Tibet House US Menla Conversations: Kiri Westby – Ep. 251
In a conversation spanning the top of Mount Everest to the front-lines of parenting during a global Pandemic, Professor Thurman is joined by Kiri Westby for a dialog on human rights, activism and the history of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Opening with a discussion of Kiri Westby’s “Fortune Favors The Brave: An Extraordinary Memoir” and work with communities in Nepal, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and in the United States, Robert Thurman uses her page turning book as guide, exploring the history of modern grassroots movements, feminism and the rise of second generation Buddhists in the West.
Recounting her part in the historic “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet” 2008 Beijing Olympics Protest action and her time spent in Chinese custody, Kiri Westby shares her perspective on the role of the individual and value of direct action, continuing education and community engagement in creating sustainable positive change.
Podcast includes: discussions of birth, re-birth and reincarnation and the history of Non-Violent political movements.
This podcast is apart of the Tibet House US Conversations series of dialogues between Bob Thurman & the leading hearts, minds & personalities bringing the ancient wisdom of Buddhism and Tibet into the modern mindful and compassionate revolution. The Tibet House US Menla Online (THUS MO) Conversations are produced through the generous support of it’s membership community and are a part of the digital member archive made available as a part of becoming a monthly supporter.
The Bob Thurman podcast is produced under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial, No Derivatives License through the generous support of its listening audience and the Tibet House US Menla membership community. To learn about the benefits of membership please visit: www.tibethouse.us.
The songs “Trance Tibet” & ‘Dancing Ling’ by Tenzin Choegyal from the album ‘Heart Sutra‘ (2004) by Ethno Super Lounge are used on the Bob Thurman Podcast with artist’s permission, all rights reserved.
Welcome everybody. I'm so happy and honored to have, um, the author and, um, uh, the brave adventurer and feminist activist, Kiri Westby with me to talk about her wonderful book, “Fortune Favors, the Brave” which, I liked a lot.
It's about some of her adventures in the past. And, um, so I'm very delighted to have her. And, uh, she published this wonderful book last year and she had a 30 city tour waiting to go. And then BAM!
Nature, the animals from the ravaged rainforest struck back at humanity and we've been locked down ever since. And she's now home in Boulder, I believe. And I'm here in, uh, in the Catskill mountains and I haven't left here except for one day I went to New York city for one night, uh, in the last, uh, last year.
Bob Thurman 00:02:17 Uh, but, um, and I don't know, I think you had more adventures than me Kiri! So anyway, welcome. And how are you doing? How was the family? How's everyone?
Kiri Westby 00:02:30 I'm so excited to be here with you in this moment. And, um, we're doing well it's, the, day after Christmas - Boxing Da and my kids are sort of mercifully sleeping in a bit after a big day yesterday.
Bob Thurman 00:02:55 Yes. A big Christmas day. And, uh, it's a wonderful thing for the children.
You know, we were at the grandchildren level and they're at different ages. And so some are here. Some are not here. It's been very confusing trying to schedule the same moments, you know, it's been very complicated. So now I'm curious, please tell us a little bit, how did you get on this amazing trip that you Chronicle? I mean, you can start, if you're like in your previous lives, you could start in your youth or you could start anywhere. You like, please tell us how you got onto this amazing trip that you Chronicle in your exciting book.
Kiri Westby 00:03:25 Well, it does seem that way a little bit, little bit faded from lifetimes. Um, but I was born into the sort of experimental and new branch of Tibetan Buddhism called Shambala in Boulder.
I was raised in private Buddhist schools through my childhood and took different vows and Dharmic art practices through my education. So I think early on, I always had a kind of awareness of certain tenants of Buddhism- like karma and merit and reincarnation, and a lot of those sort of basic tenants and thoughts.
I also was aware of the occupation of Tibet because the teacher was a Tibetan exile refugee. I was sort of aware of the concept of occupation or war, um, armed conflict from an early age.
So those things kind of combined in my early twenties when I was found a job with this very exciting and brand new, um, frontline feminist funding network called urgent action fund.
Kiri Westby 00:04:42 At Twenty Two, I was their first full-time employee. And we, we were seeking to kind of revolutionize the old model of philanthropic funding, especially in war zones and to cut out some of the middlemen and to create really direct networks of connections with them and as activists on the ground and to get money and resources into their hands with the least amount of red tape as possible, which was revolutionary in the funding world.
So the first five years of my activism were spent traveling in and out of war zones, building these networks of trust and communication. So we could move money and resources quickly.
The international criminal court was being developed and we're starting to try cases around war crimes. And we were providing direct evidence, documented evidence. We were providing money on the ground.
