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  • Duterte's War on Drugs: A Problem and its Roots

    CW: mentions discussion of drug abuse Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is a relatively controversial figure. There is much to discuss concerning his term (started in May 2016), from his approach to foreign policy, to his handling of COVID-19, or even his general execution of democracy in the Philippines. What concerns today’s discussion is a human rights crisis that has been left unaddressed for far too long. While the issue has piqued media interest in spurts over the years of Duterte’s term, the long-lasting consequences of his policies still remain within the social climate of the Philippines. As the end of his term approaches , it is pertinent to reflect upon a major aspect of his presidency: Duterte’s War on Drugs. The Policy and its Execution It is impossible to discuss the War on Drugs without emphasizing its true goal: to effectively lower crime and illegal drug use in the Philippines. And, to its credit, Duterte’s policy worked. The number of drug users in the Philippines has declined 50% after three years of Duterte’s term according to a 2019 survey conducted by the Philippines’ Dangerous Drug Board. But it is a very extreme plan. Unlawful killings of alleged drug abusers are carried out by police without any kind of due process. Victims are killed under police custody rather than tried. Vigilantes are encouraged to incur violence if it means eradicating all drug use. The number of drug suspects killed in anti-drug operations has increased to 5,856 since the crackdown began in July 2016, according to recent data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). That number has likely risen, as this anti-drug campaign is an extremely intensive program that Duterte intends to continue throughout the full run of his term. Duterte’s last State of the Nation address defended the war on drugs, saying that “we still have a long way in our fight against the proliferation of drugs.” The true essence of Duterte’s drug policy is best captured through his direct quote. “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews ... there's 3 million drug addicts. There are. I'd be happy to slaughter them.” These words give the perfect snapshot of Duterte’s ideologies. He is a man passionate for his country, verbally threatening to kill those who “destroy [his] country,” or “destroy the young people of [his] country.” He uses violence to achieve his goals, no matter the cost, even when that violence is heavily disproportionate to someone’s crime. That is what makes him extreme and even dangerous. International Status On June 14th, 2021, Fatou Bensouda, the high prosecutor of the International Crime Court (ICC) requested for an investigation into the drug crackdown in the Philippines after a preliminary examination into the situation was conducted. There was reasonable suspicion, as stated in the report, that “Police and other government officials planned, ordered, and sometimes directly perpetrated extrajudicial killings.” The ICC reviewed reports of police killing thousands during the official law enforcement operations. They also noted that “state officials at the highest levels of government also spoke publicly and repeatedly in support of extrajudicial killings, and created a culture of impunity for those who committed them.” Vigilante justice was a common method of Duterte, which meant allowing private citizens to kill any alleged drug abusers. In some cases, the ICC reports that certain private citizens were paid off to do so. The ICC’s request is still being processed. In the same month, ex-mayor Montasser Sabal was killed in police custody in a rather brutal and ambiguous manner. Sabal was identified as a narco-politician and he allegedly shot an officer during his transportation to Manilla. Details about the officer who was shot were not released, and an investigation led by Alfegar Triambulo is currently underway This casts some suspicion on the Philippine National Police . They hold a vast amount of power, evidenced in the fact that extrajudicial violence is approached as a solution to crime. The police have become the courts and executioners in one There is also potential that they could be corrupt as Human Rights Watch (HRW) research found that police were falsifying evidence to justify these killings and Amnesty International observed impunity and brutality towards those taken into police custody. Interviewed families of victims expressed the inability to fight for justice. A barangay official told Rogie Sebastian to surrender to the police because he was on the “watch list” as a drug user. He had given up drug use months earlier, so he resisted. Two weeks later, three armed masked men wearing bulletproof vests arrived at his home in Manila and handcuffed him. “I could hear Rogie begging for his life from outside the room,” a relative said. “We were crying and the other armed man threatened to kill us as well.” Additionally, the relatives of Edward Sentorias, a jobless father of three killed by the police in Manila, said they had no hope for an investigation: “I saw one of the police go inside with an aluminum briefcase.