Carrying the Olympic Torch, and Protesting It, Too
Ed. Note – Once again thanks to Tony for sending this article to me. I hadn’t heard this at all yet.
From NY Times – In her left hand she held a water bottle, which was serving as a stand-in for the Olympic torch. In her right sleeve was tucked a Tibetan flag. Majora Carter was ready.
This was the scene in a hotel room in San Francisco on Tuesday, where Ms. Carter, an environmental activist from the Bronx, was practicing for a pro-Tibet protest she had planned for Wednesday during the Olympic torch run. But she was not one of those trying to disrupt the procession. She was one of the torchbearers who would be leading it.
She would wave the Tibetan flag while carrying the very flame that Olympic authorities had worked so meticulously to keep demonstrators away from, adding extra security officers and occasionally making last-minute changes to the route.
Only a handful of people knew of Ms. Carter’s plan. The relay organizers certainly were not among them, though Ms. Carter had dropped a very public hint during a passionate speech she made before thousands of Tibet supporters in San Francisco on Tuesday night.
“Think of me as I’m carrying that torch and understand what’s in my heart as I do,” she said, “and understand I am with you in your fight and in your struggle and that I love you and that I love the people of Tibet.”
Coca-Cola, one of the sponsors of the relay, chose Ms. Carter, 41, to carry the torch in San Francisco, its only United States stop, because of her environmental activism. Ms. Carter started an environmental action group, Sustainable South Bronx, in 2001.
She won one of the MacArthur “genius awards” in 2005, which come with $500,000 grants and are awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to people who show exceptional creativity, originality and potential in their fields.
Ms. Carter agreed to meet on Tuesday with someone from a group called Students for a Free Tibet, who gave her two Tibetan flags — one to go up her sleeve, one to go down her pants as a backup.
The moment arrived about 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Pacific time. Her leg of the run was only about 200 yards, and she would be surrounded by Chinese guards. She knew she had to act fast.
Some people would have been scared, or at least nervous. Ms. Carter said she was neither.
“I really felt a total, complete sense of oneness with the people of Tibet,” she said. She added that as “a civil rights activist in this country,” she could not stand in support of China.
Five seconds into her run down Van Ness Avenue, Ms. Carter pulled the Tibetan flag from her sleeve and began waving it. There she was, a mole at the head of the procession.
She waved the flag for roughly five seconds, until a Chinese guard saw her. He lunged at her. She dodged him. He lunged again and soon wrested the flag from her hand, saying, “Sorry, I can’t let you do this.”
She said she was pushed toward a group of San Francisco police officers, who then pushed her into a crowd of bystanders. Her time in the spotlight was over. The torch kept moving.
On Thursday, staff members at the office of Sustainable South Bronx, the organization Ms. Carter started, sifted through hundreds of e-mails, most of them praising her protest. But some said she had acted disgracefully.
A Coca-Cola spokesman, Kelly Brooks, said, “It’s unfortunate that Ms. Carter used an invitation to participate in the torch relay as a platform to make a personal political statement. We firmly believe the Olympics are a force for good that celebrates the best in sports, and we are proud to support the Beijing 2008 Olympics.”
Ms. Carter, who signed a code of conduct agreement before carrying the torch, said she did not believe she had been prohibited from protesting. A man who carried the flame in San Francisco said that the code prohibits torchbearers from displaying political or religious signs.
At a rally in San Francisco on Wednesday, Ms. Carter was brought to the stage by an escort for the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader who fled Tibet during an uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. People bowed, hugged her, kissed her and cried. They threw scarves around her neck. One person told her she must be related to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Oh my gosh,” Ms. Carter recalled thinking. “Just that one little act that I did was seen as so substantial.”