A mask of Aung San Suu Kyi’s face in front of my own, dressed in red and decorated with stickers and peacock feathers, I take a deep breath and step out onto the stage. It’s a sold-out crowd at Gillette Stadium, and they’re all watching myself and the other dozen or so people…no, activists, on stage. I hold up a fist and my father puts his arm around my shoulders and gives me a squeeze, both of us breaking the rules to stay still and uniform. Bono’s voice booms from the PA, but I can hear his actual voice from behind us, telling the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, and her besieged country of Burma.
The petition I helped create and my backstage passes.
The weekend of September 20th was phenomenal. In the words of my father, “Nobody is gonna believe us.”
September 20th is my dad’s birthday, and he and I spent it by collecting signatures for Amnesty all day and then watching U2 from the inner circle at night. Oh, yeah, and we walked on stage. With Bono. It was more amazing than I thought it could have been, and the best free birthday present ever.
The second night I went to Gillette with Alex, because my dad works for a living and that was an exhausting day. So that means I spent two full days immersed in Amnesty, Save Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi and U2. I actually got a bit jaded from seeing them so much, which was kind of weird. But it was by all accounts an amazing weekend, and not just for the reasons you would think.
The second night, I was legitimately choked up while walking on stage, Aung Sun Suu Kyi‘s face in front of my own. I finally felt like I was really doing something worthwhile. I had this little moment of oh, so this is my life now. I’m a girl who does the solidarnosc fist and wears peacock feathers in her hair to symbolize democracy in Burma. I’m also the only one (besides Alex) who knows what CEDAW is and can properly explain our petition about it. I kind of like being this person. Hm. I could totally be this person, for real life, not just for co-op. Hm.
For many, the name Aung San Suu Kyi is unfamiliar. She is a Burmese woman who has been under house arrest for 14 of the last 20 years, for advocating for democracy in her homeland. She also ran for president and had the audacity to win, scaring the military junta that runs the country. She has occasionally been let out, only to be entrapped again. Aung San Suu Kyi was once offered the ability to leave when her husband was dying of cancer in exile. The only condition? If she left, Aung San Suu Kyi could never return, and would relinquish all claims as the leader of her country. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made the heartbreaking choice to stay with her country, and never got to see her husband again before he passed away.
It was enlightening to speak to the Burmese monks, both of whom were in their early 20s. These are people who have given up the comforts of modern or family life for asceticism and service to their people. They protest the junta, support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and tell the story of injustice to the outside world. I really enjoyed seeing people my age who were so committed to their faith and their country, yet on such a different path from myself.
One of the monks had a digital SLR camera, his only luxury item. He explained that it was not frivolous at all. Since the warrant for his arrest was issued due to his part in the protests, he can’t go home. Instead, he travels, taking pictures and telling his story, trying to save his country from afar. The camera is just his way of doing the work he was called to do, adapting to this new circumstance of exile.
I’m no monk, but I’d like to think that my path isn’t as far from his as it first seems. Because right now, I’m a professional activist.
My father and I. Best birthday ever?
Update: Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma was released in November of 2010, a little over a year after our campaign for her started. Congratulations to Aung San Suu Kyi, the people of Burma, and all those who fought for her freedom.