ICT guest blog by Dechen Tsering
, President of the Tibetan Association of Northern California, on her involvement in the 2010 Tibet Lobby Day.
On March 1st 60-70 Tibetans descended on DC from all parts of the United States to participate in the 2010 Tibet Lobby Day
on March 1st and 2nd organized by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), in collaboration with the Tibetan Associations in the United States
and the International Tibet Support Network
, for the second consecutive year. It was my first experience; one I would regale in repeating, not so much because I am any good at it but because as a Tibetan-American, it is my democratic right and more importantly, an inherent responsibility to be a voice for Tibet within the walls of the United States Capitol.
As the President of the Tibetan Association of Northern California
, I had the honor of representing the Tibetan community in Northern California. Tibetans had come from more than 30 States. In total, we entered 85 representative offices to speak for our people and make six key appeals asking representatives to:
- Initiate a resolution urging the US government to actively support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s dialogue process with the Beijing government.
- Approve a bill under review for establishing a US Consulate in Lhasa;
- Co-sponsor and approve provision for immigrant status to 3000 new Tibetans from India and Nepal;
- Continue funding Tibetan programs under the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (that includes core support for VOA, RFA, Fulbright Scholarships);
- Advocate for Tibetan Political Prisoners and their unconditional release;
- Insist on including Tibet as the “3rd Pole” in discourses on climate change and pressuring China to include Tibetan stakeholders (nomads in particular).
This was only the second year of Tibet Lobby Day but the event was impeccably detailed and well organized that we felt confident even while our lobbying skills were novice at best, and nerve wreaking at worst. Judging from the excitement at the end of two days, however, no one appeared to be experiencing a nervous breakdown from walking the high-ceilinged immaculately shiny and maze-like basement hallways of the US Capitol or from narrating our appeals for Tibet. If anything, everyone appeared invigorated, hopeful and filled with a natural “high” from this year’s Tibet Lobby Day!
A passionate speech by Lodi Gyari Rinpoche
, Special Envoy to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the chief negotiator at nine dialogue meetings with Chinese counterparts, impressed upon all of us that the movement for Tibetan struggle has to be LED by Tibetans and SUPPORTED by our non-Tibetan friends. Rinpoche’s message implied that after 50 years, it is time for Tibetans to be in the forefront of our movement and there is no justifiable reason for any Tibetan to shy away from this inherent responsibility as we enjoy the perks of a democratic and free country. There was electric silence in the room during his fiery speech as we digested the call to action. For a brief moment I flashed back in my mind’s eye to inspirations from other movements – the California farmer workers unions under Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta, South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement under Nelson Mandela, Indian independence movement under Mahatma Gandhi ji, the Cuban Revolutionary movement under Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and of course, our very own on-going movement under His Holiness the Dalai Lama! Viva la Tibet!! I felt exhilarated and hopeful that we, too, can bring about change!
The Lobby Day had several important take-home messages for all of us, particularly a novice lobbyist like me. One of which is that while Tibet is naturally a pivotal focus of our work, it is one of many hundreds of issues that our representatives see on their agendas. At one of our meetings, I asked, “What do we need to do to make Tibet stick out among all the other issues before you?
” Without hesitation, the response was, “You need to write letters and show up like this. Hearing you speak about the situation inside Tibet and your appeals in person gives a face to the issue.
” He went on… ”write letters. The more letters we receive pressing an issue, the more I am going to notice it and since I am choosing what matters to take to the Senator, I am going to obviously choose the one with the most appeal letters.
” Unlike in 2009, this year’s Lobby Day included Online Lobbying by ICT that generated 8000 messages pressing Congress to highlight Tibet in their negotiations and legislations. So, to anyone who thought, “what difference will my letter make?
” – here is the answer. It is one letter-at-a-time that makes the issue of Tibet stand out like a sore thumb on our representatives’ desks. Never underestimate the power of that one letter… and it could be the one YOU sent! That is the take-home message for us all!
Personally, I found that making our appeals in person was both engaging and empowering. Engaging in that we were speaking directly to the people who are in power to do something about what Tibet and Tibetans need from the US government. Empowering because we are equipping them with information they need to use their powerful positions to support Tibet! Empowering also because they are listening intently and in some cases, as in most of our group’s eight such meetings, they are genuinely curious about Tibet. It is an opportunity for us to ‘educate’ our politicians. Therefore, I strongly encourage every Tibetan – irrespective of experience or linguistic skills – to take part in a future Tibet Lobby Day. You won’t regret it and ICT does a great job of honing your skills before and after the fact!
Given the significance of Tibet Lobby Days and Tibetan leadership in them, I encourage all Tibetan Associations to explore the creation of an Advocacy Committee that focuses on coordinating lobby activities in your states and in DC. As ICT proves a case-in-point, non-profit organizations are not barred from lobbying by any means but cannot utilize a certain percentage of its annual resources and time strictly for lobbying. Tibetan Associations are far from surpassing that regulatory limit given the multitude of other activities we engage in. Therefore, please put to rest fears that engaging in some coordinated lobbying could jeopardize the legal status of registered Tibetan Associations.
Finally, a big THANK YOU to ICT in general and in particular to ICT’s lobby team – Todd Stein, who lobbies for Tibet every day; Tencho Gyatso for successfully engaging more Tibetan Associations over the years, and Leslie Butterfield for being super patient with all of our many questions regarding Lobby Day details. Last but not least, thank you to my fellow Tibetans for being there and inspiring each other!
Onward to 2011 Tibet Lobby Day!
Photo: Ms Dechen Tsering (third from right) with other Tibetan Americans from around the US participating in Tibet Lobby Day 2010.