Friday, January 9, 2009

New CSN plans for 2009

China Support Network greets 2009
A January message to the pro-Chinese freedom community

by John Kusumi, Director Emeritus

The China Support Network remains in place for 2009, with changes expected in a changing political environment. For that matter, I myself remain in place, despite earlier talk that I might move to Europe. 2009 is likely to be a momentous year of change -- not just at CSN, but all around the world. "Change" was the theme of the political campaign of President-elect Barack Obama, and change in China is our theme right here. We are in a time when the word "change" is on everyone's lips, but it would be well to review the situation and to consider what really is meant or entailed by change. The time is at hand to consider change substantively, beyond loose talk and sloganeering.

There is the China Support Network; there is the wider Chinese pro-democracy movement which is the political environment, or context for CSN; and, there are the circumstances of Chinese and world news, which form another political environment and context for the Chinese democracy movement. The democracy movement does not get to simply advocate changes proactively; instead, the democracy movement is often reactive, which means replying to injustices, atrocities, or events in the news, and adjusting to changes in the environment. The year 2008 was a prime example, with many events in the news that this community reacted to: A crackdown in Tibet; an earthquake in Sichuan province; the summer Olympic Games; the poison milk scandal; and the U.S. elections which yielded Barack Obama as the next U.S. President.

There may be some people on the street who think that the Chinese democracy movement moves slowly, but for our community there seems to be a topsy-turvy pace with such constant changes in the environment. With all of the above matters in 2008 that would make us reactive, it is notable that at the end of 2008, dissidents were able to launch an initiative called Charter 08 which is proactive and sets an agenda for the discussion of Chinese reform.

I'd like to express some word about where the China Support Network is coming from (1989-present), and where it may go to in 2009. Whenever there is a large disaster in the news, many efforts spring up to try and supply aid, relief, and help to disaster victims. (For example, many people tried to supply aid to the victims of the massive earthquake in Sichuan province.) After Tiananmen Square's uprising and massacre of 1989, the situation was similar. CSN and many other groups sprang up to provide help.

Very early on, something was special about CSN. Very few people were online in 1989, years before the World Wide Web and even before Microsoft Windows was popularized. However, an online discussion forum (Compuserve Issues Forum) basically gave birth to CSN. Because we were online, we could correspond with the most advanced pro-democracy organizers, and we could connect the dots. Then, Chinese students called us in to the ad hoc group of handlers for top Chinese dissidents, as they arrived in Washington DC. At this point -- late July, 1989 -- we knew that CSN was the leading American group, because no other Americans were part of that handler group. Other faces in that group were from the Mainland and Hong Kong and perhaps Taiwan. CSN had surpassed its competition -- any other American group constituted for such purposes.

And I daresay that we still have an unmatched record, with more pro-Chinese democracy events under our belt; more dissident relationships; and, more high level access in dissident circles than similar groups. (Who is our competition? Silicon Valley for Democracy in China? China e-Lobby? Newer MySpace pages of rock music groups? Not quite, not quite, and not quite.) I don't lose any sleep at night worrying about competitors. The China Support Network rules its niche or its category.

That is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because CSN becomes a "go to" organization, fielding press inquiries from Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, and news outlets of other continents. It's bad because one could wish that the air was thick with much more presence from many more supporters of Chinese democracy. Because it's a political cause, Chinese dissidents could wish for more, rather than less, support. We are in a non-profit field; it would be good for our cause if the field had a wide array of competitors, clamoring in favor of Chinese democracy.

At CSN, the great ambition is to bring about Chinese democracy -- it was not our great ambition to "own the category," although it's nice to be doing well by any measure. Experience has proven that we work well and competently even when we "go it alone." And, we're really not alone -- during the pre-MySpace days, we counted some 200 groups in the overseas Chinese democracy movement. For working Chinese dissidents, that is like having 199 competitors, so overall 'Chinese democracy' is a very robust and active field. The difference with CSN is being indigenously Western. And now, MySpace (and many Web 2.0 outlets) has allowed people to flower in their own right. Now, we can see many more individual supporters of Chinese freedom and democracy.

In 1999, the persecution of Falun Gong began in China, and in this decade the environment has changed. For example, in 2002, a year when Dr. Wang Bingzhang and two companions were kidnapped and captured by the Chinese government, it was the thinnest of thin times. The (then-) new PNTR trade deal meant that the news media didn't want to hear from the Chinese democracy movement, so we were lonely voices in the wilderness. It seemed like the leading voices of the Chinese democracy movement in exile were only about five Chinese and three Americans, all saying "Free the Democracy 3!"

