Blog: Free Tibet hits the road

18th August 2017

Post by Eleanor

It’s been a little more than a month since my last blog.  Festival season is a busy time!  We’ve been doing more festivals than usual this year, as we build up to our 30th anniversary.  We’ve also been showcasing our new Tibet exhibition, which has meant that carpentry skills have been almost as important as communication skills for our festival teams.

Our first stop was Buddhafield – a small festival, around 3,000 people, held in Somerset in the middle of July.  It was a very early start for our team and a long drive from London but we managed to get everything set up in time for the opening ceremony.  We were lucky with the weather, which meant we had a steady flow of people passing our gazebo and lots of good conversations.  I was invited to give a talk in one of the main marquees while we were there.  I spoke about the role and importance of non-violence in Tibet’s resistance and shared an idea that I first heard from Thubten Samdup, former representative of the Dalai Lama in London:

If we don’t support Tibet… if we, as an international community, allow Tibet’s resistance to fail, while continuing to respond the way we do to terrorist attacks… then the message we pass on to future generations is that peaceful resistance is ineffective and the only way to make a point is through violence.

Is that really what we want to say?  What would it say about us if that was the legacy of our generation, if that was the message we wrote for the future?

Eleanor gives her talk at Buddhafield festival

Poignantly, the slot I’d be given for the talk came just one day after the death of Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo and just hours after we’d received the news of a self-immolation protest carried out by a young Tibetan student in India.  We held a minute’s silence for both of them – and for all the other Tibetans who have given their lives in the struggle for freedom, justice and human rights.  Then, I shared a quote from Liu Xiaobo which I’d also like to share with you here:

"The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason."

After Buddhafield, our next stop was Womad – the World of Music and Dance, which takes place just outside Malmesbury in Wiltshire.  This festival gives us the opportunity to introduce Tibet to a much bigger crowd of people – around 45,000 on average.  The opinion poll which we carried out earlier this year showed us that people don’t need to hear much about Tibet in order to understand that they should be very concerned about the human rights situation there – but that there are lots of people who have never heard Tibet’s story and some who don’t even know that it’s a country.  Larger festivals like Womad give us the chance to share Tibet’s story with a whole new audience and our exhibition acts like an extra team, one which keeps on telling the story day and night.

We had news of a second self-immolation protest while we were at Womad.  This one took place in Dharamsala in India, which is where the Tibet Watch research team is based (as well as the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration).  Being so close to the protest made the reporting easier in some ways but harder in others.

After Womad we went on to the Green Gathering – another small festival, with around 5,000 people, which takes place in Monmouthshire, just across the Welsh border.  Sadly, we spent the first 36 hours hiding from the storm which battered the festival’s rather unprotected, hilltop location.  Once the skies cleared and the winds died down, we started constructing our exhibition.  Under normal circumstances we would have had it up and ready before the festival opened.  As it was, the building activity actually drew lots of interest and people who had stopped to watch the work in progress came back later to see the finished product.

But the season isn’t over.  Tonight we have our annual Summer Shindig (if you live in London then come along).  This will be a chance to show off our new exhibition to a London crowd.  It’s been difficult to really capture it in a photograph so I’m excited to see what people think when they’re actually standing in the middle of it.

After the Shindig we’ll be off to Greenbelt and hoping to recruit some new support for our Beyond Belief campaign.  Hopefully we’ll be able to rest some time in September.

Eleanor is Director of Free Tibet and also of our research partner Tibet Watch. She joined the movement professionally in April 2013, having previously been Director of Casework for legal charity Amicus, where her work focused on the death penalty in the US. With a law degree and an MA in human rights, Eleanor has worked for many other campaigns and projects, including One For Ten, PeaceBrigades International, the Burma Human Rights Documentation Unit and the British Institute of International & Comparative Law. She has been a supporter of Free Tibet since her student days and has supported the Tibetan cause for over 20 years. Read updates from her on Twitter and each month on our blog.