture succeeded in protecting The Private. But when it has gone to the extreme as the last decades have trended, it kills The Public. The PUBLIC good, such as saving a democracy, the PUBLIC virtue, such as justice and fairness, needs more than charity and philanthropy; it needs more than argument and counter-arguments; it needs more than clever messaging. Given the heightened political awareness during these short few months, I’ve learned so much about existing efforts that many have made, libertarians, liberals, and deeply political independents. In the past three to four decades they have made great efforts to set this country back on the correct democratic track. But when I ask the obvious questions of why all these efforts by and large fail and our country ended up in such a troubled times, I’ve gotten either no answer or long-winded deliberation. OWS has taught me the simple but profound answer. The Public Good needs a foundation for all these service-y good deeds to stand upon. Without that, all the volumes of books, talk shows, billions of charitable donations are just a mirage. Without that, all good intentions have to make the tired old sales of “lesser evil” next to sheer thirst for wealth and naked power.

For those who fault these forms of direct democracy for its naive belief that with enough talking and communal participation, misunderstanding and honest disagreement will simply give way for collective wisdom and consensus, you have missed the point. Naivete? Maybe. Useless experiment? Absolutely not. Somethings are better done privately, somethings, individually. To reclaim our Commonality, and to rebuild our Public Good from corrupt politics, public and collective participation is the necessary means that will produce the desired results. It is the foundation that is missing for many other legislative and electoral causes.

I felt then, and I know now, I am part of that foundation ever since I was in the first general assembly meeting through people’s mic at Liberty Plaza. It was immediately poetic, immediately emotional, and decisively political and powerful. I was reminded my best civic virtue education through the writings of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I was reminded the interconnectiveness I felt in Tiananmen and the best of social movements I’ve had the privilege to be part of. The connectiveness that Gandhi and King talked about. The connectiveness that is the very soil Public Virtue and Public Good can take root, grow, flourish, and bear fruit. Different from 1980s China, when our student movement turned massive demonstration, America has no shortage of sophistication on issues and policy options. They seem as if they are potted plants in a greenhouse at best, or a museum at worst. What this country needs, I believe, is a flood that will grow all these wonderful seeds into a jungle of flourishing. Only then can we change the apathetic political environment. Only then we can have a new atmosphere of civic revival. And only then will all the policy issues have a chance to be deliberated and implemented in a functional democracy.

The flood has been held back by the flood gate of political apathy fostered by the strange myth of ultra-individualism. OWS needs to continue its efforts to bust the flood gate open by massive grassroots participation. For all patriotic Americans who are part of this, whether you realize it now or not, stay curious, stay interested, stay supportive, or even stay critical if that’s the way you stay connected to OWS. For OWS is busy creating the space for your demands to have a shot of success. OWS is doing so by changing hearts and minds, so you can change laws and votes, especially when you step up and becoming part of it.

(Published http://huff.to/wumEnU via @HuffingtonPost 2/8/2012)


Honoring Dr. King, Chinese pro-democracy movement, Occupy Wall Street (with Video)

2012/01/15

I’m Shen tong

In honoring Dr King’s legacy, I’m standing here, as a Chinese exile from Tiananmen, and as an Occupier, to pledge again my commitment to nonviolence, to civil disobedience, to social and economic justice.

Back in 1989, we were inspired by non-violent principle and carried out the largest scale civil disobedience with over 100 million direct participation in street protests.
Our struggle ended with bloodshed, and I narrowly escaped the Tiananmen Massacre.  But we have continued our struggle non-violently.
I want to honor Dr. King’s legacy today by honoring my colleagues in that struggle
Ai Weiwei – the outspoken dissident artist
Liu Xiaobo – the Nobel Peace laureate of 2010 who is still in jial along w  hundreds of thousands of dissidents.

