Students for a Free Tibet's 2009 Annual Report

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students for a free tibet 2009 Annual Report – 50 Years of Resistance

introduction / summary


2009 marked half a century since the Tibetan National Uprising of 1959. It was an historic anniversary for Tibet and an important milestone for Students for a Free Tibet (SFT). We organized global campaigns for the 50th commemoration of the 1959 uprising, expanded SFT’s grassroots base in Asia, establishing formal networks in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and held conferences and workshops in India and across North America, including our first ever Training-forTrainers program. We deepened SFT’s commitment to technology and training through the launch of the Tibet Action Institute, a special project of SFT, which combines cutting-edge technology with innovative training programs to aid and secure the work of Tibetans in Tibet. We brought on new members to the SFT HQ team and underwent a major leadership transition. Finally, thanks to the unwavering commitment and generosity of our supporters worldwide, we were able to weather the worst of the economic storm and finish 2009 on strong financial footing. We could not have carried out the following initiatives or accomplished our organizational objectives without your support and encouragement. You make our work possible and we hope that you will continue to support our efforts in the years ahead.

SFT’s 50th Anniversary of the 1959 Uprising Logo

campaigns & actions


No Losar: Tibetan New Year - or Losar - fell on February 28th, 2009. In January, Tibetans in Tibet initiated the No Losar movement, foregoing New Year celebrations to mourn those killed in China’s crackdown after the 2008 Uprising. To publicize and support this remarkable new resistance movement, Lhadon and Tendor launched an online daily show called Our Nation: News and Analysis on the State of Tibet, which ran from February 10th to March 11th. Many Tibetans cited it as a great propelling force in the campaign and it received more than 24,500 views. In February, Lhadon traveled to Hong Kong to liaise with Beijing-based journalists as they covered breaking news and events in Tibet. Global Protests and National Lobbying Days Mark 50 Years of Tibetan Resistance: On March 10th, SFT played a leading role in coordinating mass convergences for Tibet in national capitals and in dozens of other cities to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising. SFT was at the forefront of the Tibet movement’s first-ever coordinated governmental lobbying effort, building political support in the halls of legislative power in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. In the U.S., 55 of the nearly 100 Lobby Day participants were SFT members.

Lhadon and Tendor on Our Nation, February 2009

Stop Mining Tibet: In June, following months of protest, combined with international pressure from SFT’s online members, Tibetans in eastern Tibet had a landmark victory, forcing a Chinese company to close a hazardous mining operation in the area. That same month SFT Canada hand-delivered 1,000 letters to HDI/Continental Minerals’ executives, calling on the company to immediately stop mine operations in Tibet. The Vice President was forced to address the controversy in the Canadian media on the eve of the company’s shareholders meeting as SFT members protested in Vancouver, Toronto, London, and Dharamsala.

campaigns & actions (cont...)


Empire State Actions: On October 1st the Empire State Building, possibly America’s most iconic building, was lit up in red and yellow to honor the founding of the PRC. SFT mobilized our grassroots base and made a media splash by holding rallies in front of the building and coordinating two projection actions – the image of the Tibetan flag projected onto the surrounding buildings and the message “NY Hearts Human Rights” projected from within the building itself. Tibet Third Pole: In fall 2009, SFT collaborated with other Tibet Support Groups to launch the “TibetThird Pole” campaign to highlight the plight of Tibetan nomads before and during the COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference. In December, a team of activists from SFT’s network in the UK, Germany, and France participated in the COP15 Parallel People’s Forum and joined the Global Day for Climate Justice. SFT helped develop online materials for people worldwide to take action to pressure Chinese leaders attending the Copenhagen meetings.

human rights & political prisoners

leadership human rights

Empire State Building October 1st, 2009

Profiles in Courage: On each of the 50 days leading up to March 10th, 2009, SFT profiled 50 individual Tibetans who have made a significant contribution to the Tibetan freedom struggle. We profiled these individuals through a custom designed countdown widget and on the SFT blog at: Free Tibetan Heroes: In October 2009, SFT co-launched the FreeTibetan Heroes campaign, mobilizing international pressure for the release of nine high profile political prisoners, and raising awareness about the 700 known Tibetans still detained since the March 2008 uprising. From October to December, we profiled filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, collecting 30,000 signatures for his release on Facebook, sending 6,500 letters to Chinese officials, and distributing 250 DVDs of his film Leaving Fear Behind. In October, we helped secure a feature article in the New York Times profiling developments in his case. In November, we secured $4,000 to provide miscellaneous support to his family.

leadership development

Imprisoned Tibetan Filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen

SFT UK National Conference in Leeds: In early November 2008, Lhadon and Kate Woznow, SFT’s Campaigns Director, traveled to London for the SFT UK national training conference at Leeds University in northern England. While in London they also held organizational development meetings with SFT UK’s board of directors as well as campaign meetings with UK support groups. Regional Trainings in the US: Between January and April, more than 100 Tibetan and American students in Amherst, New York City, Madison, and San Francisco participated in our regional leadership trainings that included workshops on innovative non-violent direct action, campaign strategy, and technology in activism. Strategic Nonviolence Workshop: In March 2009, Tendor and SFT India’s Choeying and Tenchoe traveled to Bylakuppee in south India to hold SFT’s first-ever training in strategic nonviolence for a group of 35 young activist monks from Sera Monastery.

