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Young Activists Use Music, Graffiti to Push for Democracy in Burma

  • Daniel Schearf

A group of young artists called 'Generation Wave' sings against Burma's controversial election and the military government

A group of young artists called 'Generation Wave' sings against Burma's controversial election and the military government

Burma's oppressive military government has for decades spurred activists across the globe to protest to politicians and in front of Burma's embassies. Demonstrations inside Burma are rare as they carry heavy penalties. However, one group of young activists is taking risks to encourage their generation to push for democracy.

In a house in Thailand, not far from the Burma border, a group of young artists is singing against Burma's controversial election and the military government. They sing the government has no respect for the law, religion or the country's youth.

They call themselves "Generation Wave" and they do not want their identities revealed because they often return home to spread their message - that the government is illegitimate and Burma needs democracy.

They work mainly at night when they can better avoid authorities.

One of the organizers, Bo Bo, says in Burma their members use CDs, flyers and graffiti to spread their criticism.

"We have no freedom of expression at all. If you say, if you're seen, if you talk about politics, concerning with politics, you can be arrested very easily," said Bo Bo.

On one wall of the house hangs a poster with photos of their members in Burma now in jail. Bo Bo says 21 of them are locked up for criticizing the government. Captions on the photos show sentences ranging up to several decades.

One Generation Wave member calling himself "Menu" says many of those in prison are his friends. He has been arrested twice and the last time he was imprisoned for more than a year just for contacting other activists.

He says he is afraid he will be put in prison. Because he was arrested before he is even more afraid. But, he asks, if we are afraid of being arrested and just leave who will carry on with the struggle? Nobody, he says, would fight for their country.

Two Generation Wave members use chalk on the driveway to draw an example of protest graffiti they use inside Burma.

They write out the year "2010" with a human skull around it and the word "Selection," a not so subtle criticism of Burma's first election in two decades.

The government says the November 7 polls were part of a plan to return to civilian rule after nearly 50 years of military governments. But critics call it a sham that cements military power.

Also on the walls, and fixed on the sides of their guitars, are images of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The government banned Aung San Suu Kyi from the election and disbanded her National League for Democracy for boycotting the vote. She was released from seven years of house arrest just a week after the election.

Menu says they are inspired by the Nobel Prize Winner because she says Burma cannot be truly free as long as the people are afraid.

Bo Bo says they use their Web site and artistic expression to appeal to Burma's youth to get informed, overcome their fears and press for democracy.

"We cannot say that music can change our country, only music can change - no. But, it is … we need to do many, many activities from different perspectives, from different point of views," added Bo Bo. "And, if these all points come up together, yeah, we can push them. I believe that."

The lyrics of this song condemn the military for killing people and violating rights. Despite the military's iron grip, Generation Wave members hold out hope that as long as they keep struggling Burma will one day become a real democracy.