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'm back to work for the Global Network. Will continue to help Lisa Savage for US Senate campaign on my free time. Trying to self-isolate as much as possible. Best wishes and good luck to you all.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

WARM MEETINGS IN SEOUL

Following late night meeting with Kim, Young-Je in Seoul
North Koreans fishing in the Daedong River, Pyeongyang

My last two days have been busy and exciting. Upon our return from Busan on Saturday Sung-Hee and I met Kim, Young-Je in Seoul for dinner. Kim is the national Director for the Reunification Unit of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCYU). He is in charge of organizing the trips of South Korean KCTU members to North Korea. I met him when I was here in August and we both agreed to meet again when I returned. Kim believes that it is crucial for US and international peace activists to go to North Korea to see for themselves what life is like there.

Having been to Cuba three times, while living in Florida I used to organize large groups of Floridians to take trips to Cuba, I know that seeing the reality of life is much different from what you read in the mainstream corporate media in the US.

Kim took us to a small local restaurant near the tall KCTU national headquarters building. This restaurant cooks shellfish on charcoal stoves built into each table. The enormous shellfish are split in half and placed on the coals. Some spices are added to the largest ones and the smaller ones are eaten as they are. Kim told us that these shellfish are very popular and are imported from North Korean waters. The shellfish can cross between borders, he said with an ironic smirk, but the people cannot do so.

Following dinner Kim took us back to the KCTU offices where we talked until late in the night. He said that recently the right-wing government in South Korea has thrown road blocks in the way of the KCTU organizing worker trips to the north. This would make it more difficult for the Global Network to make such a trip in the near future. He said he would still encourage North Korea to make it easier for groups like us to visit there.

Kim talked in a deep and heartfelt way about the "inhuman situation" for all the people on the Korean peninsula - from both north and south. Presently 10 million people, 25% of those living in the south, have family in the north. The US-South Korean military alliance has forced the south to subjugate itself to the US like a slave, he said. (In fact the Korean War is still not officially over as the US has never signed a peace treaty with North Korea. South Korea is not allowed by the US to sign a peace treaty with North Korea. So the US completely controls when and if there will ever be peace on the Korean peninsula.)

My interest in all of this is largely due to the fact that the US military in massively upgrading its military presence in Japan and South Korea, particularly with the addition of "missile defense" systems. This is all justified by the Pentagon as being "caused by the North Korea problem". But I strongly believe that the North Korea "problem" is used by the US as an excuse for a military buildup that is aimed at encircling China. Thus the US has no urgent desire to reach true peace with North Korea for fear they lose their justification to surround China. In the meantime the Korean people, used as pawns in the big power game, have to suffer the consequences. I don't like that.

The most touching comments from Kim were when he said, "The first thing the US needs to apologize about is how the US has divided Korea, changed the way the Korean people think about one another, and then boasted about their success in making it [the division] all happen."

Kim continued to outline why the US should apologize: "By never allowing North Korea to rest, to build their economy, always keeping North Korea on edge, [with non-stop military exercises like the one planned October 13-16 just off the coast of North Korea] fearing war, oppressing South Koreans through right-wing governments, dividing the people against each other."

Kim feels this is the great tragedy of Korean history.

The KCTU has officially adopted the program of self reliance and reunification. To North Korea self reliance means they will always refuse to be dominated by any foreign powers. To the KCTU it means the workers will always be independent from corporate capitalist powers.

Kim said it brings him great sadness to see some people in South Korea get used to the division of their nation and their people.

Kim told me that he shared his intimate feelings with me because he felt I was open. I told him I would do everything I could to help bring the issue of Korean reunification into my work.

On Sunday I spoke to 40 members of the Saegil Institute for Christianity and Culture following their religious service. This church was founded in 2000 by recognizing "the responsibility to spread the true spirit of Christ into the whole of society, beyond just the individual spiritual life." Most of these people were doctors, professors, ministers, and other professionals. They had many important questions for almost an hour following my talk. Then they took me to a nearby restaurant, where over coffee, I talked with a dozen of their leaders for another hour.

One of the men, Lee, Il-Young, lived in Boston in the US for many years. He is a retired medical doctor and pastor and has been to North Korea many times. This short and robust man, with a great smile and spirit, told me North Korea would never surrender and that reunification had to be accepted by the US. I invited him to come to Maine next time he is in the US so I could organize some talks for him to share the story about the Korean situation.

Sung-Hee likes to tell everyone that I was born on July 27, 1952 - exactly one year after the signing of the Korean War ceasefire. But the war is not over. My entire life has witnessed this constant state of semi-permanent preparation for war that has been draining all sides. The time has come for the war to end. I am a peace activist. I have to do what I can to help.

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