By Kevin Williams
This is off topic, but it's a topic close to my heart and I can't believe it happened so long ago.
It was 25 years ago today that the dreams of a generation of idealists were crushed under the repressive treads of tanks in a festive square in Beijing. I was almost 18-years-old and just beginning to become politically and socially aware. I identified with the students in the square. Most were my age, maybe a couple of years older. Teenagers are teenagers, whether in Beijing or Billings. The same clothes, music, and dreams are shared by youth world-wide which is one of the traits that makes that time of life so liberating. When you’re 18 you can do anything you want if you just will it. Or so I thought. And that is what those students in Tiananmen Square thought. They built their own Statue of Liberty, The Goddess of Democracy and they pushed to reform a repressive regime. They peacefully protested hoping not for revolution but for the chance to partake in freedom of expression and the opportunity to elect their own leaders, opportunities most in the USA take for granted to the point of apathy.
Months of peaceful protests, however, turned the world's watchful eyes on Beijing and the brutal dictators thirst for their own power could only be quenched by squelching the students. So on the night of June 3 they sent tanks, guns, and helicopters to clear the square and hundreds, maybe thousands, perished and with it the dreams and idealism that propelled the movement.
A quarter century later I'm still an idealist, although sometimes I’m unsure of the word’s meaning anymore. I think the Beijing Spring wasn’t about politics, it was simply about building a better, just tomorrow. When the smoke had cleared and the news coverage quieted I tried to do my part. I entered my school’s Voice of Democracy contest the following year and won (confession: I was the only one that entered), wore black arm-bands for every Tiananmen anniversary for the next few years and I even ran for a local office a decade later (and got creamed). But a chunk of my idealism died that night. Seeing a peaceful protest so violently squashed left a lasting impression. As they say in Vegas: "the house always wins in the end." But for a few precious moments idealism won in the above photo that became iconic for my generation. For a fleeting moment a lone young man - who still believed in the "power of one" - brought a column of the world's most powerful military machinery grinding and clanking to a befuddled halt. For one flowering second the blooming Beijing Spring created a corsage of courage that triumphed over the cowardice of repression. But the blooms were quickly ripped from the stem, never to return. I can only hope that at some point in my life the Goddess of Democracy can make a triumphant return to Tiananmen Square. And maybe while we’re at it the politicians in our own country might consider stopping the partisan vitriol from the left and the right and capture the centrist spirit of sensibility that so many in my generation crave.