― Mahatma Gandhi said “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality,". My speech today is about just that.
There once was a woman named Anna who lived in constant fear – fear of doing something wrong, fear of being seen, fear of being yelled at, fear of getting in trouble. Day after day she became more and more afraid and shrank down inside herself, becoming smaller and smaller until soon she was no more than a speck of dust on the furniture. Her baby daughter cried ceaselessly and she despaired of ever making her happy. Each day Anna tried harder to please her husband, to comfort her children, to satisfy their needs, to clean the house more thoroughly. She saw there was not enough money to meet their obligations for they were poor. Indeed her husband worked hard but was unable to earn enough money to meet their basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. Her children were hungry. She was hungry. What food they had, she gave to her husband, but he complained it wasn't to his liking.
Though she had very young children, she knew she must find work just so they could eat. She took her children out into the street with her to find work and eventually found piecework she could do, ironing shirts for one of the wealthy families in the city. She carried the heavy bundle of shirts along with her weary children back home, arriving exhausted but elated to have found a way to help her family survive. She spent the rest of the dat ironing, feeling a surge of hope for the first time in ages that she would be able to buy food for her children the next day.
When her husband arrived home that evening, she told him the good news. He responded by striking her, throwing the shirts on the floor and stomping on them. he told her harshly that no wife of his would work – he would provide for them – was she trying to make him look like a fool in front of his friends? She was to return the shirts, just as they were, the next day and never try such a foolish stunt again.
She wept herself to sleep, her stomach growling with hunger, her children whimpering in bed beside her. The days became a monotony of fear, hunger, and a deep, deep sadness.
One day while sweeping her floor, Anna heard strains of music from the neighboring apartment. She stopped and leaned on her broom, listening, a faraway look in her eyes, remembering a distant time, a place, a joyful feeling… She caught herself and resumed sweeping, work needing to be done. But the music persisted and Anna found that she was sweeping in time to the beat. Her baby daughter looked up at her and wondered. Her older daughter came into the room, surprised to see a glimmer of a smile on her mother’s face. Anna laid down her broom and took her baby into her arms. She began swaying in time to the music, some primeval force filling her with joy. Her older daughter held her mother's leg at her thigh and swayed to the music with her mother. The three were united by the rhythm of the ages, coursing through their veins, their ancient memories. The woman moved her hips. Her body became a conduit for the holy within her. Her mouth opened. Sounds escaped, the likes of which she had never heard – haunting, terrifying, achingly beautiful, sublime tones, speaking of longing and sorrow, great suffering but greater joy. She sang the songs of her mother, pouring from her lips, bathing her daughters. Standing in the middle of her humble abode, colors and light streamed forth from her as she recalled the wellspring of the eternal pouring forth from her loins, her mouth, her breasts. Her baby suckled from her, gasping and giggling with glee as she filled herself richly from her mother’s milk. The older daughter watched in amazement as the colors flooded the room, bursting forth now from every crack and crevice, full of the joy of self-expression. She opened her mouth and discovered the same flow of beauty pouring forth from her own lips.
The three, bound by blood, swayed and sang and drank in the elixir of life all around them and knew it was very, very good. Never again could the world be dark or lonely or full of sadness or despair because they had discovered the eternal wellspring inside themselves that was deeper and richer and more true than any temporal circumstances could ever be. Blessed be.
Drink it in, my sisters, my brothers. Drink in the elixir from the wellspring of creativity, the source of our being.
In the midst of oppression, despair and loneliness, even then, even in the darkest night, there is a place of joy within us that yearns to spring forth. We are wiser than we know. We are more beautiful than we can begin to imagine. We are blessed beyond measure.
