It's impossible to say right now whether the people of Myanmar (Burma) are taking the first dramatic steps toward political change and democracy, or if the government and military are just waiting to react, but whichever way it goes, there is something big stirring in Southeast Asia.
The images coming out of the country are striking--monsoon-soaked monks marching through the streets of the nation's cities in full scarlet robes, at first alone and observed, now joined by increasing hordes of citizens. They turn their "begging bowls" upside-down in a gesture packed with significance. Myanmar is a heavily Buddhist country, the monks widely revered, and turning the bowl upside-down means they accept no alms from and perform no rites or services for military and government personnel.
Americans claim to be intensely religious, but I think this gesture is largely lost on us. This is a huge thing for Buddhists, on par with being excommunicated from the church, though I still don't think that goes far enough in translating the importance.
This article in the NY Times covers the current situation and offers links to the stories that have charted this movement's progress up until now.
We, who take democracy and freedom for granted even while we claim to fight for it, who view politics as a series of soundbites and tawdry tabloid snippets, who decide on the person and administration we want to run out nation based on such subjective bullshit as family values and whether or not the person is for or against gay people getting married, could learn a lot from these folks about what freedom means.
(Image taken from The New York Times.)