Kiri Westby 00:05:43 Um, now what's interesting about that is I was a 22 year old blonde American girl, and I was sort of the least, um, likely to come walking up by foot to walk across the border into say the democratic Republic of Congo or up into <inaudible> or in certain places. And so almost my, um, my anomaly caused me to have a certain amount of Mt of privilege and movement and, um, my passport and I was learning how to use those unearned privileges as, uh, a tool, a tool to leverage within movements because I could cross borders others couldn't because I was, um, often not searched in the same way others were. And so I became sort of, um, a tool for this new fund to move money, information, resources across borders clandestinely. So I had been doing that for many years. And, um, and just as a side note, I just want to share with you, you may not know that this past week McKenzie Scott, the ex wife of Jeff Bezos of Amazon donated, you know, $4 billion And, um, urgent action fund receives 20 million of that. So that's wonderful. This fledgling vision idea that we had, that we could do this and all the nights of writing grant proposals and begging for every dollar and every donation, um, us sort of founding mothers have been celebrating all week that like it's gonna have an impact for generations long beyond us.
Bob Thurman 00:07:30 That's wonderful. I'll use that you continue to work with them yourself.
Kiri Westby 00:07:34 Um, yeah, I think in some capacity, I always, like, I always consider part of the, to be part of the, your urgent action fund family. And, um, on March 8th of this year, they threw the book launch for fortune favors, the brave, which then on March 9th, the country shut down, but I was on international women's day and we had our last final celebration. And, um, and the book is a fundraiser for both urgent action fund and for students for free Tibet and show you the fun cover. And I'm so, and so, um, yeah, so I think, um, there's just, it's just been a really good week, a good end to painful and difficult year to know that this work be sort of pulled together and risks so much to create will continue in perpetuity. Sure.
Bob Thurman 00:08:25 Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, I remember, I remember reading your book and in particular you had some very scary encount. What was the most frightening encounter that you had actually, baby, can you, can you tell us?
Kiri Westby 00:08:41 Detail of a mission I was in, in the democratic Republic of Congo in which I got off the plane for a stop, a pit stop. And I w we were maybe not aware that that particular stop was held by a rebel faction. And I took a photograph seems simple, but it can be quite a dangerous thing to do in a war zone. And within minutes I, myself and my colleague had machine guns pointed at our faces, and we were walked off the plane and brought into a small shack. And we didn't know if the plane had left with all of our belongings and we were highly interrogated. And I think that was one of the moments where I thought I may just die here and nobody would know for a very long time.
Bob Thurman 00:09:28 How did you, how did you escape?
Kiri Westby 00:09:31 I escaped because I happened to have a $20 bill in my pocket randomly, after a lot of negotiations, I reached into my pocket and I felt this corner of a bill that I hadn't had. I'd had too much for the cab driver to the way to the airport. And, um, and I offered it up and suddenly the whole tone changed and we were allowed to go back onto the plane. Wow. $20, what that wouldn't get me back home in Boulder, but the price of our freedom in the Congo. So,
Bob Thurman 00:10:03 Yeah, I remember you were telling me about Congo, how terrifying it is to even think of the Backwoods there in the democratic Republic of Congo and a number of you were telling me about how you ran into a lot of these poor young girls who were badly mutilated and had been badly treated. I mean, really, I mean, horrendously practically. Yeah. That's the door and a, and a violation of that, any kind of violence you can imagine. And, um, and they were brandishing and asking you about Angelina. And you're telling me that she made, she had made a huge impact there. And I was, I was very surprised, very courageous of her, I think. Did you find traces of her and more, you were in a number of places there, I think is that right? Yeah.
Kiri Westby 00:10:50 At the same time she was doing as a Goodwill ambassador and conflict zones, I was doing a lot of this work and, um, I'm not someone who has television or has watched a lot of movies in my life. But, um, in the activist world, I know her name as someone who is incredibly legitimate and really has put herself in places, very few people would dare to go. Especially people who are stature, stature
Bob Thurman 00:11:13 Really impressed by that my self. I really, I really admire that in her, you know, what she's been doing since, but I do admire that. And then you, so, um, so, um, this is amazing, amazing that you had this, uh, bravery to do this. So in w when you say you understand to go back to what you said before you were brought up in the Shambala community and as a child, uh, you learned about reincarnation and about karma and so on. How do you, how do, how do you think that enabled you or spurred you or to, to join such a dangerous activities? Actually, what was it that gave you the courage? How, how, how can you say that?
Kiri Westby 00:11:58 Well, so the main premise that sort of in the way I write my book and tell my story is through this, the bravest action of my life, which was at Mount Everest in 2007, um, or I joined a Tibetan freedom protest. And, um, we're sort of very publicly arrested and disappeared by the Chinese government, right? As they were leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, right.
