Free Tibet

Over 1,000,000 people killed in crimes against humanity and a world-famous rap band: what do they have to do with DC shoes?

In 1949 The Chinese People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet, a defenseless, nonviolent country. The invasion was approximately equivalent to a squad of Navy Seals raiding an elementary school. They killed Tibetans and swept the land like a swarm of coked-up locust, trying their best to devour Tibetan culture and erase it from the Earth. The problem persists today; the Chinese government seems to possess amazing concentration and endurance. For almost 50 years they’ve continued these atrocities¿nonstop. They’ve even added a few more for good measure: mass deforestation, strip mining, and the dumping of nuclear waste. Oh yeah, there’s also no freedom of religion, speech, or press.

Buddhism tells us the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past Lama; he’s pretty much the Jesus Christ of Buddhist faith¿Tibet’s primary religion. Shortly after the 1949 invasion, the Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet across the deadly Himalayan mountains; had he remained, there’s no doubt he would have been imprisoned or killed by the Chinese.

China’s number-one priority in Tibet was destroying the country’s religion, which bonds the Tibetan people. They annihilated over 6,000 monasteries, tortured and killed Buddhist men and women, and threw thousands into prison¿a practice that continues today. In other words, the Chinese government is lame¿perhaps the lamest on the planet.

Adam Yauch¿MCA of the Beastie Boys¿thought so, too. In May 1994, he started Milarepa, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of universal compassion and nonviolence. Milarepa attempts to find interesting ways to educate the rest of the world about the plight of Tibet. They offer small grants to organizations that promote universal compassion and nonviolent change for social justice. They give preference to Tibetan- and youth-run groups. Milarepa strongly believes that the “youth of the world are the most powerful and hopeful agents of change.” Milarepa has itself become a tool of change, organizing such fundraising efforts as the Tibetan Freedom Concert, where the world’s most popular bands come together in support of Tibet.

Since its inception, Droors and DC have been hooking the Beastie Boys up with clothes and shoes. Ken Block, president of DC, blindly sent them a package hoping they would dig the product. They soon developed a relationship, and on the Beastie’s last tour, DC shoes were a part of their on-stage uniform (black Colin 3s). But, the Beastie Boys didn’t just wear DCs because they looked neat¿they dug a lot deeper.

Major clothing and shoe companies had offered stacks of cash to the Beastie Boys to sport their gear, but the group¿advocates of human rights and aware of China’s lameness¿didn’t want to promote a company that turned a blind eye to human injustices. Research was done on each potential sponsor, looking closely into their business practices. Most of the large companies failed the Beastie’s test immediately¿having product manufactured in China was a big no-no.

But there was an exception. DC, which manufactures its shoes in Korea, had long been concerned with the horrible working conditions in China and Korea. It built its own factory with standards well above the Korean health stipulations. “We wanted to have more control over how our employees were treated,” Ken says. DC even makes sure its workers have no problems getting to work by offering bus service.

DC was everything the Beastie Boys wanted to promote¿cool shoes made by a company with respect for other people. The group never demanded a fee, but Ken and Pam Zam (DC marketing director) figured they’d thank the Beasties by donating a chunk of change to Children Of The Night in Los Angeles, St. Vincent dePaul in San Diego, the Tibetan Refugee office in New York, and Milarepa. “We wwere always aware of the Tibetan situation,” says Pam, “but we never thought about acting on our feelings. Now we’re using our exposure and power in the industry to show people what’s really going on.”

There won’t be any DC Beastie Boys shoe in the future (“I don’t think they’re really into that,” Ken commented), but the group has helped open more than a few DC employees’ eyes to Tibet’s problems. “It’s amazing how many things are made in China,” Pam says. “We all own some made-in-China products, but if people checked where stuff is made before they bought it, and cut down on buying products made in China when they could, it’d make a difference.”

Now, for the second-most-important question, after Tibet: do the Beastie Boys know anything about skating nowadays? We know they sang the old-school Mike McGill lyric a few years ago, but do they know what a 360 flip is? “I know Adam reads the skating magazines,” Pam answers.

“He knows who the top skaters are,” Ken says. “Just a few years ago, Adam was so stoked to be skating a curb outside a convention center at a trade show with Danny Way.” Yeah, but could he skate? “Oh yeah, he could skate.”