To mark the 22nd anniversary of Burma’s largest uprising in history, known as the 8888 Uprising, hundreds of celebrations and vigils took place across the globe in honor of those fallen and in solidarity with those who are continuing the fight for freedom and democracy in the country today. In DC, the Burmese community came together to hold a vigil in front of the White House, calling for President Obama to act on Burma and sending prayers for fallen protesters and those currently lamenting behind bars.
The 8888 Uprising was started by university students in Yangon on August 8, 1988. The students became angry when their fellow classmate, Phone Maw, was shot dead by a soldier during a small demonstration at the university campus. Demanding an apology and justice from the military regime, then led by Ne Win, the students took to the streets in hundreds. The revolutionary spirit ignited by the students caught onto to the already agitated public, whose frustration with Ne Win had reached an all-time high. Just a year prior to the uprising, Ne Win declared that 80% of the money in circulation had no value. Overnight, it rendered the savings of hundreds of thousands of Burmese as worthless, resulting in the entire nation’s free-fall into deeper poverty. When the students began pouring into the streets of Rangoon, they were immediately joined by monks, nuns, school teachers, hospital staffs, civil servants, local residents and even the army.
The military government responded brutally to the peaceful protesters. Within a matter of a few days, over 3,000 unarmed protesters were gunned down and scores detained. At the time, it was reported that Ne Win ordered his soldiers that guns were not meant to shoot upwards but at the people. Midnight raids began and terror spread through the streets of Burma. Students were arrested, tortured and imprisoned. Many fled their homes and sought refuge on the Thai-Burma border.