Take a moment now to access your Source to feel your own well. Move to the natural rhythm inside you. Allow your power to come forth. It is as deep as a woman giving birth, as broad as the heavens, as beautiful as the sun streaming on an infant’s face in the summer sun. It is the moon, the stars, and the sun combined into one powerful force, streaming forth, blessing you with eternity. You are this source. You are this wellspring of power. Once you have experienced it, you can access it always. Regardless of the circumstances, you can feel that well. You can express it in song, in dance, in poetry, in paint, in stone, in movement, on paper or canvas, in clay. Stand before your medium and allow the Source of your being to fill you with love and wisdom and empowerment. Listen for the next right step – a stroke of paint, a line of poetry, form in clay, song on your lips, movement in your hips, a moment of protest, an assertion of your rights. Let it forth.
Imagine a world where women and men always go to this wellspring before they act, where their acts of courage spring from this source, where actions and love pour forth from the same spot. THAT is a world I would like to live in!
Our Uyghur sisters and brothers have this same wellspring of creativity and life force to draw from, but they do not have the freedom to express it. Can you imagine the pain of feeling moved to dance or sing or paint or say what is true for you, and knowing that if you do, you might go to jail or even be condemned to death? – For something as natural as expressing your inner Truth! The situation in East Turkestan is dire. People are arrested daily for any form of protest which the Chinese government feels threatened by. The government is so frightened of losing power, it will do anything it can to suppress disagreement with its actions. It has torn down entire neighborhoods of historical buildings and has relocated families to new regions in order to break up communities. It has denied children the right to go to Mosques in an attempt to curtail religious practice. It gives Han Chinese preference in receiving jobs, leaving Uyghurs struggling economically as well as spiritually. it has turned dance, once a traditional form of self expression, into a parody of its former self, something to please tourists. The Chinese government has suppressed self expression in almost any form. Uyghur women bear the additional brunt of their policies. For example, they may be forced to have abortions if the government believes they already have enough children. Whose right should it be to make that determination?? It is even harder for women to find work than men, so young women sometimes take work in other provinces, thinking they can help their families, only to find they were tricked and cannot come home, Instead, they must survive as factory workers under the most inhumane of circumstances. The brutality the Uyghurs are forced to experience is inexcusable and must be stopped.
This is a travesty. It is not right for people to be denied freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom to be their authentic selves, or any other human right.
We here in this room who, presumably, live in countries where there are more freedoms, must let the world know what is happening in East Turkestan. We must tell others about the repression our sisters and brothers are experiencing. We, who have freedom of expression, owe it to those who don’t to tell their stories. It can be daunting to break the silence and to take a stand against oppression, but what other choice is there? To remain silent and watch as the Uyghur people are decimated and obliterated? NOW is the time. NOW is the time to speak. To write. To paint. To sculpt. To tell others what you know. To put pressure on China by turning world opinion against their actions in East Turkestan. People cannot protest what they do not know. We MUST share what we know with others.
I realize that might be a daunting request. I personally find it a little bit unnerving to take such a stand You see, my son, Dylan, lives in Beijing right now. He is studying Chinese at Beijing University, and I am going to visit him in just a few days. Yes, I am going to China. And I am speaking out against China right now. I was worried I might not get a Chinese visa if the government found out I was going to speak here today. I have worried I might have problems when I get to China. But I cannot allow those concerns to hold me back. That would be giving into the abusive oppression I’m speaking out against today, and I refuse to do that. Oppressors win when we fear the consequences of standing up to them.
So I’m employing my motto:“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” I want my life to mean something. I do not want to arrive at the end of my life and regret what I didn’t do that I could have done that might have made someone else’s life better. I have found my voice. I can and will use it. I encourage you to do the same. Thank you.
Susan Singer is an artist who paints female nudes of all sizes and shapes, a writer who shares her inner life openly, and a speaker and activist who encourages others to be their unadulterated, authentic self. She lives in Virginia in the United States with her husband and three cats while her three children are scattered all over the globe. She believes passionately in the right of all people to live fully self-expressed.
April 20, 2013
For Sixth Annual International Uyghur Women’s Conference.
Video of me giving this speech at the Six Annual International Uyghur Women's Conference, Paris, France, April 20, 2013