… [He took] out the gun and some [shabu] sachets, and placed them there [by Sentorias’ body]. I went back to where I was, and was totally shocked. I couldn’t even complain. If we go complain, what is our chance against the authorities?” Duterte’s war on drugs can be viewed in many contexts. Some may say he’s achieving his goals, regardless of the means. Others are shaken by the tragedy of losing friends or relatives so swiftly and brutally. One fact remains clear: this is a violation of human rights. Such brutality is a grossly disproportionate punishment. Public Opinion These policies affect the Filipino public, which is why it’s very important to directly gauge the opinions of his constituents. I managed to interview a man who will simply be referred to as ‘Leoj’ for the remainder of this article. He has lived in the Philippines his whole life, is part of a younger demographic, and an average Filipino citizen. Because of those facts, his analysis and opinions are still valuable insights into the internal workings of Philippine society. On Duterte, Leoj stated that he perceived the president as “a man with a plan that just got ruined with everything that happened in the world.” He indicated an understanding that Duterte carries out his policies with a love for the Philippines in mind - something Duterte has mentioned himself. Leoj presents the impression that Duterte is imposing, straightforward, and powerful - an idea that can be twisted to both positive and negative viewpoints. This is perhaps the reason why Duterte is so controversial. Power can mean many things. “I think that society has something to think wise[ly] about now,” continued Leoj. “Or Filipinos, rather. Duterte’s term caused fear or something to look up to. It’s a borderline between those two.” When asked about alternative plans to squash illegal drug abuse, Leoj said “from a simple guy like me, I don’t have a brain for that, but I think the source of that problem is poverty...and I don’t know how to solve that.” Leoj brings up an extremely relevant issue. To solve a problem, in this case, drug abuse, you must trace it back to the start. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck trying to combat issues that were simply the problem’s effects. Drug abuse goes hand in hand with poverty. Although Duterte characterized his drug crackdown as an operation that targeted drug lords and drug dealers, a report from HRW revealed that many of those killed in police raids were “unemployed or worked menial jobs.” Duterte’s drug plan disproportionately affects poor and urban communities - in fact, prior to his presidency, his policies in Davao City also reflected this. His “Davao Death Squad” earned him a formidable reputation as they often murdered drug abusers, petty criminals, and even street children. This is very telling: the root issue of drug abuse is the impoverishment of the Philippines because the targeted drug abusers share the same background of poverty, being working-class citizens. Whether or not these people were drug abusers is irrelevant. The punishments these victims face is disproportionate to their alleged crimes. Their killings are unlawful and carried out without any investigation. At last, I asked Leoj if he thought that the drug war was a human rights crisis. “I do think so, yes,”...“Even if his intentions are good, he cannot control all of the people.” Reflection Within A Reflection It is noticeably difficult to find direct sources related to public opinion about Duterte within the Philippines. When researching this article, I wanted to get a bigger idea of how Duterte was perceived within the country. However, I could find no opinion pieces published by Philippine media outlets. They were all news sources like DW, Bloomberg, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, etc. This is a result of media censorship, another effect of Duterte’s presidency. A major example that relates to the war on drugs is the case of Rappler founder and executive editor Maria Ressa. Ressa was declared guilty of cyberlibel, or defamation, back in June 2020. The Rappler had long been a Philippine news source that had earned a reputation of being critical of the war on drugs and, overall, critical of the Philippine government. However, this case worked to silence those voices on the basis of government defamation, effectively squashing free speech. I find this to be a very troubling fact, especially in relation to the U.S.A. The Philippines was never truly foreign soil. Trade relations run deep with that little archipelago, which used to be U.S. territory. There is no expectation for the U.S.A. to be the Philippine’s savior. ​​There is, however, the expectation that American society should protect the basic freedoms all human beings hold- including freedom of speech. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. It seems history has proven to be a failsafe frame of reference. The results of World War II run parallel to the War on Drugs - along the same line of American ignorance. Manuel Quezon, a prominent Filipino nationalist, captured this anguish back in the late 1930s : “How typical of America to writhe in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin, Europe, while a daughter, the Philippines, is being raped in the back room!" The blatant abuses presented by Duterte, from his extremism to his violence, paint a portrait of a dangerous man. His drug policy is not something born out of malicious intent. The goals were made clear: eradication of crime and drug abuse. It is the execution that remains the issue. The roots of the problem were not what was attacked. Focus was brought to the reactionary consequences. It is like hacking at the blossoms of a dandelion rather than pulling it from its root. Sure, on the surface, the most obvious problems are gone, but the weeds still remain, choking out your country. Editors: Adele L. Evie F. Raniyah B. This article was orginally written in August 2021. Image Credits: https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/philippine/philippines-journalist-killed-07222021134202.html/@@images/684146e4-378b-4ee4-813f-c5992be1143b.jpeg

  • #FreeBritney

    The power of TikTok is a force to not be reckoned with, second only to BTS stans. As a platform, it allows for a quick rise to fame for new artists, the sell-out of previously underrated products, and most importantly, the attention brought to various social causes. In particular, #FreeBritney started trending after TikTok user ‘blueshoulderpads’ commented on Britney Spears’s video that if the popstar needed help to “wear yellow in [her] next video.” This comment was one of the top ones due to the thousands of likes it initially received and the influx of more after Britney posted an Instagram video of her dancing in a yellow crop top along with another post of her in it captioned: “[y]ellow is my favorite color.” While this started off as just a TikTok conspiracy theory, recent events revealed that Britney is being held under a conservatorship. A conservatorship is when the court appoints a guardian or guardians to manage someone due to mental or physical limitations. Her father James ”Jamie” Spears was in charge of both the financial and personal aspects of this conservatorship up until 2019, when he stepped down as personal conservator and was replaced by Jodi Montgomery, an experienced conservator. Let’s start from the very beginning. Britney Spears became a household name after the 1999 debut of her hit song “Baby One More Time” to premiere her album. Things were about as normal as they can get for someone who becomes a pop star at 16-years-old until 2007. In a custody battle with her ex-husband Kevin Federline, Britney locked herself in the bathroom. The infamous head shaving took place. Subsequently, she was sent to a mental hospital where she was held for 24 hours. The conservatorship did not begin until 2008, where Britney’s continuous struggle with mental health had her hospitalized. Upon release, a court granted James a temporary conservatorship that was later extended to a permanent one under the pretense that Britney was mentally unable to take care of herself. Under this conservatorship, everything Britney does is regulated. She cannot see her friends, drive with her boyfriend in his car, was forced to take lithium, cannot have therapy in privacy, and has an IUD (a form of birth control) in her that she cannot remove. In November of 2020, Britney filed a request to remove her father as co-conservator. Ultimately, the court denied it, stating in the filings that ""[t]he conservator's request to suspend James P. Spears immediately upon the appointment of Bessemer Trust Company of California as sole conservator of estate is denied without prejudice” (not dismissed forever). Countless celebrities are showing their support for Britney. Iggy Azalea shared her strange experiences with James where he forced her to sign an NDA before performing and watched the amount of sodas Britney drank. Madonna and other celebrities are even setting up a legal fund for Britney. On the other hand, James’s response to the #FreeBritney movement was calling it a “joke” and claiming that “[a]ll these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything” (Page Six). During the July court hearing, Britney told the judge that she wanted to press charges against her father for conservatorship abuse. Since, Jodi Montgomery and James began a court dispute regarding her mental health and a potential 5150 psychiatric hold. Montgomery, through her lawyers, claims that she never said Britney qualified for the hold in their phone call, but James misrepresented her concerns for Britney’s mental health even stating that, “Jamie Spears continuing to serve as her Conservator instead of a neutral professional fiduciary is having a serious impact on Ms. Spears' mental health” (TMZ). In a recent court filing, James states that there are “no grounds whatsoever” for his removal as co-conservator. James can argue all he wants to prove his “innocence” and “love” for his daughter. However, there is something exploitative and evil about Britney being forced to release albums, perform at award shows, and go on tour without any of her own freedom and access to her own finances from the revenue she generates. Despite James’s doubts of the movement and removal, it appears that public pressure finally got the best of him. After Britney’s new attorney filed a petition, James finally agreed to step down from the conservatorship on August 13th, but only after an orderly transition and a “resolution of matters” (AP). It’s still unclear when exactly this will happen. Although Britney will still remain under a court conservatorship, it’s a step in the right direction. On August 5th, Britney received her first iPad, and shared her excitement on Instagram. It’s great to see Britney finally be able to buy her own things, but also equally heartbreaking to know that she has not been able to all these years. The fact that she has been under this conservatorship and is still struggling to remove it even with all the public pressure raises questions about non-famous women who also have to suffer under the control of others. While Britney is stripped of her reproductive rights with a forced IUD, it is still legal in many states for disabled women to undergo non-consensual sterilization. Every woman out there deserves complete autonomy--especially regarding reproductive rights. “I deserve to have a life” -Britney Spears. Editors: Amber T., Lillian H., Raniyah B.

  • A Fight for Freedom: The Ongoing Protests in Cuba

    Chants of “Libertad (freedom),” “We want change,” and “Down with the dictatorship” rang as protests rocked the streets of Cuba for the first time in over 60 years. Citizens protested the lack of access to food and water, skyrocketing prices of necessities such as medicine and fuel, and power outages amid rising coronavirus cases. On July 11th, thousands of Cubans flooded the streets in San Antonio de los Baños to march against the Cuban government and the communist regime. Since then, more than 40 cities and towns have seen a surge of protests, all triggered by the Cuban government’s poor response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a shortage of basic goods and services. The protests represent one of the largest anti-government demonstrations on the island since 1994. In response to the demonstrations, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canal deployed security forces throughout the country – detaining, beating, and pepper-spraying protestors. He has even encouraged government supporters to go out and confront protestors on national television. Authorities have reportedly detained many journalists and activists, and more than 100 people have been arrested or have gone missing. Footage of protesters being arrested or injured by security has been uploaded onto social media and spread far and wide. Díaz-Canel’s government has also reportedly disrupted communication by halting internet service run by the state-owned telecommunications company Etecsa. Access to social media and messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram has been restricted in an attempt to stifle unrest and media coverage. This reflects the alarming willingness of the Cuban government to suppress citizens’ calls for civil liberties as well as economic and political accountability. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cuban economy suffered greatly, with the Cuban Minister of Economy, Alejandro Gil, stating the economy shrunk by about 11%. In addition to a significant decline in the tourism industry, many families stopped receiving remittances – which are both major sources of revenue for the country. As a result, many citizens had to wait in long lines for basic necessities like food, medicine, and hygiene products. Additionally, the constant electricity cuts amid the July heat added to the tension. ​​While the economic crisis created by COVID-19 arguably sparked the protests, the government’s instability is also a result of the economic and political history between Cuba and the U.S. In the late 19th century, when Cuba first became an independent nation, the U.S. implemented neocolonialist policies in many Latin American countries to protect their own economic interests. The Platt Amendment, which defined U.S. and Cuban relations from 1902-1934, stated: “The government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power of powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba.” Additionally, “The United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.” The Cuban economy became dominated by American economic interests. Natural resources from Cuba were exported to the U.S. for manufacturing purposes, and in turn, Cuba became economically dependent on the U.S. At this time, the Cuban government supported the U.S. in their interference, with little consideration for the Cuban people. The U.S. and the Cuban government benefited greatly while Cuba’s domestic economy became increasingly weak. In 1959, a revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro, overthrew the U.S. backed government and allied itself with the country’s communist party making Castro the head of the state. Throughout the following decades, the ineffective communist dictatorship failed the Cuban people, who were unable to protest the wealth and race inequalities along with the lack of economic prospects without risking violent retaliation from the authoritarian government. Quickly, relations between the U.S. and Cuba soured as Castro nationalized American owned property, and refused to cooperate with U.S. economic demands. The U.S. also grew wary of a Soviet-aligned Cuban government not far from its shores in the quickly escalating Cold War. This caused the U.S. to impose a historically long embargo on Cuba, greatly harming the Cuban economy as it banned American businesses from working in Cuba. The tensions of the Cold War also led to violence between the two countries. After the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Cuba continued its communist regime, despite their deteriorating economy after losing Soviet backing. Even though the regime was largely supported by Cuban citizens due to Castro’s use of anti-U.S. rhetoric and propaganda, over time, Cuba’s instability and use of surveillance and police control to quell citizen protests led to a desire for the end of the authoritarian government in Cuba. When Miguel Díaz-Canel was appointed President of Cuba in 2019, many citizens found themselves lacking loyalty towards him because he was the first leader not from the Castro family. Although President Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged that Cuba needed to liberalize its economy to maintain stability, the gradual changes implemented by the regime were ill-equipped to prepare the country for the disaster that would be the COVID-19 pandemic. The government still heavily controlled much of it’s private sector while the economy was already suffering due to the strict economic and political trade restrictions re-implemented by the Trump administration. Cuba was ill-equipped to handle a global pandemic. When COVID-19 struck, all tourism (which made up 10% of Cuba's economy) collapsed, and the Cuban economy subsequently contracted. According to the World Food Programme, Cuba also imports about 70-80% of its food, and a drop in global trade and imports to the country created a scarcity of basic resources. This, on top of spreading COVID-19 infections drove people to take to the streets to make themselves heard. While Biden had planned to follow through with his pledge to loosen the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo, he claims that President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s refusal to listen to his people is currently preventing these promises from becoming a reality. But instead of just punishing Cuba’s president, these trade restrictions are hurting the people of Cuba, once again demonstrating the neo-imperialist power dynamic between the two countries. Even though discontent with the state of Cuba’s economy already existed, the effects of COVID-19 have heavily exacerbated the consequences. The historic protest has accelerated calls for change in Cuba but has also applied pressure to the U.S. to change its stance and treatment of the country. While President Biden has openly stated his support of the protestors, he is yet to enact changes that reverse the harmful policy of his predecessor. One of President Obama’s biggest foreign policy achievements was his ability to establish diplomatic relations with the small island nation again in 2015. However, when Donald Trump became president in 2016, he slowly began reversing many of Obama’s stances on Cuba, re-implementing many sanctions that Obama had eased or lifted, and eventually redesignating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism.” The protests are the result of multiple issues that have come to a head in recent years, from decades of suppression from the Cuban government to the tense relations between the U.S. and Cuba steeped in a deep history of U.S. imperialism and neocolonialism. We must continue to push for change from both the U.S. and Cuban government by holding the Biden administration to its promises to ease economic sanctions and provide economic support, while supporting the protestors in their fight for greater personal freedoms and better quality of life. The Cuban government must answer the call from its people, and take accountability for its part in the crisis. We all must continue to uplift Cuban voices and support the community both in Cuba and the U.S. in their fight for change. Editors: Rachel C., Raniyah B., Amirah A., Nava E., Roshni C., Tee N., Vishal P.

  • We Must Remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre

    June 4th, 2021 marks the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre – and the first year since the 1989 massacre where no formal commemoration event will be held as per government-sponsored censorship rules. Following a tumultuous year of pandemic restrictions, civil and political unrest, and government censorship, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has deemed vigils to commemorate the deaths of up to several thousand peaceful protesters an “unauthorized political act.” Some of the most notable vigils in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan were restricted and, in Hong Kong, the national security law was invoked warning people to stay away. While censorship of sensitive words, photos, numbers, and symbols that reference the massacre has always been the case in the PRC, the government suppression of voices has recently expanded into Hong Kong. Since 1990, Hong Kong has held two vigils every year to remember the bloodshed of peaceful protests at Tiananmen. The past two years, however, have seen increased government suppression: those taking part or promoting vigils could face more than 5 years in jail, activists have been silenced through enforced “holidays,” online events have been shut down, and tighter security has been applied to the Beijing square. To understand the significance of seeking accountability for the Tiananmen Massacre, it is important to address the events that led up to the massacre. While China’s rapid economic success after the end of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s death in 1976 introduced foreign ideas of western democracy and liberalism, it also provided opportunities for corruption within the government. In the 1980s, then Secretary-General Hu Yaobang implemented many reforms that overturned several Mao-era policies. He opened up the country to new ideas including those of free-market capitalism and was sympathetic to student’s demands for democratic reform. However, the government's lack of transparency and suppression of the press, in addition to rising inflation, cultivated dissatisfaction among youths, causing widespread and small-scale pro-democratic protests to erupt as early as 1986. This eventually led to Hu’s forced resignation as many other party leaders blamed him for encouraging social instability due to his ‘liberal’ views. In April 1989, Hu Yaobang's death sparked a large-scale pro-democracy movement with calls for better education, freedom of the press, and the right to protest. Tens of thousands of students arrived at Tiananmen Square on the day of his funeral. In the following weeks, the number of protestors grew to be more than 300,000, many of which were university students that came from different cities. Some began hunger strikes as a means of gaining worldwide attention and sympathy to pressure the Chinese government into meeting their demands. The protests divided the Chinese Communist Party internally into those who wanted to reach a consensus with the students and those who wanted to enact martial law to disperse them. On May 20, martial law was declared and the military was mobilized into the square. On June 1, Premier Li Peng issued a report justifying the strong military action against the students, claiming that American forces were involved in the student movement and attempting to overthrow the Communist Party. On the night of June 3rd, the military opened fire on the protestors. The violence lasted well into the next day, as troops used tear gas and machine guns to try and disperse the protest. The magnitude of deaths that occurred during the Tiananmen Square Massacre is still debated today. Reports from the Chinese State Council count the number of deaths to be around 300 people, while other groups claim that it is as high as 4,000. In one night, hundreds, possibly thousands, of protestors were murdered. However, the true number of deaths is at risk of being lost. Because of ongoing censorship, the names, fates, and stories of the victims are largely unknown as it is nearly impossible to openly discuss the events. Chinese social media and search engines filter out any mention of the events taking place and showing remembrance or commemorating the event is considered an act of defiance. By erasing the Tiananmen Square Massacre from history and denying it ever happened, the Chinese government is avoiding not only the responsibility for its use of violence but any remorse or apology for what occurred. Today, freedom of speech and assembly is still denied and the families of those who were killed are closely monitored. Activists have been imprisoned or exiled, and discussions bring the threat of detainment. Three decades and several successions of power later, the government has gone as far as rewriting the history books in an attempt to portray the student protestors as rioters and foreign infiltrators. Mainland China has banned any public events in remembrance of the massacre and has suppressed any voices that try to speak out. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are some of the few places where vigils and gatherings are commonly held every year. The local government in Hong Kong this year, however, had decided to ban any public gatherings relating to the anniversary, citing public health concerns and possible violations of the National Security Law imposed after the 2019 pro-democracy protests.The law, which banned many forms of public gathering and criminalized many forms of protest and political dissidence in the city, has bolstered police power and presences in regards to political events. Before the pandemic, thousands of Hong Kongers would gather in a yearly vigil at Victoria Park to light candles and sing songs to honor those who were killed in the massacre. This year, the Hong Kong Police closed down the park, placing barricades around the football fields and increasing police presence to guard and prevent any gathering. Two days before the anniversary, the June 4th Museum, which had opened earlier in the week, closed down after it was placed under investigation over the validity of its licenses to conduct a public exhibition. On the morning of the anniversary, police arrested Chow Hang-tung, the Vice-Chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, alleging that she had used social media to organize a public event banned by the police. The park stood empty, but that didn’t stop several organizing efforts from activists, community leaders, and government officials to find other ways for people to commemorate the event. In Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, several people came together in spontaneous gatherings, lighting candles or flashing the lights on their phones despite heavy police presence. Police said they had arrested at least six people gathered near the park and in other places. In other locations, people gathered in churches, where religious leaders held services in remembrance of the events. In Taiwan, leaders called for China to “return power to the people.” Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen stated, “I believe all Taiwanese people who are proud of freedom and democracy will never forget this day in history and will hold tighter to our convictions.” However, Taiwan was unable to host any vigils or gatherings this year, as the island is facing a spike in coronavirus cases. To acknowledge the anniversary of this historical event is crucial, as the expression of conflicting political voices in China is as precarious as ever before. Commemorating the 4th is an act of defiance in face of a government actively trying to stamp out any memory of what occurred, an ongoing feat of resistance in a time where people are still being silenced. We must remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre because it was not a crackdown, or incident, or counter-revolutionary riot. It was a massacre. Remembering the event not only pays tribute to those who were killed – it garners much needed recognition and support for those who can not speak up themselves, while carrying on the spirit of freedom and democracy of the 1989 protestors. - Current Events Editorial Staff Cover photo: https://time.com/5601995/tianenmen-square-china-legacy/

