Dozens of Tibetan supporters gathered Wednesday on Independence Mall in Philadelphia to protest what they see as ongoing Chinese oppression in the region.
The protest — which consisted mainly of peaceful prayer and meditation — was organized in reaction to a recent string of Tibetan monks and nuns who have set themselves on fire.
It’s estimated that as many as two dozen have done this since March to protest the Chinese occupation. Seventeen have been confirmed dead.
Tsering Jerme, the leader of the Tibetan Association of Philadelphia, said he’s frustrated that his group’s cause hasn’t been more enthusiastically supported. He said he wonders why other protests, such as recent ones in the Middle East have garnered more attention.
“Everything we do is very peaceful; that’s why we’re not getting attention,” Jerme says. “It has to be something violent to get attention. That’s a shame.”
Historically, there have long been tensions between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples, but the present situation has its basis in the 1950s. In that decade, China invaded and assumed control of the territory, while the Dali Lama and the exiled Tibetan government fled to India.
In the time since, Tibetans have cited decades of brutal persecution based on their religion and culture. Most recently they’ve claimed that the Chinese have taken over and destroyed many of their Buddhist monasteries.
Greg Schultz, a Tibetan-style Buddhist from Abington, Pennsylvania and longtime supporter of the region’s liberation, said Wednesday he hopes more people will take the time to learn about the ongoing human rights violations in the region.
“People often think, ‘Well it’s their problem. It’s halfway around the world; It doesn’t really affect me,’ but we’re all connected as human beings and it’s our responsibility to help each other,” he said.
President Obama’s position on the issue has been somewhat mixed.
In July, he defied China’s wishes by inviting Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dali Lama, to the White House.
There, the president “underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China.”
At the same time, Obama reiterated that Tibet was, indeed, under China’s dominion and declined to favor the region’s independence.
In Philadelphia Wednesday, Tibetan supporters urged Market Street passers-by to get involved and petition the government on behalf of Tibet.
Sitting in the shadow of Liberty Bell, they could do nothing but meditate, pray, and hope that their message of freedom rang true.