Today at 2:30pm outside of Munson Williams museum, a crowd of about 50 Burmese immigrants rallied to show solidarity with their country Myanmar (formally called Burma) which has been overtaken in a military coup. Christian, Muslim, and Buddhists all marched together over to Oneida Sqaure where their numbers swelled to well over 100 people. Participants complained about the freezing temperatures, yet persisted in demonstrating their rage over the seizing of their government. This was only one of many Burmese protests taking place all over the world as the Burmese people are petitioning any and every government to intervene and return control of the Burmese government back to the people.
What happened in Myanmar
The short version of their recent history is this: in 1962, the Burmese military took over the democratic government and began an oppressive dictatorship that greatly restricted civil liberties. In 1988, civilians began uprising via protests that were met with mass violence from the state. It wasn’t until 2011 that the military allowed elections again. In 2015, the population overwhelmingly voted for the National League for Democracy party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi has been an extremely popular president which makes her problematic for the military wanting to regain control.
In November of last year, the Democracy party again won the election. Upset by Aung San Suu Kyi’s victory, the military insisted that the election was fraudulent and used this as grounds for their coup. The military lead by Min Aung Hlaing arrested Suu Kyi and most of her administration and announced that they would allow elections to occur again in one year, but that promise has not been greatly believed by the civilians. Since the coup, the military has shut down the internet and various media outlets. The Burmese people have begun protesting both domestically and abroad.
Response in Utica
The crowd itself in Utica, while almost entirely Burmese, was rather diverse. The Burmese have several major ethnic factions that historically have seen much conflict with each other. The largest religious group by far are the Buddhist, but there are also the Christian Karen people and Muslim Rohingya people. There has recently been a large amount of solidarity between these groups as they have all come together as one Burmese population with a common enemy that is the military headed by Min Aung Hlaing.
One of the Burmese organizers spoke with the Phoenix about the rally’s agenda:
Daniel: “The Burmese military has been killing many ethnic civilians in the ethnic area –Rohingya and Karen – so [we’re here] to denounce all of it, to show our support and solidarity, and make our Utica community aware of what is going on in Burma”
Handzel: “How optimistic are you that there’ll be some sort of US intervention (I didn’t mean militarily)?”
Daniel: “We wanna see, like physically, the US intervene. We [the West] have been doing sanctions for many years, nothing happened. In the UN, China staunchly…they veto everything (I believe his point was that China veto’s all sanctions against Myanmar as China supports the military agenda in Burma)”
“We wanna see like UN troops. We just want someone to intervene physically.
Handzel: “What do you have to say about the Military promising to reinstate free elections in one year?”
Daniel: “Ha! That’s not gonna happen. Last time they had elections back in 1990, they said that they were gonna give power to the civilian government. It took, what, like over 20 years. So, it’s highly unlikely. We don’t believe it. It’s all a lie. That’s why it’s now or never.”
“We’re sending letters to our congressional leaders and representatives. In DC, we sent letters to the president and the State Department, so as a result of that, President Biden has had strict sanctions on the Burmese military leaders, which is a good thing. So, we need to keep that pressure up. We cannot let up. We cannot give up.”
The crowd massed around Oneida Sqaure at first in rows, and then began chanting in their native language. Many of them wore red bandanas or sashes showing their support for the NLD (Democratic party). One person played guitar and the crowd began singing (in their language) Dust In The Wind by Kansas. The support from cars driving by says something about how integral the Burmese population has become to the Utica area. Like the Poles, Irish, Italians, and Bosnians before them, the Burmese are now becoming one of the many groups that shapes Utica’s identity, and what transpires in their native country will greatly affect their presence here.