  • We Must Remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre

    June 4th, 2021 marks the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre – and the first year since the 1989 massacre where no formal commemoration event will be held as per government-sponsored censorship rules. Following a tumultuous year of pandemic restrictions, civil and political unrest, and government censorship, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has deemed vigils to commemorate the deaths of up to several thousand peaceful protesters an “unauthorized political act.” Some of the most notable vigils in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan were restricted and, in Hong Kong, the national security law was invoked warning people to stay away. While censorship of sensitive words, photos, numbers, and symbols that reference the massacre has always been the case in the PRC, the government suppression of voices has recently expanded into Hong Kong. Since 1990, Hong Kong has held two vigils every year to remember the bloodshed of peaceful protests at Tiananmen. The past two years, however, have seen increased government suppression: those taking part or promoting vigils could face more than 5 years in jail, activists have been silenced through enforced “holidays,” online events have been shut down, and tighter security has been applied to the Beijing square. To understand the significance of seeking accountability for the Tiananmen Massacre, it is important to address the events that led up to the massacre. While China’s rapid economic success after the end of the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s death in 1976 introduced foreign ideas of western democracy and liberalism, it also provided opportunities for corruption within the government. In the 1980s, then Secretary-General Hu Yaobang implemented many reforms that overturned several Mao-era policies. He opened up the country to new ideas including those of free-market capitalism and was sympathetic to student’s demands for democratic reform. However, the government's lack of transparency and suppression of the press, in addition to rising inflation, cultivated dissatisfaction among youths, causing widespread and small-scale pro-democratic protests to erupt as early as 1986. This eventually led to Hu’s forced resignation as many other party leaders blamed him for encouraging social instability due to his ‘liberal’ views. In April 1989, Hu Yaobang's death sparked a large-scale pro-democracy movement with calls for better education, freedom of the press, and the right to protest. Tens of thousands of students arrived at Tiananmen Square on the day of his funeral. In the following weeks, the number of protestors grew to be more than 300,000, many of which were university students that came from different cities. Some began hunger strikes as a means of gaining worldwide attention and sympathy to pressure the Chinese government into meeting their demands. The protests divided the Chinese Communist Party internally into those who wanted to reach a consensus with the students and those who wanted to enact martial law to disperse them. On May 20, martial law was declared and the military was mobilized into the square. On June 1, Premier Li Peng issued a report justifying the strong military action against the students, claiming that American forces were involved in the student movement and attempting to overthrow the Communist Party. On the night of June 3rd, the military opened fire on the protestors. The violence lasted well into the next day, as troops used tear gas and machine guns to try and disperse the protest. The magnitude of deaths that occurred during the Tiananmen Square Massacre is still debated today. Reports from the Chinese State Council count the number of deaths to be around 300 people, while other groups claim that it is as high as 4,000. In one night, hundreds, possibly thousands, of protestors were murdered. However, the true number of deaths is at risk of being lost. Because of ongoing censorship, the names, fates, and stories of the victims are largely unknown as it is nearly impossible to openly discuss the events. Chinese social media and search engines filter out any mention of the events taking place and showing remembrance or commemorating the event is considered an act of defiance. By erasing the Tiananmen Square Massacre from history and denying it ever happened, the Chinese government is avoiding not only the responsibility for its use of violence but any remorse or apology for what occurred. Today, freedom of speech and assembly is still denied and the families of those who were killed are closely monitored. Activists have been imprisoned or exiled, and discussions bring the threat of detainment. Three decades and several successions of power later, the government has gone as far as rewriting the history books in an attempt to portray the student protestors as rioters and foreign infiltrators. Mainland China has banned any public events in remembrance of the massacre and has suppressed any voices that try to speak out. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are some of the few places where vigils and gatherings are commonly held every year. The local government in Hong Kong this year, however, had decided to ban any public gatherings relating to the anniversary, citing public health concerns and possible violations of the National Security Law imposed after the 2019 pro-democracy protests.The law, which banned many forms of public gathering and criminalized many forms of protest and political dissidence in the city, has bolstered police power and presences in regards to political events. Before the pandemic, thousands of Hong Kongers would gather in a yearly vigil at Victoria Park to light candles and sing songs to honor those who were killed in the massacre. This year, the Hong Kong Police closed down the park, placing barricades around the football fields and increasing police presence to guard and prevent any gathering. Two days before the anniversary, the June 4th Museum, which had opened earlier in the week, closed down after it was placed under investigation over the validity of its licenses to conduct a public exhibition. On the morning of the anniversary, police arrested Chow Hang-tung, the Vice-Chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, alleging that she had used social media to organize a public event banned by the police. The park stood empty, but that didn’t stop several organizing efforts from activists, community leaders, and government officials to find other ways for people to commemorate the event. In Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, several people came together in spontaneous gatherings, lighting candles or flashing the lights on their phones despite heavy police presence. Police said they had arrested at least six people gathered near the park and in other places. In other locations, people gathered in churches, where religious leaders held services in remembrance of the events. In Taiwan, leaders called for China to “return power to the people.” Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen stated, “I believe all Taiwanese people who are proud of freedom and democracy will never forget this day in history and will hold tighter to our convictions.” However, Taiwan was unable to host any vigils or gatherings this year, as the island is facing a spike in coronavirus cases. To acknowledge the anniversary of this historical event is crucial, as the expression of conflicting political voices in China is as precarious as ever before. Commemorating the 4th is an act of defiance in face of a government actively trying to stamp out any memory of what occurred, an ongoing feat of resistance in a time where people are still being silenced. We must remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre because it was not a crackdown, or incident, or counter-revolutionary riot. It was a massacre. Remembering the event not only pays tribute to those who were killed – it garners much needed recognition and support for those who can not speak up themselves, while carrying on the spirit of freedom and democracy of the 1989 protests. Current Events Editorial Staff

  • Dear Childhood

    TW: gun violence I miss the innocent days of childhood. Sometimes I wonder, when did the world get so big? Sometimes I wonder if it was always such a scary place. I wonder if it was always so. Sometimes I long for those days. Being able to run carefree without any worries. No thought of the complexities of global politics or evil politicians. No thought to the existence of racism, discrimination, hatred, division. The days when I didn’t live in fear. When the other kids on the playground were just like me. We could accept each other as we were. And not question who they were because of the way they spoke or the way they dressed. The days before we were all sent to school. Before we would have our culture and traditions Mocked, teased, and questioned right in front of us. Before we were told we were the “bright future of our nation” And then told we were “naive,” “immature,” and “unaware.” The days before we learned to categorize people by the color of their skin. When we didn’t separate our peers by race, gender, politics, or religion. When someone else's beliefs weren’t rooted in my own oppression. To the kids whose parents never taught them about other cultures. Who made me believe that my language, food, and culture were “weird.” Who made me believe that if I didn’t fit their image of how their parents viewed my race I was a disappointment, a failure. To the teachers who never realized their own biases. Who could never see the world from the eyes of their students. Who could never realize their own prejudice and misconceptions Would hurt me and my peers. To the world leaders who said we are all “just a bunch of kids” That we are too young, too naive to understand how to fix the world The same leaders who hold the power to make the world a better place Yet do nothing when our environment is slowly melting, and kids are being shot at school I keep thinking about how I was always told to leave it to the “adults.” How we could trust them to keep the world a safe place. I question if they ever have. If they ever made the world a safe place. Ever pursued peace, justice, equity, and equality with the energy and fervor of a child. A child who knows not of wealth, or class. A child who knows not of race or color. A child who knows not of political party, or political allegiance. For we weren’t born to hate. For we weren't born with racism in our hearts. For we weren’t born with the want to divide ourselves. For we weren’t born with evil and malice to one another. Sometimes when they say to spring forward, you have to take a few steps back, And I think we had the right idea as kids. Every one of us. To not see race a reflection of one's personality, To not see another culture as a stereotype or caricature. To not internalize the hatred that we were taught. To be kind, to be loving, and above all, human. - Chris Fong Chew Cover Photo Source: Boston University

