Blue Flower

Written by Admin   
Nov 08, 2007 at 12:00 AM

City’s response to China float controversy may be a sign of turmoil to come

By Kevin Uhrich and Joe Piasecki

Photo by Kevin Uhrich

TIME TO SPEAK: Ann Lau addresses Bill Paparian and Jimmy Morris Sunday in front of City Hall as John Li, left behind Lau, looks on.

A march Sunday by some 150 opponents of a Rose Parade float honoring the Beijing Summer Olympics that wended its way through Old Pasadena from City Hall to Tournament House was as remarkable for those who attended as it was for those who didn’t show up.

Absent were members of the Pasadena City Council, who last week “punted,” according to one dissenting councilman, on the chance to speak out against human rights abuses in communist China.

The previous Monday, council members backed the notion of supporting human rights and denouncing human rights violations in general, but stopped short of following the advice of the city’s Human Relations Commission — which was to specifically condemn well-documented practices of political and religious oppression, including forced labor and torture of prisoners, by China’s authoritarian regime.

Choosing instead to voice support for the nearly 60-year-old United Nations Declaration on Human Rights “was designed to be a fake pass … a misdirection play to get everyone going in one direction as you go in another,” said Councilman Chris Holden. “I think they really just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. They saw the easiest exit, and they took it.”

That document — introduced by Mayor Bill Bogaard, who has come under fire from activists for playing an instrumental role in bringing to Pasadena the float representing the People’s Republic of China — is an overly general approach, said Holden, that falls short of a responsibility to deal with abuses occurring allegedly even within Pasadena’s longtime Chinese sister city, Xicheng, an administrative district of Beijing.

Holden’s call for a China-specific resolution was supported only by the council’s only other African-American member, Jacque Robinson, which resulted in a decision that was split along racial lines.

Sunday’s demonstration also evidenced growing racial divisions in Pasadena.

Developer Jimmy Morris and other members of the Pasadena/

Altadena Black Coalition, including longtime civil rights activist Harden Carter, compared the lack of a strong response on the China issue to what they perceive as the council’s failure to deal with injustices at home.

“We have human rights issues here in Pasadena based upon discrimination against African Americans,” said Carter. “We

are here to support the Chinese-American community because we suffer oppression here in Northwest Pasadena.”

A number of anti-float protests have been staged locally over the past several weeks by organizers including Ann Lau of the Visual Artists Guild and John Li of the Caltech Falun Gong Club, along with activists for Chinese-controlled Tibet.

On Sunday, activists were joined by former Pasadena Mayor Bill Paparian — who wore a shawl given to him by the Dalai Lama during the exiled Tibetan holy man’s visit to Pasadena in 1996 — and Paparian’s wife, Sona.

Carter’s remarks were echoed by Paparian, who while addressing the crowd at City Hall pointed to the two giant bronze busts of Pasadena native sons Jackie and Mack Robinson, who Paparian credited for enduring years of overt racism with dignity.

Jackie Robinson is responsible for tearing down Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. His lesser-known older brother Mack won a silver medal for sprinting in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, hosted by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and an event now regularly compared by anti-float activists to the upcoming Olympics in Beijing.

For Carter and Morris, the float situation is indicative of a new day dawning at City Hall, one in which black city executives are being eliminated and black concerns are being either ignored or overlooked.

Morris, who is still protesting the council’s decision to eliminate African-American developer Danny Bakewell from contention for

the Heritage Square affordable housing project, said he is watching the Chinese-backed float situation carefully.

Soon after that vote, City Manager Cynthia Kurtz announced that she was stepping down in

January to take a job in the private sector. In addition, housing administrator Greg Robinson was moved under direct supervision of the city manager, and Assistant City Manager Brian Williams announced last week that he also is stepping down.

Both Robinson, who threatened to sue over his transfer, and Williams are African-American.