Bob Thurman 00:12:24 We were both scared by that about, you were more frightened by that alibi, the Congo, the Chinese first more scary, then that's really interesting. Or
Kiri Westby 00:12:34 As the days went on, for sure. I think it was one of those where I went in purposefully at with a lot of, um, American kind of bravado. And I used a lot of the tricks I'd learned in all my years in war zones to help, uh, Tibetan 10 tens in Georgia to sort of sneak into Lhasa and across the Tibetan plateau and up to Everett, which is incredibly difficult thing to do. And you go through so many checkpoints and you have so many permits to apply for. And at each one I had to pull out just the ugliest side of that American and titled you can, we're refusing to take no for an answer attitude. And so when I got, when we got to the day of the protest and it actually miraculously worked, and we were the first, I think to send a satellite signal from base camp, with images to a computer in New York, um, I think I went into the arrests maybe with a lot of that kind of bravado and arrogance and it to begin with and to begin with super arrested by the local military who lived there and who, um, there's a small jail there at Everest base camp, but it wasn't, there wasn't too much aggression.
Kiri Westby 00:13:46 They had guns, but they also have cigarettes and water. And it was kind of like they were shocked that we had even done it. And at that point, nobody knew that it was more than just a local action. Nobody there knew we had had a satellite and we'd sent this whole video out. And so it was a lot of just confusion in the first 14 hours that we were held in that cell there at base camp. And I did some media interviews from the toilet. They never searched us, they didn't take my phone. Um, and then about 14 hours later, the secret police, um, showed up and everything changed. And so then they searched us, separated us and started systematically threatening us and intimidating us and abusing all the Tibetans around us that had had any contact with us. And, um, just by the second or third day of being an interrogation, I, I did think that that would be the end of my life, as I knew it, that I was going to spend the rest of my life in a prison camp, um, or at least for a long time in my life.
Kiri Westby 00:14:49 And I had grown up with stories of Paul didn't get so, and I had grown up with stories of the drops, Chine nuns, and I knew about some of the stories that had snuck out from Chinese prison camps. And I had sort of had this picture of where I was heading in my mind. And, um, but once again, our strategy, our security strategy was what would happen if they did this to Americans from average Americans from Colorado and San Francisco, would they treat us the same way with what would happen if we could apply that political pressure? Um, and it worked. And so within three days, our congressmen were speaking, our president got involved, secretary of States got involved and we were actually released instead of being charged. So, um, but I think that, yeah, I think it all comes together. It's like my upbringing in the Buddhism and having those sort of thoughts about merit and what this lifetime is all about. And that combining with years of clandestine work in war zones, and I was sort of right person for this one role at this one moment. And, um, students for free Tibet was looking for people like me and other sort of American activists willing to use leverage this story. And it worked and it was like us non-violent, um, Americans went there and we caused a huge thorn in the side of the world's largest authoritarian. Bob Thurman 00:16:19 <inaudible> very good. It was very good. Some people of course feel that there's always the feeling I have heard people say that it was unnecessarily provocative and important words crack down on Tibetans and this sort of thing there is that feeling in some quarters, if you have you, have you encountered that?
Kiri Westby 00:16:40 I did. Yeah. Even in the Shambala world a bit about sort of how it prevented certain teachers from traveling and how it caused further suffering. And, um, that's kind of that old sort of argument against stirring the pot, you know, like just stay where you are and if you stir the pot, it'll get worse. Right. I think my training is more to be a pot stir and a bit of a truth teller. And to say, you know, the real, the real, you know, perpetrator is the Chinese government. It's not as five unarmed Americans. And if things did get worse in Tibet through 2008 and a huge uprising occurred, um, but there's also messages from within Tibet that people felt very supported by our actions that people they'd never met would care enough to put their lives on the line on another country. Yeah.
Bob Thurman 00:17:31 Yes, yes. So I think it is an unbalanced truth is really great. And, uh, even if it, uh, if it seems to make things worse, it's because the underlying worse has been light is lying there and is being inflicted on people steadily in a sort of structural injustice and structural oppression and so on. And so that sort of brings it out. It's sort of like what maybe, um, sometimes I think the, the horrendous, uh, Trump years were ultimately signify was a time in a way you could say he's, he's, he's, he's brought the sort of white supremacy and all these kinds of insane, uh, regressive, uh, American strands that have been there since the native American genocide and through the slavery, through the civil war and all of that. And he's brought it out, uh, he's added to it, or has been the conclusion of it. You can say in one sense, and then another, and another sense, he blew the cover of people who were dog whistling for decades, if not centuries. And what's holding us back from realizing maybe you could say that the ideal, not just an American ideal, but a Christian ideal Buddhist ideal, you know, Islamic, spiritual, ideal, you know, even the secular humanist, maybe have, you could say, so truth has to be there, even if it seems to have immediate painful consequences, by the way.
Kiri Westby 00:18:58 And I think this was the year that so many people found what their line was, you know, whether it was the murder of George Floyd or the mishandling of the comic or the blatant corruption in government, where what we're seeing is we're seeing people who are within those privileged circles of power, speaking out, we're seeing whistleblowers and people
speaking their truth to power in a way that creates change and is not about savior complex of others, but it's about using the leveraging the access we have to make change. And, um, I feel like in the Buddhist world, like, you know, my parents were part of that kind of travelers who went to India in 1970 from across the great hippie trail and kind of part of like, um, like, uh, the big kind of inhalation, if you will, of, but it's Dharma. And my generation, I feel is part of the exhalation or the out-breath of what that created, because it created hundreds of us who were also raised in a certain way who see our lives as, um, useful and are meaningful as we act on behalf of others. And so, um, I think that I've seen that in lots of places. Yeah, Bob Thurman 00:20:26 That's wonderful. I don't know if you know me, uh, Michelle Alexander, if you know who that is, who wrote our she's a sociologist, uh, uh, I think university of Chicago or, or somewhere near a of university and, uh, sorry, I'm not specific on that. And, uh, she wrote a wonderful book called the new Jim Crow. She wrote an op-ed in the New York times that I loved sometime during last, this last year, in which she said she almost wished that she believed in reincarnation or that people in general did because maybe then they would be less cruelty and less horrendous behavior on their part if they actually did. And I was so struck by that. I don't know her, I had one such as the leisure and unfortunately missed the chance. And, um, she's friends of some friends of mine at the union seminary in New York. And, um, they had, I was invited to a dialogue thing with her, but I couldn't make it, but not the year before that. But, um, I was struck by that. And, uh, and I wonder if you feel that you feel when you were facing deaths. And, uh, the other one that I was, that I remember is where you had to sneak out through a bathroom where you were being in prison should be molested in a rather big, bad way. And that was in Congo. I think Kiri Westby 00:21:44 That was in Sri Lanka, actually, that was inside
Bob Thurman 00:21:47 <inaudible> formerly a Buddhist country. Exactly. And in some respects still, but not totally, obviously. And, uh, did that, uh, did that actually make you feel that death would be just another adventure or was there any way it changed your attitude about the danger of death, fear of death? Did it affect you in any way? Yeah,
Kiri Westby 00:22:14 I think, you know, there's this saying these days among young people, Yolo, have you heard that it's wild and it stands for you, you only live once and it's a sort of a, a sense of like, you know, no responsibility, no accountability Yolo. And I see it a lot with younger kids and younger people I interact with.
Bob Thurman 00:22:38 And it's so opposite to
Kiri Westby 00:22:40 My Buddhist training, which is like, no, really you don't only live once. And there's so much that happens in this lifetime and my belief that has profound effects on lifetimes after you're here. And that, um, we, I think if there's an underlying message to this pandemic, it's that same. Like if you act individually, you are at risk. If you can act communally or think beyond yourself, you may survive this. And so, um, I think, and it may be also the kind of concept of the bodhisattva, the bodhisattva vows, which are about coming back again, lifetimes until to help humanity and to work with the liberating humanity. And, um, those kind of combine into my activism in war zones. Um, but yeah, I did several times think that this may be the way that I was going to die. Um, and also at the time felt okay with that because I was doing something that I felt so committed to, and I was sort of in my truth and in my justice. And so we all die at some point
Bob Thurman 00:23:48 Or your slogan, you're still going to be Yolo at Yolo ad. So you only live once at a time or you only live a thousand times once at a time, once at a time, if any one time you can be infinite, you could be, I love what you said beyond yourself are infinite or expand beyond just the boundary arbitrary boundary of the skin. Uh, only once at a time. That's really, really interesting. Really. I never knew Yolo. I, I deal with Yolo all the time myself, but they never used the word Yolo or the expression. In other words, it's interesting because for years I have taught given talks in many places and I've been, I've tackled the, the death means that you become nothing attitude in which relates to a psychotic rectal sense of our culture. I personally believe it's really critical. It's a key thing that you can get out of the consequences of how you live and how you behave just by dying.
Bob Thurman 00:24:59 So that in a way they're Def they're supposedly, although they fool themselves into thinking that they're being brave to be nothing, actually, since nothing is subliminally understood by them as anesthesia, at least no pain, then it's actually an escape. It's a total escape. It's a total list dealing with that for the long time, but they never said Yolo. He's the older people. And you see my, my, my imprisonment is being imprisoned with the elderly or the older people. And I don't think the young kids, the young Yolo kids would've ever come to one of my lectures. So therefore they didn't jump up and say, Yolo, yeah, I'm into your hollow. Otherwise I would have given them Yolo at, you know, exactly, you know, totally live one side at a time. And I think that it is interesting
Kiri Westby 00:25:50 My book as a memoir, and it's very, just raw my story of coming up against my white privilege, my Western supremacy, my heteronormativity, even my feminist fundamentalisms. I wrote it for my sort of younger self. I wrote it for the idealist that wants to go out and save the world so that I could spare them. Some of the painful lessons that I learned and, you know, and take some of the burden off the women who shared those lessons with me patiently and share them in circles where people can hear them. So I just spoke to my very first university class, um, that was assigned to the book at San Diego state university and had a fascinating discussion with young kids, 1920 years old about their role in the, about this question about sort of, if you're not from a culture, could you go over and work and do make change in that culture? There was sort of that criticism of us being Americans and going into China to Tibet, which is in our culture and speaking out, um, we talked about that and we talked a lot about, um, just the importance of story and of sharing one story. And so I think, I think what is unique about my book is that it's a memoir and it reads like a novel, like first person present tense and young people can, are getting into it. Like instead of it being didactic, it's really encompassing.