  • Cultural Imposter

    For the longest time, I have felt like an imposter in my own culture. Maybe it was the times I was called “white-washed” by my peers, Or the times I felt excluded because I felt I wasn’t Asian enough. For the longest time, I never saw myself as a Person of Color. Maybe it was the textbooks that defined race in America as Black and white, Or being told that Asian Americans were the model minority. I lived, for the longest time, uncomfortably in between. Unable to define my place in the American narrative. Not white, not Black. But excluded by both. Not Asian enough, but still not enough to be American. Unable to define my own identity. Too “white-washed” to be “Asian”, But still a perpetual foreigner in the land I was born and raised in. This wh*te supremacist lie, so deeply internalized, that I have lived comfortably in turmoil, For All my life. Thinking that this. was. normal. Now I feel anger. Anger over my 20 years of life, living this lie. Living this wh*te. supremacist. lie. Because, I am Asian enough. I am Chinese enough. I am American enough. I am not a pawn in this white man’s game of race. My ability to succeed in this white supremicist society does not define my value My value is my ability to stand with my Black brothers and sisters With my Latine brothers and sisters, With my Indigenous brothers and sisters, And white allies. In love. In peace. In solidarity. - Chris Fong Chew 招偉明 Cover art source: https://terranceosborne.com/product/solidarity/

  • Filipina

    This digital art piece is an exploration of my cultural identity. I thought a lot about feeling split between my Filipino ethnicity and my American upbringing. As a child of immigrants, the culture of my parents is imbued in my own experiences. It impacts my life in a lot of ways, from the food I eat to the ideals I hold. In the process of creating this, I used my hair as a representation of a part of my identity. My hair is extremely thick, and oftentimes difficult to deal with. It’s that coarse Filipino texture that frizzes in humidity, and contingently, a symbol of my cultural identity. It’s also gone through a great deal of evolution as I’ve sought to tame it. It’s been dyed and cut countless times, straightened, curled, and everything else in between. Nothing has ever been able to control it in a way that I am satisfied with, but I’ve learned to embrace it somewhat. In my artwork, my hair represents the part of me that is Filipino. Symbolically, the act of cutting one’s hair in the media is oftentimes shorthand for development and change in a character. It is cut here as a reference to this, as well as the degree of separation I feel from the culture. I know I’ll never truly be a Filipino, but at the same time, I don’t have the same ideologies, experiences, or lifestyles as the majority of my American peers. Even if I have come to accept my differences and learn that this doesn’t change my worth as a person, it still bothers me. I’m not sure if there will ever be a time where being stuck between cultures doesn’t bother me, but I think I can still be proud of my own evolution in grappling with that. The flag and the details within it are very much a representation of what I’ve taken and learned from my Filipino culture. There’s the food I grew up with, Tagalog phrases I hear often, and cultural garb. Things that appear in my life without American influence, but still on the periphery of my existence. As an American citizen first and foremost, I do not possess the same pride and nationalism as Filipino citizens that have grown up in that archipelago. Hence why the red side of the flag—the one that represents such values—is featured the least in my artwork. It’s an act of reluctance and co-existing loyalties. I love the country of my parents, but I cannot truly call it home. Still, there are essences of myself that are fully defined by my Asian culture. The history is my own, as are the hopes held by the Filipino community. The liberty and freedom symbolized by the flag’s sun, a triumph to taking up arms against Spain—that is the story of my people. The white triangle embodies hope for equality, something I still yearn for despite my distance from the nation. And finally, the blue stripe: a representation of justice and peace. It id a message most important in the current climate of the nation that I’m witnessing before my eyes; for even if I cannot call the Philippines my home, it isn’t a place that’s entirely foreign. I will always care for the Pearl of the Orient, a place of people that I call my own, people that I care for. If anything, it is home in the strangest sense possible. The culture itself has become my home and part of who I am. I am Filipina, no less than any other, no less full of love for that country. - Billy Agustin

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