In the Cold of February, Utica’s Burmese population (from the country of Myanmar) rallied at Oneida Sqaure to protest the Military Dictatorship that took over the government and has been oppressing the civilians ever since. With the exception of the weather, the same scene took place today.
Brief from previous article:
The short version of their recent history is this: in 1962, the Burmese military took over the democratic government and began an oppressive dictatorship that greatly restricted civil liberties. In 1988, civilians began uprising via protests that were met with mass violence from the state. It wasn’t until 2011 that the military allowed elections again. In 2015, the population overwhelmingly voted for the National League for Democracy party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has been an extremely popular president which makes her problematic for the military wanting to regain control.
In November of last year, the Democracy party again won the election. Upset by Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory, the military insisted that the election was fraudulent and used this as grounds for their coup. The military lead by Min Aung Hlaing arrested Suu Kyi and most of her administration and announced that they would allow elections to occur again in one year, but that promise has not been greatly believed by the civilians. Since the coup, the military has shut down the internet and various media outlets. The Burmese people have begun protesting both domestically and abroad.
Since February, the situation has changed dramatically. The Burmese Military’s suppression methods have escalated from simply using tear gas and pepper spray to outright killing hundreds of protesters and even children as young as six. There are no neighboring nations allowing refugees, so the Burmese civilians are trapped. Many of those trapped civilians are family members of the Burmese here in Utica.
Utica’s Burmese, like Burmese all over the world, know that the civilians haven’t the weapons or any militant means to overthrow the military. So, they are demanding that the United Nations intervene and restore their democratic government. This is why many of the protesters carried signs mentioning R2P (Responsibility To Protect), which is a UN rule about intervening in violent situations to prevent genocide. Basically, R2P is a rule the UN is supposed to follow to make sure Rwanda never happens again. However, the protesters believe that China and Russia are backing the Dictatorship, so they have doubts about any real UN intervention.
But one protester reminded her compatriots not to lose hope. A 16-year-old Burmese girl named Sandi spoke at the end of today’s rally in English and in Burmese. Sandi quoted the official figure of the death toll; at least 550 civilians, 45 of which were children. Her voice began to give way to tears as she continued, but Sandi ended with an urgent message of, “Please continue to support R2P (UN anti genocide ethic). We have to win. We will win. But we have to win before more lives are lost.”
Like last time, the crowd is a diverse make up of Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims and various Burmese ethnicities like the Karen and Chin. Some wore hijabs and others wore Buddhist robes, but all showed solidarity in their outrage. Symbols from The Hunger Games franchise were abundant as the franchise inspired the Burmese resistance.
Halfway into the event, a middle-aged man in blue gave some sort of a formal address to the U.S. and Burmese flags as he stood at attention and saluted. An organizer said that this gentleman was one of the revolutionaries from the 1988 Uprisings against the military and was paying his respects to fallen freedom fighters.
Later, a local pastor made a speech, and Buddhist priests started praying. At one point, children began laying flowers at memorial plaque to the victims of the regime. They did this specifically for the 45 children killed thus far by the military.
An organizer by the name of Zaw Win, who has family still in Myanmar, explained the situation:
He worries that if they don’t regain control of their government right now then it may be decades before they see democracy return. He had much to say and was very enlightening, but most striking was his categorization of the conflict.
“[It’s] Not just a protest. We call it a revolution. It is a revolution.” With that, it’s perhaps safe to assume that the violence in Myanmar has only just begun. Should this revolution grow, will the international community put boots on the ground? Will Myanmar become the next Syria where the US and Russia/China back opposing forces? The very real possibility of this is why it is important that everyone be paying close attention to what happens in Myanmar and listen to their Burmese neighbors like those here in Utica.