Training-for-Trainers participants August 2009

First-ever Training-for-Trainers workshop in upstate New York: In August, we brought together 25 of SFT’s most strategic and visionary young leaders from around the world to provide them with the tools and resources to refine their leadership skills and become successful trainers with professional facilitators from Training for Change.

leadership development (cont...) Free Tibet! Action Camp X in India: In October over 40 Tibetan students went through our innovative non-violent direct action and strategic planning-based curriculum. Several leaders representing key Tibetan NGOs, including the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association, were among the participants. First-ever Information and Communications Technology (ICT) training: In November, under the banner of the Tibet Action Institute, we trained 25 Tibetan activists, bloggers, and journalists in the use of ICT to strengthen and secure their important work and activism for Tibet.

organizational growth & development

Strategic Nonviolence workshop in south India, March 2009


Online, Chapter & Membership Growth: Membership in SFT’s Facebook groups almost doubled in 2009 and now exceeds 69,000 members. SFT’s online Action Network grew to more than 49,700 members. SFT’s grassroots student and community chapter network has expanded to Taiwan and Hong Kong, while chapters in Japan, Germany, Poland, and India saw continued growth. We also launched an SFT twitter account and currently have 485 followers. Fundraising: In spite of the recession, SFT staff and board introduced creative fundraising programs specifically designed to adapt to the current economic climate. Our Rangzen Circle monthly giving program grew from roughly 75 to 400 monthly donors. In the fall, we competed in the Facebook “Causes” Giving Challenge and raised more than $40,000 in donations and won $10,000 in prize money after placing 7th out of thousands of groups. In SFT’s 2008/2009 fiscal year, we raised $558,900.

Personnel: In August 2009 Heather Reddick stepped down as Operations Director and we hired Schuyler Swenson, a former intern and SFT chapter leader at Wesleyan, as Office Manager. In November 2009, Lhadon Tethong stepped down as Executive Director and Tendor was appointed by the board of directors to take her place and Kate Woznow was promoted to the position of Deputy Director. Shortly thereafter, SFT hired Tenzin Dolkar, former intern and chapter president at Mt. Holyoke College, to be our USA Grassroots Director. Most recently we hired a new Development Manager, Mary Kate Oreovicz, a former SFT student organizer and long-time Tibet activist.

SFT Board Member, Yangchen is interviewed on Al Jazeera March 10, 2009

tibet action institute

tibet action

The March ‘08 Uprising demonstrated how advances in technology present Tibetans with new opportunities for circumventing Chinese censors and advancing their struggle. SFT’s demonstrated technological success, especially during the Olympics, our innovative training programs, and our key leadership role in the movement, perfectly position us to seize this opportunity. Spearheaded by Lhadon Tethong, (SFT’s former ED) and Nathan Freitas (former board member and SFT’s Chief Technologist), we launched the Tibet Action Institute in Nov 2009. Tibet Action (for short) is a special project of SFT focused on developing cutting-edge technology, ground-breaking training programs, and visionary strategies for Tibetans. In 2009, our plan to build a smart phone for activists based on Google’s Android platform, won 1st prize ($15,000) in the UC Berkeley’s “Mobile Challenge.” We also received $25,000 from Avaaz, an international advocacy group, to develop technology and training programs that empower Tibetans to communicate more safely and securely. More:

Tibet Action Institute Logo

international organizing


Taiwan – In December 2008, Lhadon and Tendor traveled to Taiwan for a speaking tour and to explore the possibility of founding SFT in Taiwan. They visited eight colleges and universities and spoke to over 400 students. With the help of a Taiwanese supporter, SFT coorganized a Tibetan freedom concert on December 10, where Lhadon spoke to a crowd of 500 people. Following their attendance at SFT’s Training-for-Trainers program in upstate New York, two Taiwanese participants started a formal SFT national network in Taiwan in August 2009. SFT Canada – Underwent a transition in May 2009 with National Director Tsering Lama stepping down to pursue graduate studies and Tenzin Lobsang Wangkhang stepping into this role. As a former chapter leader from the University of Ottawa and former staffer for Canadian Senator Con DiNino, Tenzin has proven to be an able and inspiring young leader.

Lhadon and Tendor visit Chung Tah University in Tainan, Taiwan

SFT India – Hired two young Tibetans: Tenzin Sonam as Development Director and Yungdrung as Accountant. The SFT India team now consists of five full-time staff and continues to gain ground as a respected organizing body and a leading force within the exiled Tibetan community across India as well as in Nepal. SFT Japan – In May 2009, Tendor went on a weeklong lecture tour of Japan where he spoke at Waseda University and on panels alongside Amnesty International. He visited the Japanese parliament and met with MPs. Tendor’s visit also strengthened SFT Japan’s ties with the local Tibetan community. SFT Hong Kong – In October 2009, prominent Chinese student activist, Christina Chan, and a handful of young Hong Kong citizens and foreign students formally established an SFT chapter. Our presence in Hong Kong will be a key platform to reach out to and mobilize potential Chinese supporters in the future. SFT Bangladesh – After years of groundwork by Wasfia Nazreen, SFT Bangladesh established an official network and organized its first event – a photo exhibit representing 50 years of Tibetan resistance – in November 2009 and made international headlines when the Bangladeshi authorities shut down the exhibit under pressure from the Chinese government.

SFT Canada’s Stop Mining in Tibet Logo

conclusion Following the 2008 March Uprising in Tibet and the fifty-year anniversary of the March 1959 Tibetan National Uprising, Tibetans in Tibet – especially the younger generation – are embracing new tactics and strategies to advance their struggle for basic rights and freedoms. In 2010, SFT will continue to support and amplify the efforts of Tibetans inside Tibet, as we advocate for the release of high-profile political prisoners, build international pressure to stop China’s failed environmental policies in Tibet, including the exploitation of Tibet’s natural resources, and challenge China’s occupation of Tibet at every strategic opportunity on the global stage. We will invest in the next generation of Tibetan leaders by further developing our innovative training program, foster new relationships with allied organizations and movements, and expand SFT’s grassroots presence throughout Asia and around the world.

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