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 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT