THE BEST TIME, THE WORST TIME
Yesterday we had a joint meeting between the villagers and our international guests. Our folks shared stories about U.S. and NATO space technology expansion into Sweden and Norway, the effort by the U.S. to get India to create their own aggressive Space Command to help "contain" China, and the Vandenberg AFB in California space missile launching center.
One elderly man from Gangjeong village told us he can't sleep at night, suffers from depression, and sees that the community has been physically and spiritually torn apart by the base construction. He asked what they could do?
In the afternoon we took a walking tour all around the imposing barbed wire-topped fences that have been erected around the base site. We could hear the heavy equipment from inside the destruction zone and the police practicing their harsh anti-protest tactics.
We planted seeds, placed rocks and poured water from our hometowns in the new garden at the peace park that is being created just outside the fence line that guards one end of the base. Even in the midst of the ugliness and barbarity of the base the people are planting the seeds of life and hope. They still laugh and smile and share food. They love their land and the sea in spite of the Navy and construction corporations who have nothing but disdain for democracy, for the villagers 450-year old history, and for their close relationship to nature. It is good and evil in an epic struggle. Good and bad playing out right before our eyes.
After supper together in the village community center we were treated to the most inspiring and joyful experience of the nightly candlelight vigil. Vigil is the wrong word - it should rather be described as rally-dance-music festival-party. A totally amazing experience.
Speeches (Mary Beth's was a huge hit as she told her story of daily watching the videos from the village) were followed by traditional Korean drumming and singing; songs by villagers (including the mayor who has a great voice and many say looks like the actor Robert Mitchum; peace in space awards presentations by the Global Network to the village and to South Korean activist and GN board member Wooksik Cheong who was instrumental in organizing the programs; speech by the former governor of Jeju Island who ended by singing Amazing Grace; lots of dancing (including 75 year olds Agneta Norberg from Sweden and J. Narayana Rao from India); and the big finale that turned out to be a choreographed three-song set with spiral dancing and virtually everyone there including the old village women whose backs are bent from years of hard work on their farms. One village woman sang two songs that sounded very similar to Native American cultures that I have witnessed. This all lasted until midnight and they ended by saying, "We'll see you tomorrow night for more. We do this every night!"
Near the end of the evening village Mayor Kang called me up and handed me bags of gifts for each of the 3o-some international guests. As we were leaving he came running up to thank me again for helping to bring these wonderful activists from around the world to their struggling community.
Before I left home Maine friend and filmmaker Eric Herter loaned me a video camera and begged me to take as much footage as possible. I've never been much good with a camera but since Eric, who wanted badly to be with us but could not come, insisted I took on the task. I've been faithfully talking bits of video and interviewing people as we go along. I don't know if I got the light right at times, or the picture framed properly, but I am trying. Eric promised to do the editing and will make a mini-documentary out of it (if the footage is usable).
I thought to myself last night what a great gift we have all been given to be able to witness, and participate in, this absolutely remarkable experience. We are witnessing the best and worst times in the life of Gangjeong village. They are experiencing absolute horror but they are taking the moment and creating pure joy as well.
I feel like I am rambling on here but there is so much I want to share but feel incapable of doing so in the way I'd like to. I just wish everyone could come here to see for themselves this moment - you'd be changed, inspired, outraged, heart broken, and more.
We live our lives in boxes of comfort and conformity. All those boxes are being broken and cast aside here in Gangjeong.