Bob Thurman 00:27:21 Yes. Yes. Wonderful, wonderful. Well, I hope you, do you have a tour plan for after the COVID is over and you can do one then and then the paper back or something?
Kiri Westby 00:27:34 Yeah, I would really like to, I've gotten some really great feedback from, um, people like Ellen Burstyn and great quotes that weren't included in this version of the book. And the plan was for me and my husband and our two kids to get in our old VW van and drive the country and talk to people and get up independent bookstores. So I would love to do that when it's safe to do so.
Bob Thurman 00:27:57 I think that's very, very important then. And of course I know you're, I'm sure you're writing another book. What, what is your, what are you writing now? What are you doing?
Kiri Westby 00:28:04 I am well in the 10 years that I was working on this book, um, I had two children, so I've been working on a book it's called the mothering on the edge and sort of circumnavigating the hope and fear around, um, all of it postpartum and pandemic, playdates and puberty. So my next book will be, um, specifically how I apply some of my war zone training to the frontline job of motherhood, which I think may be the hardest job in the world.
Bob Thurman 00:28:36 Right, right, right. Yeah. So that's really exciting. So you, but you don't think of doing active missions again yourself because of a mother responsibility. Maybe you can tell well, or
Kiri Westby 00:28:46 Nine-year-old and a five-year-old. So I'm still in it. This pandemic I'm really in it and learning fifth grade math and bouncing off the wall. But, um, I think, um, I don't think I'll ever stop being an activist, even if it's in different ways. And that's something that I talk about in my book, which is that sometimes you are at the frontline and sometimes you are invisibly part of the support staff. And I have spent a lot of my activism years on the front line and my face out there. And now a lot of my activism is in support. So sitting on boards, donating, supporting activists in a way of self care, that is very rarely funded. Um, and I've been doing that all summer sort of supporting the, in the backgrounds as the, um, racial uprising has been happening. And so I think I'm still very much, but in a way that, um, in a way that I can be effectively involved right now, I'm not the most effective person for the front lines.
Bob Thurman 00:29:49 Right? No, I agree. I'm just like, for example, you, you were, you were out there and there were some elder women who were supporting you and targeting you and who, who were using, having you work within their network, where a younger person could do something in the sense of be perceived as more, more innocent and more, more obliged, more, less, as you said, you were a lot searched the same way, et cetera. A lot of things like that. Yeah. And, uh, until there is that other way of interacting and now, now I think of the UAF UAF ado, Boone to air force.
Kiri Westby 00:30:24 I know
Bob Thurman 00:30:28 Activism network. I think it's a wonderful, wonderful organization. I hope they're still flourishing. And I have to say they are,
Kiri Westby 00:30:35 Well now they have four sister funds, one in the us, one in Africa, one in Latin America and the Caribbean and one in Asia and Pacific islands. So they like, um, they have 25, maybe 30 full-time employees, all young people. Now they have this incredible gift from McKenzie Scott. And I think they're going to take over the world. I just, I feel like I am, I have full faith in that.
Bob Thurman 00:31:02 Well, that's good. Well, we did call it, looked at it. We could also call it the oxytocin network as opposed to the cortisone network that is currently in charge and it's destroying the world, you know? Yeah. Well that is the oxytocin network, you know, I'm totally, I mean, actually when I say, you know, I'm intellectually totally a feminist, but my, my good wife, uh, as you know her and I, I think you've met her. Yes, you have met her. And she is always telling me that I still have habits, you know? So I'm still, I'm still, I'm still a disciple, you know, activists, but, but intellectually, certainly I am a hundred percent feminist. And actually I shocked Buddhists audiences by teaching that the female embodiment of the human is the more advanced part, rather than the male. Even though in the history of Buddhism, there have been many more known male, you know, saints and meditators and so forth who are known, but they all have been instructed by females, especially if you're looking at the ton trucks, but you don't know the names of the females, the females are not named. They didn't write the books, et cetera, usually very, very few, very few. And that should change now, actually that should change. So I think we need a lot of yoga needs and I've been trying to teach them, I have a thing called Raja yoga. I'm trying to teach them, but anyway, you should use your definitely. So you said some painful things that you had, mistakes that you made you, can you think of any, that you could save a young person, younger person from?
Kiri Westby 00:32:34 Um, yeah, I think that, um, it was sort of a slow waking up to a, of the Western privileges and sort of viewpoints that I had when I got into real global international activism was seeing the role my country and my government was actually playing outside of my opening for me as a young person, and really led me to come back to my own country to sort of make that shift back into the unearned circles, under privileged circles that I could have my voice be effective. And it was an acronym South African activist, actually that said to me, you know, what are you doing here in Africa when it's your government, who you need to be lobbying, who are actively under developing the world. And, um, men hit very, very strongly with me as I kind of came back into my country. Now I do a lot of political work and activism within.
