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The Courage Of, And For, Billions

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, when the Chinese government began cracking down on thousands of students protesting for freedom. What I remember most is the photo that came to epitomize the protest: A lone man standing down a column of Chinese tanks. I remember the hope I had felt prior to the crackdown for those students who, like myself at the time, were naïve enough to think they could change their country and possibly the world. I remember thinking when I saw that photo, “Dang, that man’s got courage. I hope they don’t run him down.” I remember naively assuring myself that no government would run tanks over its own people, students no less. I was wrong. Young, naïve and wrong.

I’ve heard on NPR that the Chinese government has blacked out some Chinese bloggers’ sites and purposely scheduled student exams on this day to discourage remembrances and protests. Now, I’m as bad as your average American citizen when it comes to China. I shop at Wal-Mart and I watched some of the Beijing Olympics. I don’t stand as resolutely behind my principles as that lone man did. But no matter how China endeavors to erase the minds of billions, I won’t be among them. I will never forget.

I wonder whether that lone man, who would become known as “Tank Man,” is alive today. Some say he was executed, others say he lives in Taiwan. Regardless, no one should forget what they saw on the news that day and the following days. Never forget what governments are capable of.

It’s easy to forget in America that most of the world’s population does not live in freedom. It’s easy to forget that the rights we take for granted – speech, protest, having children, equality, religious observance -- or not – are rights that most of the world does not share. And if Beijing had its way, we’d forget what happened on this day twenty years ago in Tiananmen Square.

Not me. I won’t forget. I won’t forget that lone man who had the courage of, and for, billions.

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