While in exile, here in America – the land of the free, I’ve learnt the precious but fragile nature of democracy. Democracy has journeyed from,
1 propertied white man 1 vote,
to 1 white man 1 vote
to 1 white person 1 vote
and with Civil Rights movement comes 1 person, 1 vote.
Now we are trending to $1m, 1 vote.

How do we revive our democracy?
I say: Step up and occupy
I say: non violent civil disobedience.

22 years ago today, I had the special privilege soon after my exile to speak the following words in the Church Dr. King once worked:

… the principle of non-violence…is the only way for China and for the world if we are to survive.  Our various communities struggle to achieve justice and equality, freedom and human right.  We must join our hands and stand as one.  As Dr. King once said, “ Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

We must learn from each other to find that crystal way which will lead to the crystal goal.  And together, as one movement, we will be able to look at the tyrants and oppressors of history and repeat Dr. King’s words, “ We have matched your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering.  We have matched your physical force with soul force.  WE ARE FREE.


My speech at Occupy Wall Street Thanksgiving

2011/11/24

Honored to be invited to speak at Zuccotti Park using the now iconic people’s mic of the Occupy Movement. The content is largely what I’ve learned from and been inspired by the movement. Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza is not Tiananmen. And America is not a dictatorship, we can still change this country peacefully.
(the line breaks and dashes in the text are stops while People’s Mic repeats the speaker.)
————————————–

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, OCCUPIERS
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, brothers and sisters of the NYPD

I’m an exiled student from TIANANMEN 22 years.
As a new immigrant, a new American,
I am thankful
to that faithful winter,
when America’s first immigrants
were saved by NATIVE AMERICANS.
I am thankful
to you, occupiers,
You inspired me to be part of this.

That winter was the beginning
of the beginning of a great nation.
Like our forefathers – with a new-born Nation.
Occupy is in our infancy.
My goodness,
Doesn’t this baby cry loud!
Occupy is in our infancy.
This is a cry — from the heart of the world
Occupy is in our infancy.
We are thankful to other 99%ers.
Occupy is in our infancy.
we are even thankful to the 1%ers.
They have energized our movement,
when our non-violence stares down the ARROGANCE
OF CORRUPTED POWER

——–
Immigrants, are the 99%
The Jobless, are the 99%
Students, are the 99%
Labors, are the 99%
So are YOU
– you, the NYPD.
– You, the middle class.
– You, who has made money — through your honest hard work
– you all, — the responsible citizens —- of America,
Don’t keep your heads down – don’t just get along.
Step up and occupy — step up — STEP UP — and restore our democracy, to restore the American Dream.
We call upon all 99%ers — to step-up and occupy.
Occupy Wall Street,
Occupy your campuses,
Occupy the corrupted establishment,
Occupy your apathetic heart
– with flames of justice

———-
We dare to imagine
This is the beginning of the beginning for this great nation once again!
BECAUSE
The people united,
will never be defeated.
The people united, will never be defeated.
The people united, will never be defeated.
The people united, will never be defeated.

This is the beginning of the beginning for this great nation.
BECAUSE
We are unstoppable,
another world is possible
We are unstoppable, another world is possible!
We are unstoppable, another world is possible!
We are unstoppable, another world is possible!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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Review of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris

2011/05/24

The Good

I happen to have my own artistic and literary heroes the same as in Woody Allen’s latest 2011 romantic comedy Midnight in Paris, so I loved the film.  Brunel, Dali, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso… Is there room to fit more, yes, Rodin, Monet, TS Elliot…  A fitting comparison for the viewing experience would be an accidental find of an antique shop full of all the items you fantasized about from a previous golden era; and then some that you didn’t know you would fall for, nonetheless fall for them with wide eyes, a pumping heart, and a few giggles.  The cultural references may be highbrow, but Allen redeemed himself by making the quirky one liners humorous, if you get his references that it.  Woody Allen’s movie is rarely for everyone.  I’d think any attempt on the whimsical and the fantastic with a narrow set of references would not be an easy path for universal enjoyment.  Kids in a candy store can pass for the universal; but baseball cards of all MVPs of “world championship” MLB would not – as strange as this may sound to Americans.  I happen to love Paris, so listening to a love song written by Allen set in night clubs on Left Bank, slow walks around the White Church or in drizzle on the New Bridge, or panorama view from the center of the city worked just fine.

