By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"When the tubes reached my stomach I felt like I wanted to vomit. At that very moment I thought I would die," Amy Lee says. "So many people were tortured to death this way."
Amy Lee was released a short time later, and, in the ensuing months, she continued to praise Falun Gong in letters to the government. The police responded by placing Amy Lee under house arrest. They also forced her husband to sign a pledge that Amy would not practice or write any more letters of appeal. When Amy Lee refused to attend a "transformation class," in which practitioners are pressured to give up Falun Gong, the local party representative informed her that they would hold the class in her home. Before they arrived, Amy Lee took Dou Dou and fled to a rented apartment. She realized her cell phone had been bugged when the police tracked her down, took away Dou Dou and forced her to attend the brainwashing class.
The retelling of the day Dou Dou was taken is the only part of the story that causes Amy Lee to cry.
"That hurt," she says, "in my heart. You know?"
Later, Amy was served with a divorce petition that her husband brought against his will. She had no choice but to sign. When she was released, she realized she had one option left if she wanted to live: She snuck out of the country, leaving her husband and daughter behind. Back home, her husband is routinely required to write "self criticisms" and reprimanded for Amy Lee's activities.
Invariably, the reporters ask Amy Lee what it felt like to be tortured. Even if English were Amy Lee's native tongue, it's uncertain whether she--or anyone who has gone through what she did--could find the words to relay her feelings.
Amy Lee's participation in this tour jeopardizes her husband and daughter, but she says she will not be silenced. She also refuses to let the government break her spirit.
"I still feel very happy," she says, "because I did not go against my heart."
At some point during the trip, the day of the march on Washington got moved up a day from Friday to Thursday, July 19. The snafu did not dampen the turnout. As promised, some 3,000 practitioners began gathering beneath the Washington Monument at 8 a.m. After a massive group exercise, the practitioners formed themselves into a parade that brought street life to a halt as it crept down Constitution Boulevard and onto the Capitol grounds.
On the steps, a temporary lectern has been erected and is surrounded by a dense semicircle of reporters, photographers and camera crews. Somewhere in Tennessee, somebody asked Amy Lee by cell phone if she would speak during the Capitol Hill news conference. At the time she said she wasn't prepared, but today she stands behind the lectern and clutches a copy of her well-worn statement. Dressed in a blue shirt and white slacks, she looks neither happy nor nervous. She simply looks determined.
In the press material, Amy Lee is slated to speak third. As the news conference gets under way, however, a string of politicians begins arriving at the podium. One by one they declare their support for Falun Gong. Eventually, Amy Lee sits down in a row of folding chairs.
Later that day, the U.S. House of Representatives defeated an effort to suspend normal trade relations with China, which had been offered by some representatives who are angered, in part, by China's human rights record. Meanwhile, in China, the government signed a contract with Russia in which it agreed to buy $2 billion worth of fighter jets.
As Amy Lee waits, I recall something she said after an evening spent in a civil rights memorial park in Birmingham, Alabama. Inside the van, the group happily munches on Drumstix ice cream cones and discusses American movies. Their favorite is Forrest Gump.
"Americans don't like tragedy," Amy Lee announced. It takes a while for me to translate this, but eventually I understood.
She means, Americans like happy endings.