“The City Council has changed,” Carter observed. “We had a council that used to take its own neighborhood interests and integrate them with rest of the community where there was less power and come out with a balanced viewpoint. Nowadays,” he said, “there are six council members, sometimes five, who seem to take a very narrow viewpoint on everything, particularly if it’s not mainstream.”

Carter’s description of where council members’ sympathies lie — specifically in there being one who might swing both ways — may have been an indirect reference to Councilman Victor Gordo, the council’s only Latino member.

Although he advocated council action on human rights in China, Gordo did not vote in support of Holden’s call for a resolution specific to China.

Gordo feels, however, that his position is misunderstood — that he accomplished more for anti-float activists than is realized by convincing the council to include language about China in a letter accompanying the UN document, a letter that will be sent to members of Congress, the Department of State and representatives for each of Pasadena’s sister cities.

“It seemed clear to me the motion put forward by Chris [Holden] was not going to gain support of the majority,” Gordo said. “The transmittal letter that I asked be included in the motion that gained approval is intended to communicate that the council denounced the violation of human rights … and that we were doing so because individuals came to complain to the City Council about human rights in China, that the Human Relations Commission heard testimony and recommended action about the violation of human rights in China.

“This statement of fact preceeding the resolution gives credit to the testimony” of activists about human rights abuses, continued Gordo, who said he considered Holden’s push for a specific resolution on top of that “more symbolic than anything else.”

Bogaard said he will prepare and send the letter, with reference to the controversial Rose Parade float and the circumstances of the council’s debate, as early as next week.

In his time at the podium this weekend, Paparian reiterated his belief that the City Council’s failure to pass a resolution condemning human rights abuses in China was a “shameful display of political cowardice” on the part of a majority of council members.

He also told activists that their protests will eclipse any possible public relations advantage the Rose Parade float may bring China, but urged those in attendance not to interfere with the parade on New Year’s Day.

“Don’t disrupt the parade,” said Paparian, sounding more like he was pleading with people to drop the idea if it was being considered. “The parade means a lot to the citizens of this city, and Pasadena will respect you much more and the people of the world will have greater respect for you if you exercise your voice of dissent in a way that is consistent with the reputations that were set by the Robinson brothers.”

“We are aware of it and acknowledge there may be protests.

We are planning accordingly,” said Pasadena police spokeswoman Janet Pope-Givens, who declined to offer security specifics until a later date.

The Caltech Falun Gong Club’s Li did not discuss any such disruptive plans for Jan. 1, but did say he had been discussing with float co-sponsors Avery Dennison and Tournament of Roses President C.L. Keedy changes to the float and parade that would lessen the desire for such protests.

At City Hall Monday, City Manager Cynthia Kurtz publicly told Li that although the Tournament holds all rights to Colorado Boulevard before and during the Rose Parade, a demonstration permit could be issued for a time close to the parade on a nearby street.

Li said that Keedy is planning to meet with him as early as this week about possibly including a Falun Gong-led Human Rights Torch relay in the parade. Representatives for Avery Dennison have not contacted Li following a meeting in which he proposed making the float less specific to China by honoring athletes from all nations and eliminating slogans and logos specific to the Beijing games.

The Human Relations Commission recommended that council members, who voted unanimously to praise the report before putting it aside, organize similar discussions in public after drafting its own strong rebuke of human rights abuses in China.

On Monday, members of the Public Policy and Planning Committee of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations voted to offer mediation services to help Tournament members and float sponsors hold discussions with activists, said Robin S. Toma, the commission’s executive director.

Activists at Sunday’s march who were disappointed by the City Council’s decision praised Pasadena’s Human Relations Commission as well as Holden and Robinson for their support of its recommendations.

But according to Gordo, activists may have already accomplished more than they know, even more than stopping the Rose Parade float.

“To simply take a position that we denounce China or want to block the float may make headlines but ignores the fact that the Olympics and the parade, the scrutiny from these two national events, could make a difference,” said Gordo. “If China would like to allow the world to scrutinize its practices because of this float and because of the Olympics, then we welcome that. Guess what: It’s already started.”