Saturday, July 12, 2008

American Federation of Teachers convention

American Federation of Teachers convention, Chicago (July 10-14, 2008)

Keep up the pressure on Burma
Activist Min Zin honored at human rights luncheon

They are called the “88 generation,” and
for the past 20 years they have helped lead
the fight for democracy in Burma. At the AFT
Human Rights Luncheon on Saturday,
Burmese activist Min Zin accepted our
union’s first Presidential International
Freedom and Democracy Award on behalf of
those Burmese students who launched their
struggle for democracy on Aug. 8, 1988.
We must continue to “call attention to
the atrocities still being committed in
Burma” by the military junta, Min Zin said
in accepting the award.
Min Zin, who was a 14-year-old high
school student at the time of the 1988
protest, said he was accepting the award on
behalf of “all of those who continue to risk
their lives for democracy in Burma.”
AFT president Edward J. McElroy, who
introduced Min Zin, noted that, as educators,
AFT members are familiar with guiding
young people. At key moments in history,
however, he said, “those roles have been
reversed, and young people have really
been the ones reminding us about the need
to speak out against injustice.”
Youth in Burma, McElroy added, “are
serving as the conscience of the nation,
risking their lives and safety to break the
reign of terror their parents have endured
and construct a new reality based on
human rights and respect for liberty.”
Teachers in Burma, Min Zin said, are
under the thumb of the repressive regime,
which forces them to wear military
uniforms and sing military songs. “Teachers
are punished if they fail to prevent their
students from taking part in the protests.”
Min Zin was expelled
from school after participating
in the student protests
and spent the next nine
years hiding inside his own
country. During that period,
he continued to work with the Buddhist
monks, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung
San Suu Kyi and other student leaders to
“keep the democracy movement going
He eventually fled Burma following the
December 1996 student demonstrations
there and, after several years in Thailand,
came to the United States. Today, he is a
student at the University of California,
The importance of collective strength
and solidarity is something that those in the
trade union movement understand well,
Min Zin told the packed luncheon. “I am so
proud to be here today on behalf of my
friends and family who are still in the
struggle. I hope that you will all do what you
can to link arms with the democratic
movement in Burma and lend your strength
to our cause.”

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