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Gong Min Walk 2008 – Yang’s Speech on Day 22 in Philadelphia

Good afternoon and God bless you all. As many of you know, I am walking the 500 mile Gongmin walk from Boston to Washington, DC. Gongmin in Chinese means citizen. As I pass the 300 mile mark on my 500 mile journey, I am happy to stop here in Philadelphia, the birthplace of liberty, of the Bill of Rights, on this Memorial Day weekend to pause, remember and reflect with you.

We pause and remember the great sacrifices that generation after generation of Americans have made and continue to make to preserve and protect Freedom around the world.

I think the best way to remember and appreciate the value of these hard won freedoms is to consider what the world would be like without these freedoms. Consider what this country would be like without the Bill of Rights to protect people from the excesses of government.

It could be a country where journalists are thrown in jail for reporting on government activities. A country where students, your sons and daughters, and scholars are routinely jailed for sharing ideas over the internet. It could be a country where lawyers are grabbed off the street and intimidated for defending the civil rights of their clients. It could be a country where health care workers are put under house arrest for reporting on health issues. It could be a world where you are persecuted for your religion or your culture or your ethnicity. It is a country where your land, your home might be taken away without recourse. This could be the country without the Bill of Rights. This country is not hypothetical.

This is the China that the Chinese government does not want us to see. The China that the Chinese government wants us to ignore as it choreographs the Olympic pageantry it does want us to see. I am taking this walk to raise awareness of this China.

The China today is a world where citizens have no rights, no system of government with checks and balances to protect them. No freedom of press to alert them. No freedom of religion to nurture them. The China today is a world where entire cultures, such as the Tibetans and Uyghurs, are repressed, their houses of worship destroyed, and their language forbidden. This is a world without the Bill of Rights. Without the rights of citizens to defend themselves against the arbitrary excess of the government. I am taking this walk to encourage the awakening of its citizen power.

The freedoms given by the bill of rights are what gives dignity to life and purpose to our existence. This is what Americans have fought so bravely for. This is why I walk, to ask you to continue your great leadership in the cause of human rights across the world.

When tragedy strikes, such as the devastating Sichuan earthquake of this past week, the exercise of human, political, and civil rights is no longer a matter of life. It is the difference between life and death.

Common sense and experience tells us that the Chinese government—an autocratic one-party system, with no system of checks and balances, no independent judiciary, no free speech, no free press—is incapable of ensuring that life giving aid, so generously given by the world, will be equitably distributed to those in need. So, I fear that my countrymen will become double victims: victims of a great natural disaster and victims of a corrupt government.

How can we rely on a government that denies human and civil rights to its citizens in the best of times to extend human relief in the worst of times? A case in point: it is well-known that government buildings and the homes of party officials are built to withstand severe earthquakes, while the homes of ordinary citizens and school houses are not built to code. How many parents have lost their children because of such negligence?

Since the earthquake struck, I have walked over 200 miles with this question on my mind. How can we help the Chinese government do the right thing? What must the Chinese government do to ensure that humanitarian aid from both the world and Chinese taxpayers gets to those in need?

The answer is GongMin Liliang. I am greatly encouraged by the outpouring of Citizen Power among Chinese Citizens in response to this terrible disaster. I have received reports from inside China that thousands and thousands of Citizens are donating their time and their resources directly to aid the victims. They are setting up citizen-run systems of checks and balances so aid money and resources do not wind up in the hands of corrupt officials. This is very encouraging news.

This must be encouraged, continued and protected. I therefore plead with President Bush and Congress to work with the Chinese government to set up a system of citizen-run controls to ensure that the generosity of the world community and the Chinese taxpayers will be used for its intended purposes. A committee should be set up in each devastated Chinese county through election.

In addition, no system of controls will be effective without the oversight of a free and unhindered press and the free speech of citizens. I therefore call on President Bush and Congress to urge the Chinese Government to engage in a grand gesture in the name of the victims of this terrible tragedy to lift all restrictions on the press. To tear down the Great Firewall that controls the flow of information over the internet. Let the citizens of China be the eyes and ears that ensure that the great generosity of people from all over the world goes to those with the greatest need and not the greatest greed.

Lastly, I ask all of you to go to the initiatives for china website, to give a donation however small, toward our goal of $300,000 to build a Gong Min “Citizen Elementary School” as a living tribute to the innocents who were crushed when their school collapsed on them. This school will educate a new generation of citizens with the empowerment to live, speak, and worship freely.

I pray that the wisdom of citizen power be visited upon the leaders of China so the misery of my countrymen will be relieved quickly.

I pray that my brothers and sisters suffering under this great misfortune will be relieved quickly and with compassion by the awakening of Citizen Power.

My brothers and sisters I pray that citizen power will come to all of us. I pray that it will bind us together as friends, as brothers and sisters, living under the blue sky of a free China, speaking freely, worshipping freely, respecting our mutual dignity, and seeking our own chosen path to happiness. For this I pray. For this I walk. For this I will not rest until I can speak to you all freely under the protection of our own bill of rights in China. Thank you all.

Yang Jianli

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