Richard Gere: ‘I’m Very Proud of Our Country ... It’s Something Extraordinary on This Planet’

By Elizabeth Harrington | January 29, 2013 | 3:19 PM EST

Actor and human rights activist Richaard Gere. (AP)

( – Actor and human rights activist Richard Gere said, “I’m very proud of our country” when honoring Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng on Tuesday, and also said that America itself is a “miracle” of a country and is “something extraordinary on this planet.”

Chen, the blind human rights activist who escaped Communist China after seeking asylum at the U.S. Embassy last year, was awarded the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize in a ceremony on Capitol Hill.

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A self-taught lawyer, Chen had endured seven years of prison and house arrest for fighting China’s one-child population control policy.  He now lives in New York, after NYU offered him status as a visiting scholar.

Gere, who serves on the Advisory Board of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, praised the United States for sheltering Chen from China’s harsh rule.

“There is a sense that there is a solidarity of strangers,” Gere said.  “How much happens that we do, our actions that have ramifications way beyond ourselves and how nothing could have happened in Chen Guangcheng’s life without that solidarity of strangers who were on the same wave length, countries that were on the same wave length.”

“I’m very proud of our country that we do speak out when we do,” he said.  “I wish we spoke out more and more clearly and more consistently, but I think we’re all deeply proud of this country and what we have achieved, what we stand for, what we’ll continue to stand for.”

“It’s something extraordinary on this planet,” Gere said.  “We’re looked to for this.  It is really who we are deep inside.  We are kind and gentle troublemakers.  And we should retain that.”

The theme of Gere’s speech was “long live the troublemakers,” praising Chen and others who have championed human rights.  Gere said Chen’s journey to the United States depended on a series of “miracles,” after the blind activist escaped brutal house arrest in April 2012 and somehow made his way 300 miles to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

Chen Guangcheng, blind human rights activist who has protested Communist China's one-child family planning policy.  (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

“The miracle of having escaped, the miracle of having the friends who got him to the U.S. Embassy, the miracle of the U.S. Embassy, the miracle of the country like the U.S. that does care, the miracle of all the machinations that had to take place to get him to the U.S., the miracle of NYU, the miracle of the Lantos Foundation, the miracle of all the people here,” Gere said.  “A lot of miracles.”

“It begs the question, I think, that we need to be—all of us—a miracle for others,” he said.  “That we have that possibility.  The world challenges us constantly to be that miracle for everyone in our life, even ones we don’t know.”

During the ceremony Chen said, “I have been lucky,” despite the trials he has faced, and vowed that there is much more to be done to address human rights abuses in China.

Since 2009, the Tom Lantos Foundation has awarded individuals around the world devoted to advancing human rights.  Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), an ardent human rights advocate, served in Congress from 1981 until his death in 2008, and is the only Holocaust survivor ever to be elected to Congress.

Past recipients of the award include: the Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel and Paul Rusesabagina.