Monday, August 4, 2008

Beijing and the greatest act of non-violent political protest

Two pairs of black socks and two raised fists were all it took to show the world how a group of people felt. In that amazing moment two men, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, created one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history but also a milestone in America's civil rights movement. It was powerful, it was understated and it came with out any boycotts or bloodshed.By today’s standards, the protest seems fairly tame, but in 1968 Smith and Carlos were met with such outrage that they were suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village. They also faced death threats and were banished from sports for many years after the Mexico City Olympics. It is also interesting to note that Peter Norman, who is white, participated in the protest by wearing an Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badge.

What does this have to do with current world events? Everything. A lot has been written and said about the upcoming Beijing Olympics. I am not going to debate about China and it’s horrible human rights record -- I agree that it is reprehensible. I am going to debate the move to perhaps boycott the games. It seems that a lot of political and media types are advocating the boycott of the Olympic games.

It seems that the only people who are not being asked are the athletes. You know the athletes. The people who have been training their whole lives for this moment, the people who put their lives on hold, living on next to no money to compete for their nation. The people with perhaps the most to lose by an Olympic boycott.It seems that the U.S. Olympic Committee has been warning its athletes to not make any political gestures or statements during the games. This is what I will take issue with. Lets encourage our athletes to speak their minds and to make bold statements if they wish. As a nation we cannot allow the Canadian Olympic Committee to censor our athletes, and to dissuade them from making their views known. Surely if we can debate an Olympic boycott we can give the athletes the discretion to make a stand. The athletes had no part in the decision to award China the Olympic games, why should they be punished for it.

The ability to speak ones own mind is what separates us from brutal, repressive regimes around the world. It is what makes us unique, that an individual can choose to use their moment to protest an injustice or make a statement. Just like Tommie Smith and John Carlos did in Mexico City in 1968, but without the fear of being ostracized or censored.