The Bad

It has been a tiring discussion that Allen is no Kubrick.  He does repeat himself a lot – Purple Rose of Cairo, Everybody Says I Love You, Bullets over Broadway, Vicky Christina Barcelona, to name just a few; though new elements do occur such as time travel within a literary and philosophical context that serves to the main plot and themes of the movie.  As much as I love all the cultural references, it does feel like indulgence at times, partially because they are simply piled up or laid one next to each other like library reference cards, or reading notes in a forgotten drawer.  Let’s try a more engaging metaphor, an avocado salad with froi gras, toro, uni, grilled salmon skin, cold smoked sable, colored with saffron and topped with condensed teriyaki sauce, all serve on top of a East Coast oyster in a half shell.  Yes, you indulgent food lovers, you know what I’m talking about.  Some Iron Chef would try and get away with it for novelty and excess in Las Vegas, but even the most indulgent Roman during a food orgy probably would wish that they come as six separate servings.  Plus, we would indulge ourselves to expect more sophistication from Allen at this point in his long accomplished career.

I’d see potential in a rough cut, if this part of the film – some three quarters of the whole movie – was a research first draft of compilation of a roster of famous actors doing auditions for their respective art and literature giants from a century ago.  For that reason, their acting also suffers.

The Ugly

The baseball cards reference is fitting here since almost all characters are cartonized.  While so many references jammed through the mid-night transcendence of the almost funny Owen Wilson – partially the charm of the movie – you may argue that it is hard to develop any of these characters.  You would be right, underdeveloped as characters, their lines are often forced.


Review of Source Code

2011/04/04

The Good

Think of combining Three Days of The Condor and Moon, and then gamify the hybrid, you get Source Code – almost. A highly enjoyable movie experience with the suspense, the pace, the unknown identity (not quite as exciting and intense as the first Borne Identity movies though), and the pressure to piece together a puzzle that will save a city and redeeming a personal love discovery.  Duncan Jones proves he can delivery even more than Moon.  And Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting was solid.

 

The Bad

The premise of the story is flawed.  It doesn’t take much away, but left you wonder after leaving the screening on that premise – did Colter live on in the alternative universe accidentally created by Source Code through the 8 minutes of memory flashback of Sean the teacher?

Goodwin’s humanity, and Dr. Rutledge’s drive for success is quite cartonized, so was the bomber, and even Colter’s personal redemption with his father.   Think of the Unthinkable, a thriller that gave every character some layers that as extreme as their actions might be, there is a psychological accessibility for the audience.


Review of The Adjustment Bureau

2011/03/11

The Good

Wouldn’t it be nice to put all of our unknown fate into an identifiable shape, be Jesus Christ, Buddha, or a group of perfectly dressed, slightly understated big time bankers or law firm partners as the case officers in the Adjustment Bureau?  Wouldn’t it be nice to see, to yell at, to stare right into the eyes of fate literally; to negotiate, to inquire, to plea, or to simply to throw a fit, to be stubborn and impulsive with fate?  Don’t you wish sometimes to be able to take a left hook right into his face, to see him in pain, to condemn him… and sometimes, just “to make a run for it”!

Once again, a movie enshrines the magic of the island called Manhattan (and  Brooklyn), and downtown that even angels get confused about its streets.

The Bad

The Angels are so underwhelming.  Maybe that’s the charm?  And the story is quite incredible, saved only by the thin but convincing connection between David (Matt Damon) and Elise (Emily Blunt – thankfully, George Nolfi let her do more than Christopher Nolan allowed for Marion Cotillard in Inception).  They better, what else is there.