There are several exciting stories developing out of China today, but while I find the issue of Chen Guangcheng‘s cry for help absolutely fascinating and I want to write about him, I feel that I owe Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, my voice today.
According to Seattle Weekly, Ambassador Locke has been painted as a troublemaker by the Chinese government for, “buying his own coffee, staying at a four-star instead of a five-star hotel and actually talking to the press.” The communist controlled news media in China had the Beijing Daily reporting that he was faking this demure personality in an attempt to fool them into believing he isn’t a typical greedy American. “Ever since he flew in economy class, carrying his own back pack and buying coffee with coupons, putting on a charade of being a regular guy, what we have seen is not an ambassador to China who is prudent in his words and actions, but a standard-issue American politician who goes out of his way to stir up conflict.”
In response to this, I must speak up. Gary Locke is perhaps, one of the greatest men I have had the privilege to know. Let me tell you about this man.
In 1999 I was being bullied at school in Olympia, Washington. It was so bad that I would often wake to a call from the school board telling me that it was unsafe for me to come to school. The board members would take turns delivering my homework to my house, after bomb threats were called in to my school mentioning my name. I had spent several years appealing to every adult in my life from teachers, to police, to judges and district attorney’s. At that time, there were no laws to protect me, and I lived my life in fear and sorrow.
One morning, while my peers attended regular classes, and my parents were at work, I wrote a letter of desperation to him, begging for help. I took it down to the state capital building, and hand delivered it to Governor Gary Locke’s office. I went home, I didn’t say a word to anyone about my secret lifeline. It felt like a wish that might not come true if I told someone. One evening, perhaps two days later, Gary’s wife called my house. She said that Gary had gotten my letter, she gave me a list of names of my representatives. She told me that the governor had already talked to them about me, and they were expecting my call. Most importantly, she assured me that both she, and her husband, valued me as a human being. She promised that things would get better long before that was a popular phrase.
Suspiciously, the school board launched a sexual harassment investigation that eventually led to my bully being expelled within only a few weeks of my phone call with Mona Locke. Soon I was able to sit down with Governor Locke and several representatives to tell them my story. They began drafting one of the first bully bills in the nation shortly thereafter. As the bill progressed, I was able to lobby for it in committee and contribute in other ways. In May of 2002, within weeks of my high school graduation, Governor Gary Locke invited me to be part of a small group who attended the ceremony in which he signed Washington State’s Bully Bill into law.
Having an adult in power like that, choose to take action and show me that I am valuable was an incredibly important event in my life. To accuse Gary Locke of being out of character in his willingness to step up for a person crying out for help is simply wrong. The fact is that his attention to an individual in need is completely consistent with his character and integrity as I have known it for more than a decade. Having lived in Olympia, Washington for most of my childhood I was able to have many other interactions with Gary Locke and his family. I went to school for many years with his nephew, who was much like him in that he was smart, quiet and caring. I often saw Mona and their very young girls at events in the city. I have at least one memory of Gary at a local supermarket. He was still the governor when I saw him at a Safeway a mile or two from my home in the summer of 2003. My young husband, Tim, and I were shopping, and headed home in the clunker car we had inherited from his mother. As we arrived to our car we saw Gary who was also leaving the store. He wore a suit and tie, and carried his own groceries. When he saw my husband struggling with the fact that we had locked our keys in the car, he stopped to ask if we needed help. Tim hadn’t known who we were talking to till I ribbed him and whispered, “That’s the governor!” Immediately, his embarrassment at being locked out tripled and he started to fall over his words. When Governor Locke asked if we needed help, Tim said, “No thanks sir, I do this all the time!” Gary slapped my husband on the back, and laughed with him, immediately relieving the tension. Gary said, “You know what? I’ve done it a time or two myself.
Within a second or two, under governor Locke’s watchful eye, Tim managed to pop a door open somehow, and Gary walked to his car laughing and waving kindly. The fact is that Gary Locke is just the type of guy who buys his own groceries, and will stop to laugh with someone in a Safeway parking lot. This is not part of a ruse. This is not some act he puts on when he goes to China. This is who Gary Locke is, was, and hopefully always will be.