Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

KOREANS USE CULTURE TO BUILD MOVEMENT

The big finish, it was hot standing by the flame
The MB behind me refers to president Lee Myung Bak "out". The flag I am holding is of a reunited Korea with no US created lines of division.

A wonderful performance by a workers dance troupe about their struggle for justice


Last night's Peace Unification cultural event in Seoul had to be the best political rally I've ever seen. It was part variety show and rally at the same time. It had everything - dance, songs, flashing lights, old people, college students, children, loud music, and effectively used traditional Korean culture as well as contemporary culture to unleash a blistering condemnation of South Korea's right-wing president Lee Myung Bak (MB).

The past government had negotiated agreements for a positive path toward reunification with North Korea but the MB government has ignored these important milestones and is heating things up on the Korean peninsula. In addition, the MB government has unleashed the police (see yesterday's blog) in attacks against unions and progressive organizing that is reminiscent of past South Korean right-wing dictatorships.

Mr. Oh Jong Ryol, the honorary president of the event committee, told the 10,000 people who were at the rally, “ 64 years ago, the country was divided on the liberation day by the United States. Unless we peacefully recover it, we will fall in the pot of fire. To live, we must achieve the unification."

I was invited to speak to the crowd in the early part of the rally. Here is what I said:

The US challenges and criticizes North Korea for testing nuclear weapons and missiles while the US hypocritically has more nuclear weapons than any other country. At the same time the US and South Korean military continue their aggressive military war games. The US is also now expanding its deployments of "missile defense" systems in South Korea and Japan which will create a new arms race.

The US is moving the arms race into space saying that which ever country controls space will control the Earth. My organization is working internationally to build a movement to prevent this new arms race in space.

We must abolish the South Korea-US-Japan nuclear military alliance.

We must end the colonial occupation of Korea by the US military empire.

I hope we live to celebrate the reunification of Korea.

It seemed that I got a nice response. Sung-Hee Choi was very pleased and that is good. She has been working so hard on this tour for me I was happy for her as much as anything.

Earlier in the day a protest rally was held in another part of the city. The government had refused to give the coalition of groups holding the rally a permit and the police tried to prevent the event from happening. Fifty students were arrested, the most arrests in South Korea since June 15, 2000.

One young college-age woman at the cultural rally spoke about her sadness that even though North Korea is so close to Seoul, the people can't see each other. Several songs noted this theme, the lyrics to one song mentioned that cab fare to the north was cheaper than cab fare to some other cities in the south. The power of emotion was evident throughout the event which reflects the intense longing to see the nation reunited. One out of every four South Koreans has relatives in the North.

The visceral disgust with the new president MB, who is completely under the control of major corporations and the US government, was displayed in both song and imagery. People describe him as looking and acting like a "rat" and at the end of the rally the flame was taken from the stage and used to light on fire a huge hanging banner near the stage that had MB portrayed as the rat lording over the nation and his injustice to the workers, the poor, and the peace and reunification movements. After the banner burned away and fell to the ground you could see the words "The people" emerge. Very dramatic.

Just after WW II the US occupying Army gave the task to a couple military officers (including Col. Dean Rusk who became Secretary of State under JFK) to come up with a "dividing line" in Korea. This artificial boundary has separated the Korean people ever since. Korea had been occupied by the imperial Japanese and once the war ended, and Japanese occupation ended, the US put right-wing Koreans into power who had been collaborators with the Japanese. To this day these wealthy elite right-wingers still largely control South Korea. It was North Korean leadership that essentially fought against the Japanese occupation and were made to suffer by the US that fought them in the Korean war which was an attempt by the US to hand full control of the nation to the rich right-wing collaborators.

Even though the Korean war cease-fire was declared on July 27, 1953 the war has officially never ended. No peace treaty has ever been signed and the US and South Korean military at this very moment are doing war games to practice an invasion of the north. Thus to the majority of Koreans, there will never be peace on the Korean peninsula until the present colonial occupier, the United States, closes its military bases and withdraws the nearly 40,000 troops stationed here.

But the US is not wanting to do so anytime soon. The bases here are hugging the borders of China and Russia that the US is working overtime to militarily surround today. It's all part of the US empire building "great game of chess" and sadly the Korean people are made to suffer as their nation serves as a key pawn.

The peace movement in the US could learn much from the movements here. They use culture to educate and involve legions of people in their struggles. It is also time for the peace movement in the US to learn more about the Korean reunification struggle and to more actively give support to it.

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