Lawrence Gerstein celebrated his Fourth of July differently this year. Of course he still thought about the sacrifices and struggles faced when a country is looking to gain independence, but this Independence Day was about something more; it was about the search for the Tibetan independence.
Gerstein, director of the center for peace and conflict studies and professor of psychology at Ball State University, is leading the “March for Tibet’s Independence,” a 150-mile walk from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. which began July 4 and will end on July 13.
The walk is beginning at Independence Hall, the birthplace of American independence, and ending at China’s Embassy in Washington, D.C. where the group will hold a demonstration.
Beginning their days at 6:30 a.m. with breakfast and ending around 5 p.m. with dinner, Gerstein said people the group has encountered have been providing the walkers with food and water on their long journey.
Only a few days in, and with hot temperatures, Gerstein said the walkers are fighting the pain of blisters and aches in silence.
“It’s really humbling to be with all these people who are experience pain from the heat and blisters and no one is complaining, but we keep Tibetans in our mind, realizing their suffering is greater than what we are going through,” he said.
Keeping Tibet in his mind has always been the driving force behind Gerstein’s involvement with advocacy and social justice.
“I’m here for two reasons. One, the whole Tibetan movement is centered in nonviolence; using that to resolve a conflict, we send a strong message. Second, because as China gets stronger so does their military power and buying Chinese goods affects military growing, we want to educate people about that. It’s not just about Tibet, but the world.”
Organized by the International Tibet Independence Movement (ITIM), more than 20 Tibetans and other supporters from around the world are currently walking toward Washington, D.C. The organization was created in 1995 by Gerstein and Taktser Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother. The group has more than 5,000 supporters worldwide since it was started.
Gerstein said ITIM has held similar demonstrations before, all promoting peaceful and nonviolent protests. This year the Tibetan community from Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. will attend the protest and as a whole, the group will try to deliver a letter to the Chinese embassy explaining their concerns and issues with their rule over Tibet.
He said the group has never been able to deliver the letter to the embassy before because of the police and secret service who are protecting the embassy, though they protest peacefully.
Ngawang Norbu, ITIM board member said in a press release, “It has been 51 years since China brutally and illegally occupied our country. This is a long time for an individual, but not long for a nation,” he said. “We must be patient and work hard, if necessary, for another 51 years to achieve independence for our country, Tibet. If there is a sunset, there is also a sunrise. Right now is a dark period for Tibet, but the sun will definitely rise again and Tibet will be free.”
This story also appeared in the Ball State Daily News.