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Funding Shortage Hampers Chinese Democracy Movement

by CSN Thursday, Sep. 19, 2002 at 4:41 AM

Funding Shortage Hampers Chinese Democracy Movement

Funding Shortage Hampers
Chinese Democracy Movement

By John Kusumi

Friends of freedom and democracy may become concerned, perhaps, to inquire after the health of the Chinese democracy movement, a matter which first came to everyone's attention at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

In its day, that event was jarring like September 11, with a similar loss of civilian life in China. That attack on civilians was at the hands of their own government. The Communist regime of China is well described as the most murderous regime in history, bar none.

Was there a response, from freedom-loving Americans? Yes. Very many Americans wanted to help. There was set up, a China Support Network, a June 4 Foundation, and a China Democracy Fund, along with Silicon Valley for Democracy in China, and many new Chinese organizations. Because I was responsible for the China Support Network, I carry with me the firsthand knowledge, gained as Chinese dissidents got together with helpful Americans.

Here, many years later, I can report that there is a cash shortage in the Chinese democracy cause. Some people may ask, "what happened?," and "how did the money miss its target?" This editorial hopes to be constructive for overcoming the present-day challenge; and, I will suggest exactly how to best make a contribution -- that hits the spot -- for today's situation. Yet, perhaps a couple of paragraphs will give cursory answers to the foregoing questions. Those may be good questions for Americans who gave money.

My own CSN organization did not collect the big bucks of charity. In a quirky way, CSN began as a "cyber" organization, visible on computer networks, but not in the news. In that year, we never really "arrived" as a news story. We were behind the scenes both implicitly and literally. We connected with leading Chinese dissidents in Washington; but, we never got into professional fundraising and traditional organization building. We helped in Washington on an ad-hoc basis, and did not become the leading charity as for collecting donations in the democracy movement. In a book I have authored, with my own behind-the-scenes account, is this paragraph--

When I was first called into Washington, CSN had not begun collecting money from members and the American people. All expenditures were covered by contributions from myself, the participants, and my father. If any money was collected from the public, it was exactly from exactly one person. Any flow or momentum of contributions never got going.

The book also explains some of why this happened. Arriving in Washington, we learned that the dissidents were setting up yet newer organizations. The question became, "who's got the ball?," and we expected dissidents to direct funds to their newer organizations, as best they could. Americans who gave to Tiananmen Square charities may find that their checks were made out to the June 4 Foundation or other groups.

The China Support Network received an enormous number of "sign ups" and expressions of support, but those did not translate into material support. Admittedly, I was somewhat gun-shy to get ahead of the cause. I cared to be very respectful, where in the Chinese democracy movement I am a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court. In the earliest days, one could ask the question, "did we belong there?" (The question was put to rest as I connected with leading dissidents in Washington. We spent their first week in Washington, working shoulder to shoulder. The Sino-U.S. working group of handlers "clicked" like we had been working together for years.)

Given the experience in Washington, I knew that CSN was the leading group of American support for the dissidents, because we were the only Americans joining and working in that group of handlers. Now, did money given elsewhere miss its target? No! Rather than give to the leading American response group, it may be more right to give to actual Chinese organizations. The China Democracy Fund reported directly to Shen Tong, a Tiananmen dissident. The June 4 Foundation now reports to the IFCSS (the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars).

We cannot say that the target was missed, merely because we see no English-language results. The dissidents conduct many operations in Chinese and in China. What appears in the English language is almost an afterthought. It is not for Americans to say what is the "right" or "wrong" deployment of funds in a process that is frankly foreign to us.

After the events of 1989, the Chinese democracy movement went into a period characterized by two experiences. Returning to college became a priority for many. Taking final exams and graduating had not occurred for most who were involved, myself included. The second characteristic of this time was some fractious bickering, infighting, discord, and disunity within the movement. It was predictable that many would jockey for position, and that an "industry shakeout" would occur.

The jostling settled down and the serious players moved to more unity, in the second half of the 1990s. Certain outposts of the democracy movement, such as Human Rights in China, the Laogai Research Foundation, and the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy (a prolific news source in Hong Kong) became funded by the NED, the quasi-public National Endowment for Democracy. The track record of China suggests that NED funding is not the kiss of life for democracy. It is observably true that NED's funding supports information gathering, and not hardcore political actions. (Staunch Chinese activists find disappointment in the NED.)

The staunchest of activists are now found in two organizations: the Free China Movement, a collective of groups including the China Democracy Party and the Chinese Labor Party; and, the China Support Network. (Plenty of credit is also due to staunch activists outside these groups; but, the mentioned groups are very central to the present day work of this movement.)

FCM and CSN have become unheralded "blizzards of work," where much activity continues, and seems to do so mostly beneath the radar of the American news media. These groups have in common that they are presently active; and, that they face cash shortages. Neither group receives funding from the NED. FCM is a newer group (est. 1998), therefore it was not even around to benefit by any charity in 1989. Its leader, the Tiananmen dissident Lian Shengde, spent years in prison in China, and emerged to the U.S. only in 1994.

If I was to urge my fellow Americans to rethink their charity, and to revisit this purpose now, those are the two groups which today finds to be both deserving and needy, as they face daunting ratios of workload to resources. I recommend both FCM and CSN as charities, where very small inputs could yield very large outputs.

It is also true that the IFCSS and its June 4 Foundation remain another deserving place, where today finds a cash crunch. Because this cause vanished off the radar of American news media, the absence of visibility has suffocated or asphyxiated many groups as for their fundraising activities.

No exposure leads to a hard time in appealing for support. We now need to make just such appeals. Your readership of this article may be our only exposure which allows us to appeal to you for your generosity. You yourself -- or those to whom you pass this article -- can make a difference in the cause of Chinese freedom, democracy, and human rights. Please give generously today (see a web site address below). We thank you for your support.


Published by the China Support Network (CSN). Begun by grass roots Americans in 1989, CSN represents Americans who were "on the side" of the students in Tiananmen Square -- standing for democratic reform, human rights, and freedom in China. For dissident news; to support a stronger China policy; or get more information, see http://www.chinasupport.net.

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