Is anybody listening?
Despite months of protests and the presence of dozens of
people opposed to a Rose Parade float sponsored by the Avery Dennison Corp.
saluting the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, a divided Pasadena City Council
voted Monday to respond merely by supporting a 60-year-old United Nations
declaration on human rights.
Although members of the Caltech Falun Gong club and others
associated with a number of other religious, political and social groups spoke
out against an Olympic-themed float in the 2008 parade due to China’s abysmal
human rights record, the eight-member council brushed aside those concerns.
In fact, the council completely disregarded a recommendation
by its own Human Relations Commission, which called on the
council to make a strong statement decrying human rights abuses in China and
present it to officials in Pasadena’s Chinese sister city, Xicheng.
The commission had also called on council members to arrange
a meeting between human rights advocates, Tournament of Roses officials and
supporters of the Olympics float in order to have tournament officials and
float sponsors take action to support human rights, make the float less
offensive to rights advocates, or include a pro-human rights figure or group in
People opposing the float plan to march from Pasadena City
Hall to Tournament House at 2 p.m. Sunday. Protest organizer Ann Lau said the
group will use the occasion to speak out against the council’s action Monday.
City Hall is at 100 N. Garfield Ave.
“I watched the entire proceedings from start to finish and
it was the most shameful exhibit of political cowardice I have ever seen,” said
former Mayor Bill Paparian, who in 1996 brought the Dalai Lama, an exile from
Chinese-controlled Tibet, to Pasadena.
“I am embarrassed to say I was once a member of that body,”
Paparian said Tuesday.
“Now there is no safety valve in place for the angst we saw
last night,” he continued. “We are headed for a train wreck on New Year’s Day.
People will see the float as an object of protest and people standing in front
of it will be juxtaposed with Tiananmen Square and it will be shown around the
During the meeting, Council member Chris Holden offered an
alternative resolution that would have rebuked China for its human rights
record, but the motion failed after it received the support of only Councilman
Victor Gordo and Councilwoman Jacque Robinson.
Like Paparian, Holden said the commission’s recommendations
should have been adopted, especially since Pasadena has had a
sister-city relationship with Xicheng for nearly 10 years.
“I thought it would have been a better course of action to
have acted on the recommendations and to have passed a resolution that would
have focused on the concerns brought to the council as it relates to alleged
violations in China,” Holden said after the meeting. “The whole idea of these
relationships is not just ceremonial and ribbon cutting. Part of the
relationship is to have the ability and opportunity to share insights and
values that we hold dear: democracy, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble. If
we are going to have this relationship and not try and share those values, it
kind of diminishes the relationship.”
Tournament of Roses officials did not attend the meeting.
However, Mayor Bill Bogaard, who supports having the Chinese-backed float in
the parade, read a letter to the council from Tournament of Roses President
“We believe it is important to separate the issue of the
Rose Parade float from any action that the city of Pasadena may choose to
undertake in support of human rights in China and elsewhere. As mentioned on
numerous occasions, we do not believe our parade nor our entries in the parade
support government policies anywhere in the world. As a result, we believe the
issue of the float should be removed from the consideration of possible council
actions,” Keedy’s letter stated.
Floats honoring the Olympic Games have been part of the Rose
Parade on nine other occasions. Missing were Olympic floats in 1936, when the
games were held in Germany during Hitler’s reign, and 1980, when former
President Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of the Moscow games over the Soviet
Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Although many words were spoken Monday night, the Rev. Peter
Zhou Bangjiu, a Benedictine monk, didn’t say anything as he stood at the
Brother Peter, as he is known, merely raised his arm to show
a deformed wrist and forearm from the torture he suffered at the hands of
Chinese government officials. (Please see related letter on page 4.)
Brother Peter served 26 years in prison and labor camps for
refusing to join the communist-run version of Catholicism, the Chinese
Patriotic Church. Tortured and placed in solitary confinement for two years,
his hands were shackled for four weeks, with the right cuff intentionally
tightened to the last link to cut off the circulation, which caused atrophy of
According to one story in the Falun Gong-run Epoch Times,
the government harvests organs of Falun Gong practitioners and subjects
dissidents to prison camps and slave labor for keeping journals and practicing
other Christian faiths — allegations that government officials have
The Beijing government promised the International
Olympic Committee that it would improve its human rights record as a condition
of being allowed to host the games. But according to many people who spoke
Monday night, that has not happened.
“There are many issues the Pasadena City Council could speak
to and probably be heard about,” said Councilman Steve Madison, whose district
includes the Tournament of Roses. “But I certainly don’t feel like I was
elected by my constituents to express positions on international issues.”
NAACP Pasadena Branch President Joe Brown said he hopes the
sister-city relationship hasn’t become so close that it is clouding the
“I love China,” Brown said. “I visited there myself on
three occasions. But there is a challenge. There are human rights violations
that continue to occur. They’re using our country for nothing but political and