Justice for the Oppressed: The Plight of the Falun Gong

An article in the front page of the Vancouver Sun this week says that the Falun Gong are going to be allowed to rebuild their protest booth on Granville Street.  Although I rejoice that the court has decided to give a public voice back to those who stand up for the injustice being inflicted on their fellow religious adherents, I cannot help at the same time to be saddened when I think about why this booth was ordered to be disassembled in the first place.

The timing appears to be more than a little suspicious.  Those familiar with Vancouver will know that the protest booth has been a part of the landscape in the fair city since August 2001.  To be sure the city has wanted to get rid of the protest booth for quite some time now—Vancouver’s former fearless leader Sam Sullivan started the process in 2006.  These efforts met no success until last year when Vancouver was granted an injunction which required the booth to be removed.  Fast forward one year and the BC Court of Appeal unanimously decides that the original judge who granted the injunction made an error.

I cannot help but find the timing of these events to be more than a little suspicious.  Despite the victory of the Falun Gong in the Court of Appeal, the process ensured that the booth would be removed between 2009 and late 2010.  Perhaps there was some sort of highly publicized event occurring in the ‘Greatest City on Earth’ in this time period that made the authorities want to make the Falung Gong go away—at least for a little while? 

Of course the irony in this should not be lost.  It has been said that the Olympics were Canada’s coming out party.  It was a time where patriotism wasn’t hid underneath a shell of Canadian politeness but rather where we shouted “we’re Canadian and we’re proud of it”.  In my opinion national pride is something this country has been missing for a long time.  Healthy patriotism can be a sign that a country is maturing and are shoring up a sense of identity—a sense of who they are.

Unfortunately it is precisely this factor that still seems to be lacking in the Canadian psyche.  Sure we are proud of our geography, diversity, and clean streets but what of our character?  What is it about who we are that makes us gush with pride?  It is my hope that as country we take on an identity that goes beyond politeness—surely this must not be the primary virtue!  I dream of a country that stands up for justice whose citizens rail against the violation of basic human rights no matter how financially significant the abusers are.  It’s time for politeness with a backbone.

 “OK”, you may be thinking “I get what you’re saying but aren’t you making a little bit much out of an eye-sore protest booth in our otherwise beautiful city that nobody cares about anyway.  Besides it’s not like the booth is saving any lives”.  It’s true the Falun Gong booth has not likely saved any lives from the totalitarian government in China.  However the cold reality is that the protest booth is one of the few public voices this oppressed group has. Unless the civic leaders were to publicly condemn the actions of the Communist Party of China or provide some other voice for this religious group their actions say that the murdering of thousands, harvesting of organs, and exile of hundreds of thousands to Chinese Gulag-style work camps (called Laogai) does not matter.

I understand that in the time of recession increasing trade with the emerging market of China is being heralded as our great escape and the road back to prosperity.  However no matter how tempting and insistent is the Siren’s call there is a voice that is even harder to ignore.  The blood of the murdered cries out from the ground—it’s so loud, it’s deafening….

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M.C.C.

For the past two summers I have worked for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).  During my time there I have realized that far too few people know what MCC is all about.  I therefore present to you a brief entry about what this 90 year old,  global organization is doing to make this world a better place.

The activity of MCC is divided into three categories:  disaster relief, development, and peace building.

Disaster Relief:

From Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, to the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand, to the recent earthquake in Haiti, MCC is always among the first to respond as well as among the last to leave whenever a major natural disaster strikes an area.  By way of an illustration here are just a few of the things MCC did in Haiti immediately following their recent earthquake.

  • delivered and administered 42 tonnes of canned meat and 30,000 bottles of water
  • fed many courtesy of the Gleaners’ soup packages (the Gleaners makes their packages from food that would otherwise be discarded—you can learn more about them by clicking here).
  • set up 1,000 water filters
  • helped restore legal documentation to those who lost it during the quake
  • sent 4 volunteer structural engineers to inspect damaged buildings and assess whether they were safe for living in or required demolition
  • involved in long-term re-building projects

Development:

The development component of MCC is best thought of as their long-term projects.  “Development” can refer to health-care, education, economic, etc, projects.  Here are a few examples.

  • Building sand dams in areas of Africa that are devastated by drought–examples include Kenya and Mozambique.  Sand dams are a simple, cost-effective way of providing water during the dry seasons.  If you’re interested in reading more click here.
  • In Zimbabwe where primary school costs $540 a year per student (for boarding students), MCC offsets some of this cost by providing $70,000 per year to 12 rural schools.
  • have provided micro-loans which allow the survival/creation of small businesses in developing countries.

Peace Building:

MCC’s non-violent stance is well-documented and seems to be the issue which some people take an exception to.  Perhaps this category deserves its own blog entry—for now however, let it be suffice to outline a few examples of peace building:

  • sponsored dialogue with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran.  The talks were intended to promote understanding and peace between different faith and political groups—read more here.

  • developing restorative justice programs—which attempt to find solutions that allow all parties to ‘win’—read more details here.
  • advocate for an end to exploitative industry especially in developing countries and instead support solutions which satisfies the labourer, business, and consumer.  Read about what MCC has to say about Canadian mining companies operating the developing world here.

How to get involved:

There are many ways to support MCC.  Of course the website has a space for donations but here are a few more things MCC does to raise funds.

  • Penny Power.  The Canadian government matches the spare change raised by MCC 4:1 so every penny you donate turns into a nickel.  For readers in Nanaimo the Neighbourhood Church is currently collecting for “Penny Power”.  Those near an MCC thrift store can donate their change there.
  • Thrift Stores.  The MCC thrift stores are almost exclusively volunteer driven.  The store where I work has only 4 permanent staff members and around 100 volunteers.  This allows the store to keep their overhead as low as possible and pass on as much as possible to MCC’s projects.
  • Ten Thousand Villages.  These stores sell crafts and other household items made in villages in developing countries.  MCC passes the money made directly back to the producer.  There are three locations in Vancouver.
  • Relief Sale.  September 10-11 MCC will be hosting its annual relief sale in Abbotsford B.C..  This year’s proceeds will go to support MCC’s various water projects.  The relief sale includes the auction of homemade quilts, a Ten Thousand Villages Booth, Penny Power, and of course ‘Mennonite’ food.  Last year’s sale raised around $700,000—not bad for 2 days….

This is a brief introduction to the work of MCC.  For those already familiar with MCC I hope that if nothing else this blog was an encouraging reminder to you about the valuable work MCC does.  For those previously unaware of MCC I hope this blog has encouraged your belief in the ability to make this world a better place…