Skip to main content

Aung San Suu Kyi and the power of unity

By Jack Healey and Dan Adler, Special to CNN
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Tue October 2, 2012
Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi was presented with a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, September 19. She is known worldwide for her leadership and commitment to human rights in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The opposition leader and pro-democracy campaigner was kept under house arrest for years by the Asian country's military rulers. Take a look back at her triumphs and struggles: Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi was presented with a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, September 19. She is known worldwide for her leadership and commitment to human rights in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The opposition leader and pro-democracy campaigner was kept under house arrest for years by the Asian country's military rulers. Take a look back at her triumphs and struggles:
HIDE CAPTION
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
Suu Kyi through the years
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Burma's heroine and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi touring U.S.
  • Suu Kyi is addressing ethnic divisions in Burma, challenging world leaders to be responsible
  • Writers' online campaign for Suu Kyi united people from all political sides, famous and not
  • They say in divisive times, it's worth noting power of unity in service of democratic ideals

Editor's note: Jack Healey is the director of the Human Rights Action Center and former director of Amnesty International USA. Dan Adler is a producer and new media entrepreneur.

(CNN) -- It may be one of the greatest victory laps of our time: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's political heroine, is touring the United States, offering proof everywhere she goes -- from the White House to the Capitol rotunda, from Columbia University to Hollywood, from the U.N. to CNN -- that she is indeed "the Lady."

In Oslo in June, she was able to give her acceptance speech, overdue by 21 years, for the Nobel Peace Prize she had been awarded when she was under house arrest in Burma. In the U.S., she's been able to receive the Congressional Gold Medal -- our highest honor -- she'd been awarded years ago; she was able to meet with the president, to sit with the U.N.'s secretary general and to meet many of the people who fought so hard to tell the world what the former military dictatorship was doing to her and to the Burmese people.

This week, she will visit Los Angeles, meeting with local Burmese and sitting down to dinner with members of the Hollywood community. And if one message rings through in all of her appearances, it is the strength of nonviolent reconciliation, the power of democratic ideals to triumph and what it really means to be willing to stand up for what one believes, whatever the cost.

World: Suu Kyi is 'global symbol' of progress, says U.N. secretary

Jack Healey
Jack Healey
Dan Adler
Dan Adler

It was Suu Kyi's nonviolent campaign against one of the most oppressive, dictatorial regimes of our times that gave hope to the oppressed Burmese people and to thousands of Buddhist monks, as she inspired politicians and leaders around the globe.

It was the strength of her spirit, the patience of her approach and the profound beauty of her soul. It was the message that one democratically elected ruler could withstand nearly 20 years of house arrest, could live with the memory of her father's assassination, could overcome the separation from her cancer-stricken husband whom she was not allowed to visit on his deathbed and could galvanize a movement of monks and a nation of people to rise up and take back their country.

Now, Suu Kyi is using her international visibility to address ethnic divisions in Burma and to challenge the rest of the globe to behave more responsibly, even as she forgives the very military leaders who kept her under house arrest for the better part of two decades. The nation is also called Myanmar, but Suu Kyi refuses to use that name because it was changed by the military junta.

So what does it mean for us, in America, during a polarizing election that seems to be bringing out the worst in all of us? Rhetoric, sound bites, culture wars and catchphrases are replacing substance, thoughtfulness and informed debate. And in the middle of it all, Hollywood, as usual, is manipulated by each side to demonize the other.

It wasn't so long ago, though, when our cultural leaders helped stand up and stand in for the most important voices of their day, raising issues all of us need to take more seriously. And, in fact, that's precisely what happened with Burma.

Just a few years ago, before most of us ever heard of Burma, before we could pronounce Aung San Suu Kyi's name and before we watched in horror as Cyclone Nargis ravaged its shores in 2008, a group of us from the creative and human rights communities banded together to raise our voices around what was happening to Suu Kyi and the Burmese.

Aung San Suu Kyi embarrassed by accolade

We were able to pull together, left and right, young and old, Democrats and Republicans, Americans and foreigners, straights and gays, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and atheists. All in a common cause of celebrating the voice of the people, the power of democracy and one remarkable woman. Called "Burma: It Can't Wait," it was an online video campaign featuring 38 spots to publicize what was happening in Myanmar and happening to Suu Kyi. The campaign has received about 25 million views.

What compelled nearly 100 of the industry's most creative and committed people -- in front of and behind the camera -- to rally together to produce an award-winning online video campaign? What led Shepard Fairey to create another of his iconic images, inspired the likes of Jim Carrey and Anjelica Huston to speak out and celebrities to travel to the Burmese border to show their support for the refugees?

And, in another example of what people united by a common cause can do, what inspired 27 of the world's most popular musical artists to contribute tracks in 2004 to an album called "For the Lady"?

One remarkable person. If you want to see why, read some of Suu Kyi's remarkable writings. "Freedom from Fear," published by Penguin, provides a great collection of them.

World: Myanmar democratic activist accepts tog congressional honor

In these hyperpartisan times, as approval ratings for Congress reach record lows, as our public discourse focuses on name-calling and our media oversimplify the most complex issues, it's refreshing to remember that many people were able to come together, from across a broad spectrum, to support a woman who had inspired Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to rally to her defense.

In a nation seemingly torn apart by divisiveness and conflict, on the eve of our presidential election, all of us should join together to champion the democratic traditions we cherish and to celebrate that much more that brings us together than divides us. As we enjoy Suu Kyi's tour of the United States, may we be reminded of the strength of her spirit and the power of unity of purpose in service of our ideals.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT