Newswire Services, via California Chronicle, December 29, 2007-
When, those who understand the deplorable state of human rights in China heard that Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard had invited Beijing to submit a float in the internationally famed Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, they immediately formed a coalition to oppose the float or at least to give human rights equal time.
However, no matter what the coalition proposed, it did not satisfy the City of Pasadena.
On Christmas Eve, Pasadena City’s Public Affairs Office issued a press release, alleging, “Human Rights Coalition Requests, then Rejects ‘Torch Relay Proposal.’” The City’s press release, which is attached hereto, contains disinformation, and deliberately mischaracterizes the spirit and letter of the interaction the human rights coalition had with the city.
The Pasadena Coalition for Human Rights in China provides the following synopsis and chronology of the 6-month saga.
I. Mayor Bogaard Invites a Beijing Float to Participate in the Rose Parade
On May 21, 2007, at a Tournament of Roses press conference, a Chinese government official formally announced that Beijing would have a float in the Rose Parade.
In 2004, Pasadena City’s Sister City Committee first invited China to participate in the 2008 Rose Bowl Parade. After two years of Beijing’s inaction, Mayor Bill Bogaard revived the invitation in 2006.
The Chinese government-controlled media saw the propaganda value of being in the Rose Parade, and immediately pumped out articles, calling it the kick-off event of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
II. China’s Broken Olympics Promise
The Olympic Charter proclaims that the “Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on … respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”
Olympic Games that disregard these ethical principles face Olympic shame –just as the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin did.
The Beijing Olympics is the only Olympics awarded to a host country based on a promise to improve human rights. However, since that promise was made in 2001, human rights in China have not improved; they have, in fact, deteriorated for the many different groups of the oppressed in China – Falun Gong, Tibetans, Christians and others. In addition, China supports repressive regimes such as those in Sudan, Burma and North Korea, helping to plunge people there into worse human rights conditions. The inclusion of the Beijing Olympics float in the internationally famed Rose Parade, viewed by 300 million TV viewers, sends the wrong message to the world and assists China’s propaganda game of masking its extensive and severe human rights violations.
A coalition of human rights groups quickly formed to ask Pasadena City and the Tournament of Roses Association to reject the Beijing float and give human rights a voice in the Rose Parade.
III. The Pasadena City Council Rejects Human Relations Commission’s Recommendations
In response to the victims’ and the human rights groups’ appeals to the Pasadena City Council during its July 16 meeting, Councilman Chris Holden proposed, and the Council approved a review of controversy by the Human Relations Commission.
The Human Relations Commission report submitted on September 29, recommended that the City Council issue a strong statement decrying China’s human rights abuses and present it to the officials of Pasadena’s Chinese sister city, Xicheng. The commission also called on council members to arrange a meeting between all parties in order to have tournament officials and float sponsors take action to support human rights, make the float less offensive to rights advocates, or include a pro-human rights figure or group in the parade.
Although members of the City Council praised the report as being the best that any commission had ever submitted, it rejected every recommendation. Because of his role in inviting Beijing to submit a float, many had called on the mayor to recuse himself from the matter but the mayor has steadfastly refused.
IV. The Tournament of Roses Allowed a Pre-Parade Human Rights Torch Relay
In response to the coalition’s request and public outcry over the City’s rejection of its own Commission’s recommendation, the Tournament of Roses Association met with representatives of the coalition on November 13, 2008, invited the coalition to submit a plan for a well organized, first class, Human Rights event, to take place on January 1, 2008, prior to the 8 a.m. start of the Rose Parade.
From November 13 until December 11, the coalition met with the Tournament of Roses multiple times. To ensure that the pre-parade could finish in time for the Rose Parade, the coalition agreed to move the event up to 6:30 am. On December 11, the Tournament of Roses accepted the fourth version of the plan and timesheet, named Plan C, and had faxed it the City’s Police Department. The coalition also submitted the same plan to the City Manager.
On December 6, 2007, the City Manager called the coalition and said that she will be happy to assist in getting the city’s approval once the coalition worked out the plan with the Tournament of Roses. In all interactions prior to December 18, the City had never indicated there was a problem with the plans for a human rights event on New Years Day.