Bob Thurman 00:33:31 Good, wonderful. Yeah. So although I do feel, for example, what is America anyway? You know, in other words, there's a, there's one America that isn't America, but unfortunately, rules that sometimes a directs it in the wrong direction. That is a sort of last vestige of the British empire.
Kiri Westby 00:33:52 We had.
Bob Thurman 00:33:53 We finally had a Benedict on him for a president, actual Benedict Arnold, who was in league with the KGB, with the Nazis, with the civil, with the succession is, you know, with the slave holders and with the native American genociders, which I don't believe those people have ever arrived in America. They all the men that we were interested, we weren't, as they're openly expanding the British empire. To me, that's been the, that's been what that is. Whereas what really America is, is a nation of immigrants and a nation of people who are aware that somehow we were saying we represent, and we should try to represent a possibility of all the different nations, you know, like a Jefferson second inaugural. The idea is that we create an example that leads the other nations to try to not be super cast his classes, racist, genocidal about their lower classes, et cetera, enslaving their lower classes.
Bob Thurman 00:34:50 And that that's, that's really the mission on the turtle Island. Let's call it turtle Island. I don't know if we want to use a different name, but which is there because the American name is actually a colonist name or Portuguese sky or Portuguese landed down in Brazil. But, uh, the thing is, so that to me is what America really is. And, uh, so to me that means that you can resist those who say, you know, but of course it is our fault that those of us who have that attitude about what America is, have not somehow gate remained in control of the machinery of the government, which has more been used in a cologne neocolonialist way. Yeah. And then you just put it down New York, New York Orleans way. So I think there's two kinds of, we should, we should insist that there are two kinds of America and we are the, we are the real one actually.
Kiri Westby 00:35:45 Well, I didn't tell him active participation. And that is what people are waking up to young people is they're saying if we don't vote, if we don't put the people, even in the smallest places of leadership for all, then this is what it's like. Cause they people, you know, it's a, it's a constant thing to strive for and to be part of. And I am, you know, my ancestors came over on the Mayflower in 16, 2,400 years ago and we're striving for religious of
Bob Thurman 00:36:15 Mine, went to Jamestown
Kiri Westby 00:36:17 To Jamestown. So I come from that 400 years of the American experiment. And, um, I think that we have to be honest about our history as we have been starting to be this year more than ever about who it is that we have claimed as heroes from our past. And I think young people, myself and younger are not going to put up with it. It's sort of, I hope what we're seeing is the last gasp of white supremacy as those of us that are watching it in horror saying, okay, no longer should we be so focused on the needs of people outside in this kind of white savior complex it's time to really come home and focus on the problematics within how we haven't participated our apathy and our lack of active participation in the world we want to live in. We have to create the world we want to live in each of us. And every person has a role in that.
Bob Thurman 00:37:06 Yes, yes, yes. A hundred percent agree. But, but on the other hand, you have to, you know, how do we deal with those whites that are still there behaving like that? They're in other words, a lot of people right now, or despaired because 73 million voted for Benedict Arnold, right at 703 terminates, 3 million voted not to be the America. That is, that is the true dream, which is a multi-racial dream because they don't want to admit that the whites who came here actually where the riffraff and the draft and the Driggs of the European caste system, and they were escaping actually from an oppressiveness that they found in Europe. And then, then they, then they became, then they, then they started oppressing the native Americans first, which of course even the, even the black lives matter, people forget that they are not the worst. They're not the worst example, actually even worse than that.
Bob Thurman 00:38:07 At least they were worth money, but the worst than them are the native people. And I had an experience at Columbia, for example, where I tried to hire a native American theologian who works in Athens at the university of Georgia or trained and here or there, you know, but, but he's a very, he he's, he, he coined that expression to not quite post-colonial world, but yet post-colonial living, living on Cherokee land and working for Wright university after Jackson had killed so many of his ancestors who tried to simulate the dots and tried to be a partner's neighbors to us. And then they were completely genocided anyway. And, uh, and, and he couldn't be hired in the new sort of post-colonial, you know, ethnic department that was formed by active by black activists, mainly, but some other people supporting because they wanted the first to get the blacks and Latinos. So they felt that was more important than nevermind the native Americans. So they were hired this guy that deeper there's that deeper, deeper. We also have to embrace, you know,
Kiri Westby 00:39:20 And we have to teach our children a different history than was taught to us.
