Although nothing was mentioned at last night’s city council meeting about the recent trip to Cambodia by a delegation from Lowell led by Mayor Rodney Elliott and Councilor Rita Mercier, the group did make the news in that country. The Cambodia Daily newspaper reported over the weekend that Mayor Elliott plunged into Cambodian affairs to bring attention to several activists who had been jailed for demonstrating against substandard housing.
The article begins:
The mayor of Lowell, Massachusetts—which has the second-largest population of Cambodian-Americans in the U.S.—on Friday visited 10 anti-eviction activists inside Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison, emerging to announce that he would lobby the government for their release.
Wrapping up a five-day visit to Phnom Penh, Rodney Elliott spent about an hour inside the maximum-security facility, where the female activists have been detained since their convictions over a pair of protests in November.
The full article is available on The Cambodia Daily website. Undoubtedly this was a touchy issue for the Cambodian government but it was probably wise for Mayor Elliott to address it on behalf of his constituents here in Lowell. Hopefully we’ll get more information about this issue and the eventual outcome in the days and weeks to come.
Anyone who has dealings with the Cambodian community in Lowell quickly learns that current political divisions in Cambodia have a profound impact on the Cambodian community here in Lowell. I’m not qualified to explain those divisions or identify who is on what side, but there is ample evidence that they directly affect what happens in this city. Consequently, it’s important for everyone in Lowell, especially the city’s elected leaders, to gain a better understanding of Cambodian history, culture and current affairs – the good and the not so good.
It seems that this recent trip and especially the mayor’s foray into Cambodian domestic affairs might be a good starting point for a community-wide discussion in Lowell about these divisions on the other side of the world and how they impede efforts to build a stronger sense of community here in Lowell among all of our residents.