V. The City Rejects the Pre-Parade Human Rights Torch Relay at the Last Minute
On December 18, just two weeks before the event, in a meeting set up by the City Manager, Police Chief Melekian cited “security concerns,” completely tore up “Plan C”, and gave three “options” to the coalition, all of which would minimize the visibility of human rights actions on New Year’s Day. Representatives of the coalition, still concerned that human rights needed a voice, rejected the three options.
Chief Melekian told a journalist that the police would allow the coalition a pre-parade march, with no limit to number of people participating. When the coalition asked about the option of the pre-parade march, Commander Gales flatly rejected it. The coalition made repeated inquiries about what might be acceptable, and was told a small vehicle might be used, and no more than 500 hundred people would be allowed to march.
The coalition devised Plan D, which combined the three elements that chief Melekian had proposed. It included a 100-man marching band, a 13.5 x 5-foot Cushman Super Truck equipped with microphone and loud speakers, and ethnic communities carrying their various banners. Plan D, significantly down-sized version of Plan C; all elements that the police had explicitly objected to, were removed.
Plan D was sent to Commander Gales on the morning of December 20. He rejected it and would only consider a plan that was “significantly scaled back” and turned in before 5 pm that same day. The coalition felt that the police were not negotiating in good faith, and did not submit a further revision.
On the night of December 20, once again through a journalist, the coalition learned that the only objection the police had to Plan D was the “super-sized truck.” The coalition then sent an email to Commander Gales, offering to replace the 13 ½-foot Cushman Super Truck with a hand-pushed four-wheel cart. The coalition never received a reply.
VI. The City’s Offer to Hold the Human Rights Event in the Dark
In the afternoon on December 21, Dr. Tim Kelly, a consultant for Avery Dennison (co-sponsor of the Beijing Olympics float), called a meeting between representatives of human rights, the mayor, the police chief, and Tournament of Roses. Two options were discussed. However, both options had the event moved earlier to 6:00 a.m. Since the sun would not rise until 6:58 on January 1, 2008, the event would have to take place in near-total darkness.
The two sides agreed to a deadline of 12 noon on December 22 for the coalition to give the City a reply. The two sides also agreed that neither side would disclose the meeting to the media before Monday, December 24th. The mayor also indicated that he had participated in the meeting as a private individual, but that if the coalition disclosed the meeting to the media, the city’s offer would be nullified. The meeting was tape-recorded, and the city agreed to provide a copy of the tape to the coalition on December 24.
On the morning of December 22, the coalition held a meeting. They thought there could be no other explanation for the city’s “offer” but to force the coalition to hold its human rights event in the dark so as to minimize its visibility and impact. The coalition decided to reject both of the 6 a.m. offers. Since clearing the street was one of Police Department’s main concerns, the coalition counter-offered a simple march one minute before the Rose Parade, as the police would be clearing the street anyway.
This proposal also was rejected.
The City then issued a press release, which claimed that the coalition had agreed to the two options, even though there was never an agreement. The mayor also disregarded his own claim of acting as a private person at the negotiation meeting and used the mayor’s office to issue the release.
Although the coalition has requested the promised tape of the meeting on December 21, to date, the coalition has not received it.
VII. Remarks and Questions
While there have been moments of good will and hope, it is unfortunate that the wishes of kindhearted people and the victims of China’s abuse will not be heard. It is a situation, however, that China’s human rights abusers want.
The heart of the matter is: How can a democratic city government invite a propaganda float from a despotic regime, but refuse victims of that despotic regime a dignified platform? The City can spin it however it wants; the City can even say that the options given to the coalition were adequate. However, the City will never be able to justly answer how can this free country allow a tyrannical regime’s propaganda vehicle to gain international publicity, but force human rights supporters to speak only in the dark?!
To justify his acts, the mayor has used various excuses. Although he invited the Beijing float, he claims the voters only mandated him to address local issues. He has dismissed China’s human rights violations as mere “allegations.” In spite of the Beijing float controversy, the mayor, on August 9, 2007, pledged to the Consul General of People’s Republic of China that, “Pasadena will do its best to cooperate with Beijing’s needs for the Olympic Games.” Is that also in the voters’ mandate?
It remains for the reader to determine from our synopsis whether the City acted in good faith, whether the City ever intended to provide a voice for human rights in the face of the despotic regime it invited to Pasadena, and whether the City has a firm commitment to human rights. We hope all people everywhere will choose human rights over kowtowing to despotic regimes whenever that choice presents itself. The City of Pasadena has failed to do so.
- Report from California Chronicle