04/12/2008 11:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Majora Carter - Here's a Leader

I've never been one of those "free Tibet" people. And it's not because I don't like Richard Gere, the outspoken celebrity for whom the plight of Tibet has become his personal cause... it's just always seemed like none of my business.

So when the hubbub about the Olympics and China and Tibet came up this week, I suppose I felt like - What do you expect? Do you know how much of our economy is tied to China? This is too complicated an affair to meddle with. This is not for regular people like me.

And then I had an opportunity to grab an interview with Majora Carter, who on a regular day is Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx, an organization she founded, which works for environmental justice in her neighborhood in New York. But this past week, she was one of the Olympic torch bearers - carrying the contentious thing through crowds of protesters in San Francisco.

And what she did - was pull a Tibetan flag from her sleeve.

You can see the video, of at least part of what happened here:

Or, you can hear her account on our fledgling Air America show, Black Politics:

What was interesting to me about her (putting aside her perhaps hyperbolic remark about the KKK above) was how she might be a model for what many keep pointing to as "leadership". By that I mean, and you can see from the video how surprised and then indignant and then angry she was... and yet you later hear, in her radio interview above, how those emotions are transformed into humor and even insight.

It seems to me her minor act of putting herself out was really courageous. I mean, it's one thing to join a rabble chanting for one cause or another - it's more risky to expose yourself all alone. She's a smart enough person to have anticipated how the San Francisco police and Chinese security people would react. But she acted anyway.

She went for the solo humiliation package, not a move most people would be looking for in an effort to express "solidarity", a word I was surprised to hear her say. I felt captivated by this idea of a black woman showing solidarity with the monks of Tibet, and frankly with the people of Tibet who feel bullied and disrespected by the Chinese. Majora was very clear on that point. And, she expressed an idea, which I've been having trouble dealing with: that despite complicated relationships, you have to in the end stand for something. Majora isn't calling for a boycott or the Olympics, she's simply calling for a pause, a moment of reflection, a reality check to consider what Tibetans are going through and for us to take a look at the price we are paying in both China and America for cheap labor and goods.

Majora made me think about how our "leaders" are limited in ways we are not. There's been some fancy rhetoric from Leader Pelosi, Sen. Clinton and others, but the actions of one small person can be even more articulate.