Walking for Peace on Jeju Island
We gathered at the new Navy base front gate this morning just after 8:00 am in order to get registered for the six-day peace walk around Jeju Island, South Korea. Many in the crowd walked down an entry road to the main gate that of course was blocked off with higher than normal security standing guard while military music blasted out for all to hear.
It was sad to see the new base housing for military personnel and their families and to get a glimpse of the warship docks. I was imagining very soon that US Navy destroyers, nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers will be ported there. Gangjeong village has a population of 2,000 people and there are expected to be anywhere from 3,000-7,000 navy personnel based here at some point. And then figure in the many hundreds of sailors on visiting warships. This once quiet fishing and farming community will be torn asunder even more than it already has been.
Gangjeong villagers though have proven to be determined and resilient during this 10-year non-violent struggle to oppose the Navy base. Before we began walking this morning a news conference was held right in front of the main gate and the village Mayor Cho Kyung Cheol said that "People in the village have been treated like dogs and pigs" by the Navy and the government. He spoke of even more lawsuits being filed by the government and Samsung (the lead base construction contractor) seeking $3 million in 'damages' against the village and 116 persons in the village (and their supporters) because they allegedly impeded the construction process. One activist called the fines "A new form of oppression" against the village.
Former Mayor Kang reminded the walkers of the "dignity of nature" and said, "We will continue to work to stop the Navy base. We remember the people all over the country, and around the world, who have helped us. The Navy base will help lead to war."
Six hundred people registered for the peace walk with two teams evenly divided - one heading East and the other West. The international guests (from Taiwan, New Zealand, US, Japan, Philippines and Ireland) were split between the two teams. Our Veterans For Peace delegation is with the east team.
We walked 11.5 miles today in the high heat and the hot top (what Boston folks call the asphalt) only made it worse - sort of like walking for six hours through a steam room. Everyone was sweating but it was remarkable to see our large group stay together the whole way - especially so because many families came from the Korean mainland and brought their small children and they walked the entire way.
The food was prepared by teams of volunteers back in Gangjeong village and trucked out to us for lunch and dinner. During breaks and lunch the iconic Catholic priest Fr. Mun joined us hobbling around with his cane but still inspiring people as he as done in virtually every progressive movement in South Korea for many, many years.
|Legendary Catholic priest Fr. Mun|
A van with a sound system (which included three speakers on top and two big ones in the back of the van) led the walk with its back door open blasting music to keep us singing and dancing to popular movement songs - many of which I recognized from previous trips to Korea. Now and then people were handed the microphone as we walked and asked to speak. I got a turn and told the story about the recent arrests in Bath, Maine when the Zumwalt 12 blocked the road and a gate at the June 'christening' of another Navy destroyer at the Bath Iron Works shipyard. I told people that before we did our action we read a statement of solidarity from Gangjeong village. (The Zumwalt 12 will go through arraignment on August 2 in the West Bath court, I obviously won't be there. Our lawyer will offer my 'not guilty' plea on my behalf.)
Jeju is a tourist haven during the summer so the traffic was heavy while we walked today. We walked along the beautiful ocean, through small villages, and through a densely populated city - even spending at least an hour taking up one lane in a very busy four-lane highway. So we are being seen - it's really quite a sight to see a couple hundred people singing and dancing with their yellow shirts and flags flapping in the breeze.
I am glad to be here - sun burnt, sore feet, but soaring heart. There is only one way that we might be able to stop the crazy US imperial war machine and that is by organizing global protests and taking the war and peace issue directly to the people. It's an honor to be part of this peace walk.