As apartheid gathered steam in the late 1960’s, South Africa was expelled from the International Olympic Committee and did not appear at another Olympic Games for more than three decades. The international Sporting boycott of South Africa is often quoted as one of the key drivers behind South Africa ending its abhorrent racial policies.
Fast forward 40 years, July 28, 2012 the day after a spectacular opening ceremony and with the world’s eyes on London, Restless Beings held a peaceful, vibrant demo outside London’s Excel centre where several Burmese athletes were competing. The aim was simple, to raise awareness for the discrimination, barbaric human rights abuses and state sponsored ethnic cleansing being inflicted upon the Rohingya communities by the Burmese government.
Whilst the topic was serious, the carnival atmosphere was not. Music, laughter and games encouraged members of the public to approach the mismatch of Restless Beings supporters in their kaleidoscope attire dancing to outdoor beats. But I thought Burma was moving towards democracy? Rohingya what? The questions came as supporters and the public mingled, so how can we help, was the prevailing sentiment they left with. A multicultural city at the best of times, as host Olympic city London is currently full to the brim with people from around the world and as the afternoon went on, we were able to spread our message to a vast array of nationalities from across the globe.
Feeling inspired we decided to get mobile and spread the message. Two long people snake chains - more than 30 metres in length made their way from Abbey road to the outskirts of the athlete’s village in Stratford. Singing and chanting the cars tooted and the public stopped us for pictures and information. That’s terrible, how can they get away with that? We know, that’s why we’re here, please spread the word, facebook, twitter, tell one and tell all. Five hours later, our feet were tired and our throats were dry. The support and levels of interest from members of the public was heartening and whilst change will not happen overnight it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.
The whole day proved to be a hugely a highly successful campaign day and one of the peaks of our Rohingya campaigns with our website alone receiving more than 2500 new visitors.
Images: With thanks to Choosa Farrukh and QSPhotography