Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The World is Watching

By 1936 , Hitler's Nazi regime was in its days of glory. The Olympic games were to take place that summer. The atrocities the Nazis were committing upon their own people were known to the world. While it would attempt , on the streets of Berlin, to eradicate any sign of its decimation of the human rights of a portion of its own population,it could not hide from sight the plight of the German Jews. The German Olympic team was stripped of its Jewish participants in the weeks leading up to the games. This was a moment to demonstrate Aryan supremacy to the world.

There were no protests of the games that year. Rather, it was felt that the best way to show up the Nazis was to try to bust the Aryan myth on the playing fields. Led by one of the best black athletes in history, the United States would fight its fight at the games. Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in those Olympics. 9 Jewish athletes from around the world won medals. Yet history shows that this did nothing to stop, or slow down Hitler and his myth of Aryan supremacy. It would be 9 years, and countless lost lives, before Hitler's regime was over.

In 1968, Harry Edwards was a young sociologist. A black man, concerned with the continuing plight of black Americans, he advocated a boycott of the Mexico City games that year. While his hopes of using the games as a forum to focus the world on the inequities in our society did not lead to a boycott, it did result in a memorable moment of protest. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were 2 young black American sprinters.Among the best in the world, they both medaled in the same Olympic event. As they stood on the podium to accept their awards, they slightly bowed their heads while each one raised a black gloved fist. It was their way of expressing black unity and trying to get the world to pay attention to the problems blacks continued to encounter. 40 years later , Barack Obama spoke eloquently about the hurdles still left to overcome.

In 1980, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was in its second year. Led by President Carter, the United States , together with 62 other countries, refused to participate in the summer Olympic games . While our athletes stayed at home, the games continued in a diminished capacity. In unity, much of the world said it was watching Russia and was opposed to the atrocities it was committing. It would be 9 more years before the Russians were forced to leave Afghanistan.

In London and Paris, they have lined the streets by the thousands. In San Francisco they have had people climb up the Golden Gate bridge and hang banners of protest. It is now 2008 and the eyes of the world are upon China, as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. As the Olympic torch makes it way around the globe, in its trek to its final destination at the Games, people everywhere are protesting the human rights violations of the Chinese in Tibet. In all likelihood , the scope of the concern will also encompass issues relating to the complicity of the Chinese in the ongoing slaughter in Darfur. Some have even extinguished the Olympic torch as it travels from country to country. Hillary Clinton has suggested a boycott of the opening ceremonies as a defining act of protest.

Yet , if there is one thing that history teaches us, it is that symbolic Olympic actions, while laudable, do little to effect long lasting change. It is incumbent on all of us that the light that shines on these atrocities during Olympic years not be extinguished as soon as the Olympic flame goes out. Our diligence in seeing and responding to the wrongs around us must be more than a one time effort. Change is a very formidable foe . It takes time and continuing diligence to make a difference in the ways of the world. While the protests of China's abuses are now occurring as we all turn our focus towards them, let it be our Olympic goal to keep the pressure on China long after the games have been completed.

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