In Burma, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is known simply as, “The Lady”. Hearing her today at a town hall sponsored by Amnesty International at the Newseum in Washington, DC, the quiet strength of her voice made it easy to understand how she came to be known by that name. In her first visit to the U.S. since being freed from years of house arrest by the Myanmar government, it was particularly powerful to hear her speak to and answer questions from students.
As MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, who is part Burmese and was the moderator of today’s program put it, in all the years she was held prisoner, most of us have known her as a metaphor for freedom and now, finally, we do not have to imagine her behind barbed wire.
Before speaking, she received flowers from the daughter of one of the imprisoned members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, a reminder that there are still many who speak for freedom who are held prisoner.
Aung San Suu Kyi told the young audience of mostly students that her years under house arrest had been long, but not lonely and that it is important to understand that it is fear that leads to hatred and that young people must work to eliminate fear. She added that rather than thinking of how to free political prisoners, we must go beyond that to think of how to free the minds of those who imprison them.
And she vehemently reminded her rapt listeners that human rights and violence do not go together and that violence undermines human rights.
I attended today’s town hall at the kind invitation of Amnesty to be a part of the media covering the event. It was a privilege to do so and an honor to have the opportunity to hear the crucially inspiring voice of Aung San Suu Kyi and even more so to see a new generation of activists conversing with and learning from her eloquent strength. You can see more pictures from today’s event here.