McGill Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) is a student-run group on campus that seeks to end the Chinese occupation of Tibet through activism and awareness work. They are a chapter of the Students for a Free Tibet Canada organization, which is based in Toronto.
McGill SFT’s Maria Radu and Rebecca Parry (both U2 Arts students) spoke to The McGill Daily, discussing their group’s past and present activities, the importance of cross-movement solidarity, and the principles of their movement.
McGill SFT is organized as a collective of 3-6 governing members and a broader group of general members. They hold weekly meetings and plan events on a monthly basis, “from speaker series to workshops to critical film screenings to dumpling-making sessions!” For this year’s QPIRG Rad Frosh, they organized a workshop discussing different depictions of Tibet in Chinese, American, and Tibetan film – one of the most attended workshops of the weekend. This semester, they’re planning a socially distanced Momo (Tibetan dumpling) night in the park.
This summer in Montreal, McGill SFT participated in the August 23 protest in support of Uyghurs, organized by International Support for Uyghurs (ISU). “We were simply there to support and to listen,” explained Radu and Parry.
“I think the most incredible thing about that protest (and so many others like it) is that organizers from across movements came together to stand against CCP [Chinese Communist Party] oppression of Uyghurs.” They pointed to the #BoycottMulan campaign as another example of this cross-movement action.
Radu and Parry told the Daily that “solidarity work is a huge component of our organizing practice,” as they work with Montreal-based groups facing Chinese oppression like International Support for Uyghurs and Action Free Hong Kong Montreal. They also work with groups fighting against colonialism elsewhere in the world, including the Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA) and Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR).
Former McGill SFT member Khando Langri gave a speech at the August 23 protest, calling out the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for using ethnic minorities as “social labs for creating vast entrenched networks of settler-colonial violence”
In keeping with this cross-movement spirit, former McGill SFT member Khando Langri gave a speech at the August 23 protest, calling out the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for using ethnic minorities as “social labs for creating vast entrenched networks of settler-colonial violence.” She highlighted the shared experience of Tibetans and Uyghurs as victims of these social experiments. She also pointed out that current Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, who supervised the construction of “re-education” camps for Uyghurs, was the Party Secretary in Tibet prior to becoming the Xinjiang Party Secretary. Radu and Parry said that for their group, Khando “[brought] urgency to the calls for pan-movement solidarity against PRC oppression.”
Radu and Parry described that history of oppression to the Daily, writing that “For the past 60 years, Tibet has faced cultural genocide at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party. […] [The party] and its regional arms have been engaged in projects of assimilation through multiple tactics including: incentivizing mass migration of the Han majority into Tibetan territory, erosion of Tibetan language rights, and forced displacement of drokpa (nomadic pastoralists) from their ancestral lands.”
The SFT sees student activism as a powerful tool in the face of this oppression. Parry quoted a “long late night conversation” with SFT’s Executive Director Dorjee Tseten, on the power students have to fight these injustices:
“He described it to me like this: ‘In their occupation of Tibet, China has to weigh the costs and benefits. Every day, with every action we take, we are making it more costly for China to occupy Tibet.’”
For instance, Radu and Parry wrote, the work of SFT and other activist organizations was able to convince the World Bank to withdraw a loan that “would have seen massive disruption and displacement in Tibet under the guise of poverty reduction.”
“It is easy to be daunted by the Chinese Communist Party,” they continued. “But the CCP is simply a regime. Regimes rise and fall. […] There are brave and committed Tibetans, Chinese and allies from across the world who are committed to Tibet’s freedom and independence. Together, we are pushing the needle towards justice.”
“Many people see Tibet through an orientalist lens: as mystical, as homogenous, as inherently peaceful, even as “backwards.” We’re here to complicate visions of Tibet.”
Radu and Parry stressed the importance of cultural education to this project, as well as engagement with new ideas and scholarship produced by Tibetans in Tibet and the diaspora: “Many people see Tibet through an orientalist lens: as mystical, as homogenous, as inherently peaceful, even as ‘backwards.’ We’re here to complicate visions of Tibet. Tibet stretches over multiple million square kilometers and is home to 6 million people.”
They also upheld the value of direct action, including protesting and nonviolent demonstration: “We seek to uplift the lived experiences of community members who hold knowledge from lifetimes of practice outside of the academy.”
In reaction to a political and media climate that uses the oppressive tactics of the Chinese governement as an excuse to spread xenophobic rhetoric, Radu and Parry made clear McGill SFT’s rejection of sinophobia and racism: “In the current context of US-China relations, politicians and right-wing think tanks pose as supporters of Tibet but use racialized rhetoric when addressing China. […] We reject the support of politicians, public figures and any individuals who […] enact policies fundamentally implicated in settler colonial and racist ideologies and systems. At SFT, we seek to build a space that is affirmining to people of every race, class, gender, ability, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity.”
McGill SFT’s weekly meetings are held online this semester and are welcome to anyone. They are looking for members to join their leadership collective, as well as general members to freely attend meetings and get involved with organizing. Visit their Facebook page here.