Jason Wu/Sun Contributor

Students protested the genocide of the Uyghur people at Goldwin Smith Hall.

May 11, 2021

Cornell Organizations Protest Genocide of Uighur People

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Aiming to spread awareness on the genocide of the Uighur people, Cornell students formed the student organization Boycott the People’s Republic and hosted a rally Friday outside Goldwin Smith Hall.

Organizers Jonathan Davydov ’21 and Cooper Stepke ’23 are advocating for a boycott of Chinese-produced goods to protest the forced labor inflicted on Uighurs by the Chinese Communist Party. To gain support for their cause, they created a pledge to join the boycott and hosted the rally, co-sponsored by Cornell MECA, the Arab Student Association, Pi Lambda Sigma, Phi Alpha Delta and the Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty.

The Boycott the People’s Republic organizers and their guest presenters gave speeches about why the Cornell community must take action. 

Kinen Kao ’22, a Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty officer, and Basirat Owe ’21, a co-chair of Black Students United, spoke along with Davydov and Stepke. Owe started her speech with a two-minute silence to honor the Uighur peoples’ suffering. She then encouraged the crowd to sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables, a defining song of the 2019 Hong Kong movement. 

Owe encouraged those at the protest to recognize their own agency and autonomy, and to take seriously the power they have through educating others, speaking out and making ethical consumer choices, reinforcing the message of the Boycott the People’s Republic organizers.

Both organizers denounced the rising anti-Asian violence in the United States — changing their organization’s name from “Boycott China Now” to “Boycott the People’s Republic Now” on May 6 after feedback from members of the AAPI community.

“This is not an anti-Chinese movement by any means, and we will not let our movement be associated with Sinophobia,” Stepke said in an interview before the rally.

Davydov explained that his family consists of Bukharan Jewish refugees from Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country in the same region from which the Uighur people originate. 

He described Bukharan Jewish and Uighur people as belonging to “sister ethnicities,” a relationship that he said informs his investment in this issue. However, Davydov and Stepke said their movement should matter to anyone, regardless of ethnic or religious background.

According to Davydov, he and Stepke launched the organization around the time of this year’s Passover, drawing on their interests in activism and their Jewish heritage. Davydov recalled seeing a picture of Holocaust survivors in a Seder book and connecting their past struggle to that of the Uighur people now. 

“You don’t want to be complicit or complacent by spending your money on a good that was made with forced labor,” Davydov said.

According to Davydov, he and Stepke have also worked to establish connections and spread awareness by speaking at Ithaca area unions, religious centers and other community-based organizations.

“This movement is open to anyone with a conscience,” Stepke said. “It’s not about what you’re interested in. It’s not about your political history or your activism. It’s more about standing up against a genocide.”