US Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx), a leader in the House on foreign affairs and Burma, delivered remarks as a featured speaker at today’s Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring recently released Nobel Peace Prize recipient and leader of Burma’s democracy movement Aung San Suu Kyi. Crowley spearheaded legislation awarding Daw Suu Kyi with the Congressional Gold Medal – the highest civilian award bestowed by the U.S. Congress.
Below are Rep. Crowley’s remarks as prepared for delivery. Click here to watch his speech.
“Thank you Speaker Boehner and Father Conroy. Thank you to all of my House colleagues, in particular Leader Pelosi, Whip Hoyer, and Representative Manzullo, as well as the distinguished Senators with us, including Leader McConnell, Senator Feinstein and Senator McCain.
“Mrs. Bush and Madam Secretary – our thanks and appreciation to both of you for not only taking the time to be here today, but for your many contributions to this effort and your commitment to advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in Burma.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention someone who is not here with us today, Congressman Tom Lantos. Tom, his wife Annette, and his staff were mentors to me and all worked so hard on Burma for so many years. I wish he was here today to share this moment in history with us, because I think he’d agree:
“Today is an amazing day! It’s an incredible day!
“Who would have thought that when this bill was introduced in the House in 2008, when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, that in a few short years she would be standing here with us, on U.S. soil receiving this honor – as a Member of the Burmese Parliament?
“Back then, we thought about granting the Medal in abstentia – which may have made her the only person in history to receive the Congressional Gold Medal while in detention. Who would have imagined this change was possible? Who would have thought? Well, let me tell you who: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“She might be too humble to admit it, but I know she always thought this day, this moment, would be possible. Not because she is someone who worries about awards and honors – because I can tell you she does not.
“She believed it because she and the Burmese people always believed in change. They hoped, they fought, they knew change must come to their country.
“She knew the Burmese people yearned for human rights and, most importantly, deserved democratic governance. She stoked the flames in a peaceful way for lasting change, even amongst those already in a position of power. Her efforts have helped lead us here today.
“There has been a lot of advancements made in Burma over the last year or two. And, we must recognize and give thanks to those who have had the courage to help lead and support the changes, including those in the government.
“But, we also must honor and remember those who have made great sacrifices – imprisonment, lives lost – to get where we are. Far too many have paid too high a price in the effort to bring about freedom and democratic governance in Burma.
“It is with those people in mind; those who have sacrificed so much, that we acknowledge the work is not done. We must ensure that the momentum unfolds into sustained progress, into permanent freedoms and into a solidified democracy. Because as much as I’d like to believe that the change in Burma is irreversible, as much as I’d like to revel in blind optimism and believe the battle for freedom has been won, it has not.
“The tides of progress can reverse just as easily as they flow if we do not remain vigilant and demand further progress.
“But, let there be no doubt – today is a moment of joy; a moment to honor a genuine hero. Someone who has endured solitude. Someone who has been forced to watch others struggle and suffer. Someone who has put country before self. Someone who has inspired thousands of others to stand up for human rights and for justice. Someone who has given voice to a movement. Someone who has led with unwavering commitment.
“That person is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and we are so, so proud to stand here and honor you today.”