Chamber of Commerce Urged to Allow Falun Gong Group in San Francisco New Year Parade in Letter

Chamber of Commerce Urged to Allow Falun Gong Group in San Francisco New Year Parade in Letter

A golden dragon performs for a crowd during the parade commemorating the 30th anniversary of Falun Dafa in San Francisco on May 7, 2022. (Cynthia Cai/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

2/20/2024

Updated: 2/20/2024

The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is a “colorful pageantry of Chinese culture and tradition” and the largest of its kind outside of Asia, according to the local Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which has hosted the yearly celebration since 1958.
This year, it will be held on Feb. 24. But as the event approaches, one Chinese group—Bay Area practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong—has been rejected from the parade, and it isn’t the first time it’s been told it wouldn’t be allowed to participate. Now, friends and supporters of the group are asking the chamber to uphold the freedoms celebrated in the United States by including the spiritual group in the celebration.
“I ask you to take a moment and set aside your misconceptions of a group who have truly found refuge here and to stop with your repeated persecution of them,” reads a Feb. 14 letter to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco from Hank Bagwell, producer and director for Tennessee film production company Lost Pirate Pictures.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The practice, which features moral teachings and meditative exercises, was first introduced to the public in China in 1992 and grew to have an estimated 70 million practitioners by the late 1990s, according to official estimates. In 1999, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), fearing that the regime’s power would be affected by the group’s large following, began a brutal campaign of persecution against the practice. Since then, millions of Falun Gong adherents have been illegally arrested and detained, often facing torture and death, according to human rights groups.
Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners from the Bay Area participate in a parade in front of the Ferry Building to celebrate the 29th World Falun Dafa Day in San Francisco on May 8, 2021. (David Lam/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners from the Bay Area participate in a parade in front of the Ferry Building to celebrate the 29th World Falun Dafa Day in San Francisco on May 8, 2021. (David Lam/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Bagwell told The Epoch Times that he first learned of Falun Gong from a screening at an Arizona film festival of the documentary “Finding Courage,” a film about the CCP’s forced organ harvesting from practitioners of the faith in China. He said he was there for the screening of one of his own films.
He met several adherents of the practice, one of whom spent 12 years in a Chinese prison, and he soon made friends with more members of the spiritual group.
“The more I got to know them, I kept thinking, ‘Why are these people being persecuted? ... They don’t smoke. They don’t drink. They believe in taking care of their body and do these exercises and meditation,” he said.
During another film festival in San Francisco, Mr. Bagwell learned that San Francisco’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce had repeatedly denied Falun Gong practitioners entry into the annual Lunar New Year parade, which he felt was anti-American and unfair. He encouraged organizers of the group to apply for participation in the 2024 parade, and they did, but they were denied again. That’s when Mr. Bagwell decided to write the recent letter to the chamber, their sponsors, and local and state officials, asking for change.
“You set an example for how we view people we may not know or understand, and I ask you again to stop the censorship and discriminatory practices you have exercised when it comes to Falun Dafa,” reads the letter, which was sent to event sponsors such as Alaskan Airlines, Toyota, U.S. Bank, and the U.S. Army, as well as officials such as San Francisco Mayor London Breed and California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
The Chinese Chamber of Commerce at 730 Sacramento St. in San Francisco on Feb. 9, 2024. (Steve Ispas/The Epoch Times)

The Chinese Chamber of Commerce at 730 Sacramento St. in San Francisco on Feb. 9, 2024. (Steve Ispas/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Bagwell also said he found it disturbing that the chamber would allow some groups in the parade but reject others.
“This is an amazing country where we have the hard fought freedoms to be anything and everything we want to be and to embrace and share our personal journey,” he wrote in the letter.
As someone who has created documentaries about veterans and whose grandfather was a World War II veteran, he said he won’t stand by and watch freedoms stripped away that were fought for and earned.
“I am just trying to be a voice for the voiceless, and that started off with veteran issues and has carried on. ... I have nothing to gain from this,” he said.
According to one member of the Falun Dafa Association in San Francisco who helps with organizing local events, the chamber’s blocking of the group’s participation is a disappointment. Falun Gong’s core tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance encompass values that are deeply rooted in ancient Chinese tradition, he said, and thus the group would be a great addition to a parade that purports to represent the culture. For example, Buddhism values compassion, Daoism values truthfulness, and Confucianism adheres to the principle of forbearance, so Falun Gong truly represents traditional Chinese culture, he said.
“Falun Dafa practitioners are actually the one main group that tries to preserve Chinese traditional culture,” he said.
The organizer, who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal from the Chinese regime, said he believes there is likely one reason why Falun Gong practitioners would be repeatedly blocked from joining the parade.
“Falun Gong was denied maybe for one reason. It is because of the pressure from communist China,“ he said. ”A lot of people know now Falun Gong is under persecution in China. The Chinese communist regime is in some way afraid the message of Falun Dafa is being heard overseas.”
The Tian Guo Marching Band leads a parade commemorating the 30th anniversary of the public introduction of Falun Dafa in San Francisco on May 7, 2022. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)

The Tian Guo Marching Band leads a parade commemorating the 30th anniversary of the public introduction of Falun Dafa in San Francisco on May 7, 2022. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)

Eva Chuk, a Falun Gong practitioner who first applied on the group’s behalf to join the parade in the mid-2000s, said she received a call back from the chamber at the time and was told the parade was full.
But at the last minute, the group “unofficially” obtained permission from one chamber board member to join the event, according to Ms. Chuk. When they arrived, they were told by chamber members that they shouldn’t be there. They were told it was “impossible” that they were given permission. But they provided the name of the member who gave them the green light, and since they were already there, they weren’t blocked from walking the parade route, she said. However, they were told that in the future, they wouldn’t be allowed to attend.
About 300 Falun Gong adherents joined the parade that year, including a float of practitioners demonstrating the discipline’s five gentle exercises and a marching band. But according to Ms. Chuk, they were placed so far behind other members of the parade that the audience and television crews were already mostly gone by the time they passed by.
A lawsuit was eventually filed by the group, but a judge later ruled that the chamber had the right to choose which groups could attend. Only recently did the group again apply, Ms. Chuk said, noting that their hope in joining the parade is for more people to learn the truth about Falun Gong and see the practice in a positive light.
“So in the parade, we think this is a very good chance to tell the truth. ... Many people come to San Francisco’s Chinatown, so it was important to us,” she said.
San Francisco’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce didn’t return a request for comment.
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

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Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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