Beijing Olympics and Human Rights: When worlds collide

2008 has turned into a year of real personal struggle, and I’m sure growth, for me. Throwing my support behind Hillary Clinton as I did late last fall and then watching the primary season unfold was really exhausting to me. Her treatment by both the media and my fellow progressives was often painful and insulting. And now I face the prospect of working to elect someone who I don’t think will do as a good a job as Clinton would, just because the other guy is soooooo bad. Which he is, make no doubt.

And now, there’s the Olympics.

Normally, I love to watch the Olympics. I remember as a kid eagerly awaiting the next one. I followed the careers of people like Mark Spitz, Olga Korbut,and Steve Prefontaine. In the winter, I watched Franz Klammer, Dorothy Hamill, and Rosi Mittermaier. You see, I was always just a meh athlete — never the worst on the field, but admittedly rarely the best. My most successful athletic career was in Ultimate Frisbee, where my team was generally known for winning the party, if nothing else….

Sorry, I digress. My point is that for the armchair athlete like me, the Olympics are a time to really respect the awesome power of the human body, and to see people display amazing discipline and dedication to get to the event. But China is a big powerful nation with a serious problem with human rights. And so I am faced with yet another dilemma. To watch, or not to watch. I hate when I have to make a choice like this.

A personal boycott of the Olympics in order to make a point might make me feel “better” politically, make me feel that I’m not participating in something that is sponsored by a human rights violator. But the problem with that thinking is that the Olympics will go on whether I watch them or not. And my not watching is going to have nil effect on China’s human rights record.

So I was happy to get the following email today from Amnesty International, which is both informative and helpful with suggestions for action:

China’s leadership recently ordered local governments to go “all out” to prevent civilian protesters from tarnishing the Olympic Games in Beijing next month. Can you help Amnesty International go “all out” to focus world attention on the peaceful activists languishing in Chinese prisons by making a donation to our China Olympics Legacy Campaign today? Chen Guangcheng is one of the courageous activists Amnesty International is working to free. The blind human rights defender and legal advisor was arrested in 2005 for filing a lawsuit on behalf of thousands of women in Shandong Province who endured forced abortions and sterilizations to meet local birth quotas.

Chen’s wife and lawyers were barred from appearing in court to defend him – and after a 1-day trial he received a 4-year prison sentence. Chen’s situation remains grim, as he’s reportedly been beaten in captivity. He won the Magsaysay award – described as Asia’s Nobel Prize – in July 2007 for defending human rights. But Chinese authorities even prevented Chen’s wife from traveling to the Philippines to accept the prize on his behalf. The next few weeks are crucial for our China Olympics Legacy Campaign. With your tax-deductible gift today, we will:

  • Urge President Bush to call for the release of human rights defenders like Chen Guangcheng and others when he meets with Chinese officials during the opening of the Games
  • Provide American athletes with toolkits to help them speak up – if they choose – about Chinese prisoners of conscience and the government’s human rights record
  • Encourage corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to use their influence to call for an end to the ongoing abuses

The world needs to know that China has fallen far short of the promise it made in its Olympic bid – to improve its human rights record in the lead-up to the Games.

So rather than boycott, I suggest we watch the Olympics and use this as an opportunity to highlight the situation in China. Talk to your friends and family about what’s going on there. Call and write your Congress delegation. Make a stand for human rights. Contact Amnesty International today.



  1. thanks for the info and some ways to help without boycotting the olympics and not watching, which like you, i would have a hard time doing. i will do what i can.

  2. I personally and systematically BOYCOTT made-in-china products. I’d rather pay more for my t-shirt and feel I’m helping local US labor rather than Child slavery.
    WE, the people, can change the world. We don’t like Monsanto? Let’s stop buying GMO based products or non-all natural food. The end-consumer has the final say, always.

  3. I support Amnesty International and they have a way you can show your solidarity for Chinese bloggers who risk censure, arrest, torture and even imprisonment for peacefully speaking out online.

    It’s an online Day of Protest against Internet censorship. Check it out –

    It only takes a couple of minutes and the more people that join the stronger the message it sends to the Chinese Government.

    Support Chinese bloggers’ right to freedom of expression and speech.

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