Bob Thurman 00:39:26 No white people at the white paper actually are the ones who found refuge here given by those people and who, who still need refuge and who should not be at baby like imperialists. And we need that to show that as the real effort of America so that we don't, we don't have to feel that well, we have to exterminate 73 million lunatics. Cause there aren't that many actually really, they just get drawn into the dark side, by the private stupidity of the people. I think there's really only 20 of them. You know, like the 20%, 18%
Kiri Westby 00:40:01 Maybe we had like more people voted in this last election than ever before 140 some, 150 some million, but there's a hundred million eligible voters that didn't vote 75 or so. And so they represent who we need to work with more than the 73 who voted for Trump and get them
Bob Thurman 00:40:21 Three. This is the great thing about it. Even the 73 are not really there, maybe of those 25, the real laddies don't know the real, the real ones who need serious, you know, uh, rehabilitation rehabilitation. Yes are only around 20. I remember Senator X, former Senator bill Bradley telling me a couple of elections ago at a dinner that he always faced 18 to 20% loonies, you know, who were ready to shoot everybody and whatever. And he had, and they were, that was a steady, he was ringing, encouraging some other people at that dinner who felt really at sea and lost, you know, because of the, of the, for example, you know, those people have, have, have basically burned Hillary like at the state she's been, uh, which burned, but not for just not since 2016, she's been Ridgeborn since in 1980,
Kiri Westby 00:41:18 Since the beginning, the scapegoat of all misogyny is killer. Bob Thurman 00:41:24 This is the key she actually won. She won the election in 2016. We have to remember that. Yeah. They, the voter suppression canceling the voter suppression, canceling the, the few extremists in power who blocked her and who added to the Roger Stone, which burning routine, you know, that did her in. She actually still won their election. So we still successfully elected her. And uh, and also we did, I liked how Gore to turn against the oil dinosaur evil group. And they suppressed and they cheated. And they even got a court to cheat with them. And course just a few people on the court. That's like three or four people stopped to County in Florida. We won actually. So we never, this is important for us, by the way, I don't refer to white people. I don't think there is a category they're all paying yet. It's definitely a console they're painting. It's a category of pink. And even you could say blotchy pink search of a 10 mochi pink heading for the tropics in search of a tat that's really their color. There's no white, white, or some clowns painted with white. There's no whites,
Kiri Westby 00:42:41 Right. But there is a construct in people's minds of white supremacy that is so dangerous. It's dangerous. And it's fake news.
Bob Thurman 00:42:49 Yeah. That there are bigger. I came up with that once a lecture and giving a lecture at George Washington university in DC, which is a pretty much a black university. And I saw you realize, listen, guys, don't be pissed. I'm not white. I'm pink. Everybody's only just an brought you pink, especially when you get alcoholic. Like they mostly are. They, their drug of choice is alcohol. And then they, that then the nose gets all Danes, come out the little capillaries and they're really blotchy pink. And so that's key. That's what we're, we're worried about blotchy pinks who are putting on powder, like clowns to be white. We have to realize that and we have to keep humor in there and don't feel desperate to know. That's really, really cool.
Kiri Westby 00:43:31 You know, I'll tell you this year, I had a really sobering experience in which I had been invited into, um, a book club in a large corporation that was doing a new book club to look at issues of racial equity and social justice. So I was brought in as sort of, um, white American activists who talks about some of these issues through my path to becoming a global activist. And, um, the week before, or about a month before I was on the docket, um, Trump issued this executive order against racial and sexual stereotyping for all private and public contractors at the government. You could no longer talk about racial diversity trainings. You could no longer talk about sexism. You could no longer talk about white supremacy or white privilege. And so I got a call from, uh, from the corporation I was going to be working with that. Their lawyers had deemed my book kind of too. And they've put me back on the docket for after the inauguration, but in all seriousness, that that executive order affected universities. I know Berkeley issued a list of topics you couldn't talk about in class. I mean, this is extremist stuff. So as much as white whiteness is not real, it is real in terms of this kind of protection around even discussing it. And that was the specific wording I was told I couldn't use was white privilege. Right?
Bob Thurman 00:45:01 I was, I was invited once when I used to do wide-scale lecturing to a Pepsi-Cola thing and there, they had two lunches with me ahe had of time to insist that the only way I could come would be, if I didn't mention Tibet, I couldn't come if I had to mention Tibet. So I just said, okay, I'll do it. I won't talk, I don't have to talk about turtle. I can talk about general ethics and this and that. It's hard. And then it was so funny. Richard Holbrooke was at the same convention, same event. And the first thing he did, because he hadn't been prepped when he gave his talk of course ahead of me because it's more important, you know, the late Richard over. And he said, Oh, you guys should ask Bob about Tempe.
Kiri Westby 00:45:45 Ooh,
Bob Thurman 00:45:46 You were doing salmon for signals and all this kind of nonsense. So anyway, to get revenge on them, I told, I told a, I told the joke about a Coke joke in the, in the Tibet Pepsi thing. And, and nearly got burned at the stake myself.
Kiri Westby 00:46:03 Well,
Bob Thurman 00:46:04 Nobody laughed. Nobody laughed at an excellent joke because it was involved. So you can't do that. You can't even mention the word, it's like a religion, so people can become fanatical about whatever it is. It's the point. We have to be careful about that. Anyway, you are such a breath of fresh air. You are <inaudible>. I love it. I love it. I joke, but Julia, one thing you didn't tell me, what's the latest thing. You're ready. The last thing let's last question.
