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5 Lessons From a Tiananmen Square Protest Leader for Occupy Wall Street

Posted: 10/20/11 05:22 PM ET

Before Occupy Wall Street -- before Occupy Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington -- was "Occupy Tiananmen Square." I know because I was there, leading the student-fueled movement, and today I see glimpses of early Tiananmen in the Occupy Wall Street movement. My fellow students and I gathered in the square that fateful summer, and were, at first, ill-supplied, unorganized and ineffective. The occupiers are being accused of the same.

During those long months in Tiananmen, thousands of us, mostly students, camped out for truth and freedom. We faced conflicts many thought were insurmountable: internal strife, external forces and harsh elements. But our protests rallied millions to our cause, and despite the tragic military crackdown that ensued, our unrelenting pressure shook the foundation of China's Communist system.

Occupy Wall Street can also see success if they adhere to key organizing principles, many of which I learned the hard way and which I told to those assembled in my hometown at Occupy Boston:

1. Seek the Righteousness of the Kingdom. The Whole 100 Percent. Our rallying call in China came from a deep desire in our hearts for all people to be free, not just for 99 percent. In America, we all need freedom from greed and corruption. If Occupiers call for change for the 100 percent, many more people will be able to join the movement without misunderstanding labels others have created. Seek to unify, not further divide our nation.

2. Sow Peace and Harvest Justice. One thing we made sure of in Tiananmen from day one was this: No Violence. Even when the government handed us many guns to use against them, we destroyed the weapons and sent them back as a sign that we were committed to peace and would not resort to war -- even when tanks and troops rolled in. Occupiers must make sure that the messages sent out from its members are peaceful and nonviolent. Slogans like "EAT THE RICH" are alarming to people who could have come alongside in unity. The same peace message goes to the city leaders and the police force. Blessed are the peacemakers. Don't send a message to the dictators around the world that "America is oppressing its protestors too."

3. God Opposes the Proud but Gives Grace to the Humble. The French poet Victor Hugo once wrote, "an invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an invasion of ideas." Just imagine the power of sharing the ideas with humility. At Tiananmen we started a hunger strike movement that eventually grew to 3,000 people and lasted for seven days. Using China's love language -- saving food for the loved ones in a family through a hunger strike for a better nation -- brought millions of people, media reporters, government officials, even military officers and soldiers to understand and support the movement. What is the love language in America? Use it with humility; it will transform the movement and the nation. How about fasting for one meal and using the savings to help the poor, asking the rich to match for more? Or request a dialogue with the rich to learn what they are doing with their wealth? Or learn how much more they want to give, like 10 percent of their revenue if our tax code would allow it. We may be in for a surprise.

4. The Power of Prayer. If there is one thing I have learned since Tiananmen that I wish I knew the night of June 4, it is the power of prayer. God hears the cries of the destitute. He loves the poor and helps the oppressed. He will hear cries of the dissatisfied if they just call to Him. Occupy Boston has a spiritual tent and has had various religious services. I urge all Occupiers to take time daily to reflect and pray for the will of God, his power to be revealed and for daily bread. At All Girls Allowed, a new organization to end the largest crime against humanity today, we have seen and experienced the power of prayer and the miracles that God will produce when we pray in His name. God has promised us that HE will be found by us if we seek him with all our heart and all our mind. When Occupiers pray to Him and listen humbly, He will answer.

5. Warning to the Rich. Nothing we create or purchase in this world will have value in eternity. I learned through my own pursuit of the American Dream that money is not able to buy happiness or peace. And who are the rich? To the rest of the world -- the 3 billion people who live on less than $2 a day -- we are all the 1 percent. All Girls Allowed, the nonprofit organization I founded to restore value to girls andmothers in China, is working to save the lives of baby girls in China's poorest areas. These families live on less than $2 a day. There are millions in this situation. We must be the first to give if we hope to see change in our wealthy nation. Ghandi wisely implored followers to "Be the change you want to see in the world." Do Occupiers have to send money to China or Sub-Saharan Africa? No. But this movement needs a foundation of generosity if its message is to be heard and accepted.

Chai Ling is the author of the new book 'A Heart for Freedom.' A key student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement, Chai Ling was subsequently named Glamour Woman of the Year and nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.

 
 
 
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