As you may have seen from the news, the Olympic torch made a rather ignominious appearance in San Francisco this week. I was there along with the contingent of folks from Care2.com and Amnesty International to protest the Chinese human rights record in Tibet.

In many ways it was a surreal experience – a mixture of festival atmosphere, protesters, pro-Chinese supporters, and the curious. According to the New York Times, the Chinese consulate had bussed people in for the event. On the protester side, there were a wide range of organizations represented. I saw signage for Tibet, Darfur, Burma, and even a couple addressing animal rights issues in China and the war in Iraq. It was quite colorful with all the flags waving and signs with competing messages.

Part way through the afternoon, I became separated from the group and ended up chatting with a middle-aged Chinese couple and a small group of out-of-town visitors. All of us were busy trying to track down the torch’s location, and thanks to the power of the cellular telephone, we found out about its detours through the city.

The torch never did make it to where we were, but I didn’t mind too much. I was there to help highlight to the Chinese government the cost of its realpolitik games. The government planned for the Olympic games to highlight China’s new standing on the world stage. What they didn’t take into account, however, was that a reckoning was due as a result of decades of human rights abuses. And not just in Tibet. How many read about Hu Jia’s recent arrest?

I’m actually a big fan of the Olympics, and I would be disappointed by a boycott. There’s no reason to punish the athletes who’ve worked so hard for their moment under the Olympic rings. But China is clearly trying to make a political and economic statement by hosting the Olympics, and the opening ceremonies are sure to be a reflection of that. After all, that’s where a host country shows off its culture, politics, and technical/artistic ability. As such, I consider the ceremonies fair game for boycott.

Chinese officials, of course, don’t see themselves as villains. I’m sure they justify their actions as necessary for the development of Chinese prosperity. (Sudanese oil anyone?) But this “progress” at any cost… well, it has a cost. And as I mentioned, there’s a reckoning to be had.

Karma – works for people, works for governments.

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