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Opinion: Petitioning for Change in Vietnam
Written by Khanh Vu Duc
Thursday, 19 April, 2012

To effect change in Vietnam’s human rights policies, the Vietnamese-American community must broaden the appeal of their message
Using the White House’s own petitioning system, Vietnamese-Americans have caught the notice of the Obama government in what has been one of the most important achievements by the community to date.

This achievement was the success of a petition launched from the online “We the People” petitioning system developed by the White House as a means of giving minority communities a voice they cannot command through the mainstream media. The petition, which to date has received over 150,000 signatures, called for the Obama Administration to stop expanding trade with Vietnam at the expense of human rights.

Although the ultimate objective of this petition failed to be realized—immediate change was always suspect—participants have much to be proud of in establishing a meeting with members from the Administration.

More than enough signatures

Created on February 7, the petition garnered over 140,000 signatures in 30 days—more than the 25,000 minimum required for the White House to respond. News of the petition quickly spread within the Vietnamese-American community and spilled across the American border to overseas Vietnamese communities, aided in part by social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. Unable to deny the success of the petition, the White House received delegates from the Vietnamese-American community to address their concerns in person.

It is not so difficult to imagine why the petition succeeded as it did.

The Vietnamese government has been active in suppressing and violating the human rights of its citizens. Freedom of speech, religion, and assembly are paid lip service but rarely permitted. The notion that democratic and human rights activists in Vietnam will receive a fair trial at the hands of their government is wishful thinking. Vietnamese-Americans are correct in their concern for what is happening.

Moving on after the petition

To have attained 140,000 signatures in a month is nothing to shrug at; however, the voices of 140,000 are easily lost in a sea of millions.

The community should endeavor to broaden its cause to include not only Vietnamese in the US and overseas, but the greater public. In order to effectively bring to light to the rule of the Vietnamese government, Vietnamese-Americans must look beyond their own community to its neighbors, whose values and beliefs in democracy and human rights are also shared. Simply put, it must expand its base of support.

Vietnamese-Americans must take the initiative in explaining to fellow Americans why changing Vietnam matters. In these trying times, it is not enough to say, “The Communist Party of Vietnam is corrupt and harmful to its people, therefore, America must stop expanding trade with them.” For their cause to be truly effective, they must attract the support of others.

Making a bigger tent

Vietnamese in the US and abroad have protested against the Vietnamese government’s human rights policies, but to what end? Little has been achieved in Vietnam itself, as its leaders are content with ignoring protests occurring well beyond its borders. True change will ultimately have to come from within Vietnam, but Vietnamese-Americans and those living overseas can provide the inspiration.

The Communist Party rules in asserting its dominance over the people. It will not change unless it is forced to change, and no Washington administration will force Vietnam to change until the White House is forced to act. Herein lays the greatest strength and weakness of a democracy.

Vietnamese-Americans must unite in pressing the White House for change in Vietnam, but the community must also unite with their fellow Americans. The lone voice of a single community will be hard-pressed to challenge an administration representing a nation to act.

This, of course, does not require the Vietnamese-American community to dilute its cause to attract the support of others. On the other hand, it does require the community to take proactive steps in expanding their cause and message. This should not prove difficult, however, given the reasonable objectives of the Vietnamese-American community. Securing democracy and human rights for those less fortunate is a cause anyone could get behind. When the cause of a few becomes the cause of many, and the cause of many becomes the cause of a nation, no longer will the White House be able to dally on the matter.

Of course, petitions and signatures are but a first step. Vietnamese-Americans have demonstrated their ability to quickly rally behind a cause most important to them. It is imperative that they maintain and build upon this achievement, so as to successfully realize their goals.

What happens now remains to be seen; however, it is important that the community not give up. Change will happen, but it will not happen today or tomorrow. Change of this magnitude will be generational, and it will require dedication and persistence. Vietnamese-Americans have focused their message. Now it is time to broaden their appeal.

(Khanh Vu Duc is a Vietnamese Canadian lawyer in Ottawa, focusing on various areas of law. He researches on International Relations and International Law.)