PORTLAND, Maine—It's a small state in population with a big promise—"Maine, the way life should be" signs welcome millions of visitors each year. After an almost record year of snow, the weather was on its best behavior with a perfect sunny spring day to welcome the Human Rights Torch Relay on Saturday, April 19.
Not to be confused with the Chinese communist government's torch—called "the flame of shame" by protesters in cities around the world—the Human Rights Torch Relay (HRTR) is a "light from a different spirit" says Maine's HRTR Coordinator, Marcus Gale. Gale, from North Berwick, calls this torch the "flame of hope" and his vision was shared by the numerous speakers with the 200 or so gathered at City Hall.
Initiated by the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, the HRTR started its journey back in August 2007 in Athens, Greece, bearing a clear message that "the Olympics and crimes against humanity cannot coexist in China." The HRTR is traveling to over 40 cities in the USA. The complete tour schedule is available at www.humanrightstorch.org.
Speaker after speaker outlined the widespread human rights abuses, persecution, and genocide happening today under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) both inside and outside China.
Federal, state, and local government officials let their voices be heard in calling China to task for its human rights violations.
Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and Congressmen Tom Allen and Michael Michaud voiced their support via letters. Referring to the Human Rights Torch, Senator Snowe wrote, "The carrying of this torch today denotes an underlying strength and sense of freedom that all cultures and societies on this Earth should share with one another to arrive at positive and common understandings."
She went on to say that China "appears to have abandoned the foundation of human rights and dignity that bear up the Olympic philosophy … China's government has been awarded this honor but refuses to honor the award."
Reading a city resolution declaring April as Human Rights Torch Relay Month, Jill Duson, Portland City Councilor and former mayor of the city, told the crowd: "The journey of this torch creates a forum to tell the world the facts.
"China's oppression of basic human rights is a violation of the intent and spirit of the Olympic Games. The journey of this torch is a reminder of the true essence of those games—world peace and human dignity."
Whether they spoke out on the persecution and genocide going on in Darfur, Burma, and Tibet or the horrors inside China being perpetrated upon the Falun Gong, Christians, or Uighur Muslims, the theme was crystal clear: China is the leading violator of human rights on the planet and we must do everything we can to let people know, and we must stop the killing and human rights injustices now.
In many ways the Olympic Games is a backdrop to reveal the true nature of the Chinese regime to the world. How will the world's people and governments respond?
Marcus Gale offered these words: "Now we have the Olympics given to a totalitarian regime that has no regards for human rights or human life. Can we allow the Olympics to continue? I am asking everyone here and I want everyone here to think about that question. For that question will come up for everyone in this plaza today and for many Americans. You have to make a moral choice about your stand on the Olympics."
People took a stand by signing petitions available at the event. Petitions are also available online at www.cipfg.org (for the Millions of Signatures Petition) and www.hrtrnewengland.com (for the I Support the Human Rights Torch Relay Petition).
Maine State Rep. Rick Burns and York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence broadened the discussion on human rights and tied it to trade with China.
Burns was a key sponsor for the passage of Maine's Joint Resolution Expressing Support for the Human Rights Torch Relay. Maine was the first state in the country to pass a statewide resolution, and it's a detailed and strongly worded text noting the human rights abuses in China.
Mary Byrom from North Berwick proudly read the resolution at the rally and thanked Mainers for their independent and moral nature.
Mark Lawrence said, "There has been a rush in this country to talk about free trade but we have not talked about 'fair trade'—trade that is based on respect for individuals, respect for child labor laws, respect for all those different things that we take for granted in this country."
Rep. Burns put it this way: "It is true that human rights violations cannot coexist with the Olympics in China. It is also true that we as a nation engage in trade with China. We permitted jobs from this nation to go to China. Democracy and international commerce also cannot coexist with human rights violations. And we need to speak to that."
Joe Wolfberg, who marched to City Hall with his wife, said: "So many of our products come from China. My point is, if we are so commercially connected with China then how come we support a country that does such horrific things to people … For me, it's a human rights choice and I am really uncomfortable with some of the principles, policies, and morals of that large country."
Perhaps one of the most gripping and macabre accounts on what is going on inside China today was delivered by Steve Gigliotti on the forced organ harvesting business in China. The victims are primarily those who practice Falun Gong—a spiritual practice based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
Much of what Gigliotti recounted has been verified in the report "Bloody Harvest" co-authored by former Canadian Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) David Kilgour and human rights attorney David Matas. The full report is available at www.organharvestinvestigation.net.
According to Gigliotti, a program of "systematically harvesting organs from Falun Gong is in place." He called what was going on the "most horrible persecution in the world and one that barely gets any media attention."
To end Portland's Human Rights Torch event, Gale led the crowd in a chant of "One Torch, One Flame, One Light held high for all the world to see."
"It is our hope that the Olympics can be used," Gale said, "as a vehicle to show the world's people the countless human rights violations under the CCP so they can clearly make a moral choice and align themselves with what is right—the way the Olympics should be."