In The News

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Inspires the Next Generation

September 26, 2012

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate, elected parliamentarian, and political opposition leader of Burma (also known as Myanmar) came to Washington last week, on the first leg of her historic trip to the United States. This Friday, she makes her way to San Francisco where she will give her first Bay Area public remarks at an invitation-only event hosted by The Asia Foundation.

During the week, in meeting after meeting, Daw Suu as she is affectionately known, met with members of Congress, political, business and civic leaders, democracy and human rights activists,  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and President Obama. She spoke of her country’s reform process, the challenges ahead, and of the importance of a continued U.S. commitment to democracy in her country. She recounted her experiences to her supporters and thanked them for their tireless dedication to the cause of freedom in Burma. Above all, she talked about the future.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at an event held at the Newseum, a Washington symbol for freedom of expression, hosted by Amnesty International.

Of the four events she participated in last week, only one was about who would shape the future. It was an event held at the Newseum, a Washington symbol for freedom of expression, hosted by Amnesty International. Nearly 400 students from all over the East Coast attended, some who had traveled by bus to Washington in the wee hours of the morning, just to be there. All were young activists in yellow T-shirts, with dreams, hopes, and a commitment to standing up for human rights and freedom. They were revving up the crowd, they were championing the causes, and they were asking the questions. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And when Daw Suu came to the stage, they greeted her with cheers that rocked the room. They wanted her to know that they, some of them just barely born when she began her house arrest, were solidly behind her cause. They wanted to learn about her, learn from her, and most of all, gain her approval for their activism. While the media all dwelled on the arrested Russian band that shared the limelight and wanted to know what Daw Suu thought about their cause, the story was really about youth, and how young activists are made. How do young people get inspired to participate in politics, speak out for important causes, and protect the victims of abuse around the world? How do you keep young people engaged in peaceful activism when all the news images they see around the world are about violent protest? And in an age where most people are concerned with what they should get from the government, rather than what they will sacrifice to safeguard democracy, how do you inspire hope and promote change?

As I sat in the auditorium, listening to Daw Suu’s words, and feeling the energy from the crowd in the room, it was clear to me that she gave the students every reason to be inspired. Daw Suu spoke about her 15-year experience under house arrest without bitterness, and about the responsibility that she felt to the people of Burma. She talked about the future while not dwelling on the past. She spoke of sacrifice, but not her own. And she spoke about how the tireless campaign of the friends of Burma had helped open up a new opportunity for her country. It was a truly moving experience, one that I am sure the students riding home on buses that evening would not easily forget.

Nancy Yuan is vice president and director of The Asia Foundation’s Washington, D.C., office. She can be reached at nyuan@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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