It was the winter of our discontent, and Joel Segal (one of the Americans, who is also an aide on Capitol Hill) congratulated me on the work of CSN, saying "I wouldn't know what's going on, if you weren't putting out those bulletins!"

What has changed since then is our editorial focus. Back then, CSN was carrying the story line and the narrative, in English, for the Chinese democracy movement. With no effective competition, we could seem to be on top of everything -- "the newsletter of record" for Chinese dissident doings. That is when our writing was more frequent, breaking news and reacting to it.

It may be said that change arose because new competition arose. To push back against persecution, Falun Gong launched its own print, radio, and television media outlets. In 2004, there first appeared the English language version of the Epoch Times (a.k.a. Dajiyuan). As a strongly anti-communist newspaper with reporters throughout China, the Epoch Times quickly surpassed CSN in volume and variety of coverage. It, not CSN, became the newspaper of record for Chinese dissent.

This was a change in the environment, and CSN adjusted by no longer trying to break all the news or to be on top of everything. The writing became less frequent and more selective. Typically these days, we wait after a news story breaks. If it is large enough to be history, then it will appear in our writing, sometimes contextualized in commentary, analysis, or a Chinese dissident statement that we pass along. We don't try to "hit the buzzer" to beat or scoop other media. So, there is no more blow-by-blow, weekly news output. Our writing keeps a top line orientation, and now favors quality over quantity.

2009 is likely to see some more changes, as the CSN web site enters the Web 2.0 era. This will enable more participation and collaboration. We still like to pass along Chinese dissident statements, and we encourage more submissions from them -- news and public statements are welcome. This is the year when we will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the June 4 incident at Tiananmen Square. Hence, we want commemoration plans and will post word about public events in that vein. In part, this message is an "all points bulletin" to alert everyone that we want to collect June 4 plans here. Send us your plans, no matter whether you are Silicon Valley for Democracy in China, China e-Lobby, a MySpace music band, or a Chinese dissident with 199 competitors!

And of course, we are contemplating our own June 4 plans. When we make them, we will share them. For prospective donors / contributors, right now is an excellent time to make a financial donation to CSN, because doing so now will likely enlarge the program at this year's June 4 commemorations.

It is always a good time to call for more active participation and a more coordinated pro-freedom community.

In fact, the Web 2.0 upgrades for CSN are not complete yet, and that is a future time when more participation will be easily enabled by point-and-click. In the meantime, we have something else new in 2009:

The podcast experiment

Especially if you are Chinese, you can help with this. The front page at the CSN web site now includes an MP3 file. With rock music and four minutes long, you can call it a song -- or you can call it a podcast. We took a newscast, in Mandarin, from Sound of Hope radio, and we blended it with rock music to arrive at the result which you can hear now at the front page of CSN. Can this be spread around China, as readily as a song? We want it to be so, and we ask for your help in that regard. We'd like the MP3 file to be mirrored, or reposted, at any appropriate place such as Chinese democracy sites and file sharing sites. Or perhaps it can be written about in Chinese publications.

In the podcast, I am interviewed about the revelation that the Chinese government is harvesting human organs from the bodies of Falun Gong practitioners, who are selected for their tissue type and executed "just in time" to support transplant surgery for profit. That revelation has yet to hit the Western news media, and I am disgusted at them -- the editorial decision makers of U.S. "MSM" (MSM = mainstream media).

In the podcast, you hear the voices of Wenyi Wang (protestor) and Hu Jintao (President of China), from the famous incident in 2006 when Wang interrupted Hu on the White House South Lawn, as he was meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush. You will also hear my voice as I am interviewed about the organ harvesting revelation, its meaning, and the silence of the U.S. news media.

For Chinese people, the takeaway could be any of the following points:
  • The organ harvesting has happened
  • The Wenyi Wang incident has happened (it was censored in China)
  • The government has covered up the above (the corruption is exposed)
  • The US MSM has covered up the above (their corruption is exposed)
  • Kusumi has complained about the media and criticized Western China policy
  • Hu Jintao has suffered embarrassment, humiliation, and loss of face
This new-in-2009 CSN podcast is the first that we've done in Mandarin Chinese. If the response is good, then we should podcast in Chinese more often. That is why I describe it as "the podcast experiment." We are getting our feet wet as matters move in another direction here. In the podcast, it very much seems that we are sounding the alarm for China. So, we ask your help in copying and recirculating that MP3 file; let's see how this experiment goes. The podcast talks about a frustrating scenario, but it may also motivate people to realize that "something's gotta give" and that change must happen in China in 2009. To all who work on that matter, I wish you good luck in that work.

The CSN says Happy New Year, and let's have a 2009 of fruitful work and collaboration for Chinese democracy!

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