Demanding an end to junta’s air strikes, Burmese in U.S. march on White House

‘We have to unite.' Protest brings together ethnic groups to take a stand against the military.
By Sophie Chew for RFA
Washington DC
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Demanding an end to junta’s air strikes, Burmese in U.S. march on White House A demonstrator wears a face mask with an image of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a headband with the three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance, during a street march and a demonstration against the Myanmar junta and its attacks on civilians in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023.
Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA

Braving snow flurries and chanting slogans, roughly 300 members of the Burmese diaspora in the United States marched to the White House over the weekend, demanding an end to the junta’s air strikes and the establishment of a no-fly zone over Myanmar.

“Democracy is coming today, dictatorship is going away,” they chanted as they marched through the streets of Washington on Saturday. 

The procession included Buddhist monks, children, young people and middle-aged couples. Many drove hundreds of kilometers through freezing temperatures from as far away as Minnesota and upstate New York to participate. 

Dubbed the “Multi-ethnic march,” the protest brought together the diaspora’s varied ethnic groups to take a stand against the military, which took control of the government in a February 2021 coup and has been battling rebel groups ever since.

Nay Htoo, a longtime board member with the Karen Organization of Minnesota, drove for 16 hours through the night with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law to join the event. In his hurry to join the march on time, he left his gloves in the car, leaving his hands pink and raw from the cold, but he insisted it was worth it.

Demonstrators carrying the flag of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy participate in a street march against the Myanmar junta, Washington, D.C., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA

The elderly community leader was one of several speakers to address the crowd at the march, using his speech to call for a swift resolution to the coup and unity amongst the different ethnic groups in standing against the military.

“Every day there are air strikes, people’s houses are damaged, people are dying,” he said, speaking afterwards. “This must stop.”

Reliance on airstrikes

Facing setbacks on the ground and stiff resistance from rebel groups since the coup, the military is increasingly relying on airstrikes in recent months – and many seem to target civilians.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more left homeless by the waves of air strikes and arson attacks. The Sagaing region in the north and Kayin state, in the east, bordering Thailand – both viewed as hotbeds of rebellion – have borne the brunt of the attacks.

Demonstrators shout slogans and display placards during a march against the Myanmar junta in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA

The military carried out 57 airstrikes in Kayin state in January alone, killing 13 civilians, including a 2-year-old child and two leaders of the Christian community, according to the Karen National Union.

In October, military jets bombed a concert in northern Myanmar commemorating the founding of an ethnic political group Kachin Independence Organization, killing 63 people – many of them civilians – and wounding 100 more.

‘Reject junta’s sham election’

In Washington, spirits were high despite the snow and rain, with the crowd singing along to the revolutionary anthem, “Blood Oath,” and carrying signs saying, “End deadly air strikes,” and “Reject junta’s sham election” – a reference to vague plans by the military government to hold a vote later this year.

Gen-Z volunteers Grace Mang and Matha Chin, who have been living in the United States for seven years, said it was their first time attending such a protest. They felt compelled to join as one of the few gestures of solidarity available to them from afar.

“There’s nothing much we can do from here, no other way to really show support, so we wanted to come and show we are with them,” said Martha.

Demonstrators display a picture of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and flash three-fingers salute, a symbol of the resistance, during a protest against the Myanmar junta outside the White House in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. Credit: Gemunu Amarasinghe/RFA

The Burmese diaspora in the United States has been mobilizing since the early days of the coup, organizing fundraisers and marches and calling on the U.S. government to ramp up measures against the junta. 

The Burma Act, which was passed by Congress in 2022 as part of a military spending bill, allows the United States to engage with the opposition National Unity Government and other opposition groups in exile, as well as to impose further sanctions against the junta. Its enactment paved the way for the NUG to open a shadow embassy in Washington D.C earlier in Feb. 2023.

The importance of inter-ethnic unity to the resistance efforts is one of the key themes emphasized by leaders of the U.S. diaspora.   

‘It is everyone's fight’

Aung San ‘Christopher’ Win, a Maramagri activist from Rakhine who also spoke at the march, said the coup had encouraged more Burmese, especially those from majority groups, to address inter-ethnic discrimination.

“Before the coup, few activists would speak up for ethnic minorities like the Chin or the Rohingya,” he said, adding that his own campaigning efforts back in Myanmar had often drawn criticism from majority groups. 

He arrived in the United States as a refugee in early 2021 after his political activities made him a target of the military.

The turnout despite the snowy weather shows “how much we want democracy,” said Saw Luh Tort, an organizer from Buffalo, New York.

“The military has been doing divide-and-rule for decades,” he said. “Something they didn’t know was that it would bring us together. It is everyone’s fight.”

Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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Larry Steele
Mar 01, 2023 01:50 PM

Can you confirm report from Yangon that the monastery and school of Ashin Issariya (aka Ashin Min Thu Nya) in Karen has been raided by soldiers and pro-junta monks, and that several monks have been arrested, possibly including Ashin Issariya?