Kiri Westby 00:46:31 I'm working on two things. One, I'm working on a documentary about the protest at Mount Everest and, um, we've shot incredible behind the scenes footage on the way across Tibet and all the way up to the morning of the protests. Now you won't be shocked to hear that we've received some backlash in Hollywood about that same thing. You mentioned Tibet, and people get very scared and a backlash around making sure
Bob Thurman 00:46:59 Chinese investment is all over Hollywood,
Kiri Westby 00:47:01 All over Hollywood. And so we've been trying to find some brave filmmakers to partner with us to make that happen and risk their, their names. But, um, and I'm writing a book about a motherhood about mothering on the edge and about raising young warriors, young anti-racist global citizens to kind of reform this world. We've done so much destruction too. So that's, that's what I'm working on now. Yeah, just before this, uh,
Bob Thurman 00:47:30 Just the other day and thinking about our interview today, and I hope it's the first of many, because I, I needed to learn a lot from you boy, old guard. You really are, the young people are. And, uh, the thing is that, um, I was reading a wonderful interview. Jonathan Carter, a friend of mine did years ago published a book of interviews, uh, with, um, the oral author of Pippi Longstocking. Do you know, did you, was that a current book and your Shambala youth?
Kiri Westby 00:48:02 I loved that book. I loved it. She was one of my big influences.
Bob Thurman 00:48:08 Yeah. I think, you know, maybe we need to find that we need the Tibetan people along stockings. We needed some <inaudible> is amazing as delinquent as the name of the lady. And she gave this amazing interview she gave, I don't have it electronically or as a PDF or art, send it to you. You really be inspired by so I can see you. I could see you doing that in this, in this current, uh, what would PiPi do during the Trump administration during the, during the final days of the colonial or not yet post-colonial planet, which has to be post colonial actually. And we have to do it in a decade. We don't have 50 years. Those people, those politicians who say, yeah, well, we'll be cool by like the lie of Peachtree Jinping, who I used to kind of hope for, but I've now been given up for the moment. I never give up permanently anybody, but I have now been given up the power Bureau really in China, they're just really forget about, but the point is, uh, um, uh, uh, I forgot what, who said,
Kiri Westby 00:49:14 You know what? I can start to be Longstocking. I can say that. I think what I loved about the lungs,
Bob Thurman 00:49:19 When they say, I know who it was said to, when they say 60 years, they're going to be carbon neutral, forget about, that's not possible 10 years. We need 10 to 15, maximum 20, 35. If we're not settled in 2035, forget about it's just over know.
Kiri Westby 00:49:36 And I think that one all need to find out where our resiliency is, where our to push, to kind of put ourselve forward out of our comfort zones and be resilient for this fight for our climate, for our future, for our freedom. And, um, I think there's no more resilient example than Tibet. And so I honestly think if you look at the longest standing non-violent, um, sort of cry for independence, that we can look at that and say like, that's where I draw my resiliency from. And I try to channel it into other people who are becoming activated because that's the kind of commitment we're all gonna need. We're gonna need that level of,
Bob Thurman 00:50:14 Right. Our thing is where we're going to in your lifetime about your mine, but in your lifetime, we're going to paint that freaking white house, rainbow colored like that, like the bridge in San Francisco, the tunnel after the Gale golden gate bridge, you know, no we're going to paint those colors, rainbow Stripe, glowing, you know, like Mandela, Mandela, entrance, you know, not this pathetic thing for some pink people to live in. You had about that. Forget about that was built by slaves. Yeah, I agree. All right. Well, tell me about Yolo at tattoo like that for the young people. Okay. I hope we can call this come by in our VW van. At some point, this guy, my engineer, Justin I'm thanking my engineer, Justin here. He was a member of occupy. He was a charter member of our town here in New York, but somehow he's landed up here. You know, he's a, he's a, he's over the Hill. He's too old like me, but, uh, not as old as me, but, uh, but, uh, he's, he's on the, he's on the campaign. A little bit of my gray hairs show in the pandemic. You see a beautiful, don't worry. Thanks Justin. Thank you so much Curie. It was really fun talking to you. And I want everyone to know that they can find your book in all different kinds of ways. And, uh, I really would like people to have access to it and a link is coming on. And, um, I hope to talk to you again soon. All the best bye!
Man of Peace:
Why the “life story” of the Dalai Lama? It is a story of one man taking on an empire, calling for truth, peace, and justice for his Tibetan people. Here, in full color for the first time, people can come to know the whole drama of his lifelong struggle. Since the age of 15, the […]
Celebrating Winter Solstice with Robert A.F. Thurman
A Special Video holiday message from Bob Thurman and invitation to “Envisioning 2021: Celebrate the New Year with Dharma, Yoga, Music, Meditation, & Astrology” hosted by Tibet House US Menla Online happening Dec 29th, 2020 – Jan 3rd, 2021.[more]