FORT WAYNE – Aung San Suu Kyi and Sarah Palin might have more in common than being named recently to an MSN.com list of “famous women we’d like to have a pint with.”
Each might also be able to fill Fort Wayne’s Memorial Coliseum.
Burmese democracy leader Suu Kyi is scheduled to speak there Sept. 25 as part of her U.S. trip this month and next. A local Burmese activist has said Suu Kyi would attract at least 10,000 people.
That is Palin territory. The 2008 Republican candidate for vice president drew 10,088 people to a campaign rally at the Coliseum on Oct. 25 of that year.
IPFW is helping the local Burmese community arrange Suu Kyi’s Fort Wayne appearance. George McClellan, vice chancellor for student affairs at IPFW, said Suu Kyi’s visit will be of interest not only to Allen County’s 3,800 Burmese residents but to students and “all kinds of people of good will.”
“There will be people who will come out of their interest in global affairs,” McClellan said Wednesday. “There will be people who will come out of an appreciation of other cultures. There will be people who come out just because how often do you get to see a Nobel Prize winner?”
Suu Kyi’s upcoming visit was confirmed Tuesday by Burmese in Fort Wayne and Washington, D.C.
“I’m getting calls already from area schools” whose students want to see Suu Kyi, said Randy Brown, the Coliseum’s general manager.
Suu Kyi, 67, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for promoting democracy and civil rights in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma. The country’s military rulers had kept her on house arrest for most of two decades until freeing her in 2010 as political and government reforms began taking hold. She was elected this year to the Burmese parliament.
IPFW will rent the Coliseum and cover marketing and security costs for Suu Kyi’s visit.
Admission is free, and Suu Kyi is not being paid for her speech, McClellan said.
But various preparations remain for the Burmese community, IPFW and the Coliseum.
“We are planning for all contingencies, exploring how we can do real-time translation from Burmese to English and English to Burmese,” McClellan said.
He said he does not know how much of Suu Kyi’s speech will be in each language.
Brown said the Coliseum’s seating configuration will be flexible.
For instance, a drape backing the stage can be removed “with the push of a button” if seats behind the stage are occupied, he said.
Organizers hope to have Suu Kyi’s appearance broadcast by public-access TV.
She is scheduled to speak and to take questions from the Coliseum audience from 9 until 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25.
The Journal Gazette was unable to reach U.S. State Department officials Wednesday for information on security for Suu Kyi’s visit.