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: Bath, Maine, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LISTENING TO THE ISLAND STORIES

A photo display of soft coral reefs and other sea life along the coast in the Gangjeong village
Mayor Kang of Gangjeong village sleeps four hours a night as he leads the fight against the Navy base plan

I am back in Seoul now after two nights in the Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, South Korea. When we arrived in Gangjeong we were met by Corazon Fabros from the Philippines who is one of the key leaders of the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases. Also joining us was a staff representative from the peace group called SPARK (Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea).

Upon arrival in Ganjeong we went straight to the office of Mayor Kang who has been leading the villagers in their struggle to save their farming community of about 2,000 residents from the Navy base. Gangjeong grows tangerines and other vegetables and of course is a fishing community as well. It's rocky coast reminds me much of Pemaquid Point near where I live in Maine. The Navy base plan calls for the pouring of tons of cement on top of the rocks in order to build a pier for the Aegis destroyers and aircraft carriers that would be ported there. The sea creatures and plant life that thrives within those rocks would be buried alive.

The mayor recapped their latest efforts to physically resist the Navy base construction. More than fifty of the villagers have been arrested for putting their bodies in the way of the bulldozers that have been brought to clear land. The recent election of a new governor on Jeju Island gives the villagers some hope as he has called for more dialogue between the Navy and the villagers.

In a village-wide referendum on the Navy base 95% of the people voted against it. Mayor Kang though sadly confirmed that about 25% of the actual residents in the village do support the base construction. The Navy has offered bribes to some of the old sea diving women in their attempts to divide a village that previously had been united like a family.

Mayor Kang spoke eloquently about the need to "coexist with nature". He said that "Jeju is at the crossroads to becoming either an eco-friendly island or militarized." He told us that the village had decided to build a peace museum using traditional Korean style architecture for the building.

In July (during the slow farming time) the villagers will hold their third pilgrimage around the island to bring the issue to the public's attention. The walk will last one week during the hot season. Many of the villagers are elderly but they will make the pilgrimage through all the other villages on the island because they feel they must continue to do everything possible to try to block the building of the base.

The Samsung Corporation (a big development company in addition to building electronics) is one of the forces pushing the construction of the base. Another of the corporations that would be involved in the base construction is the same company that is building the Korean aerospace center. So when the Navy says the base in Gangjeong will be "high-tech" many villagers suspect the base will be also connected to space technology.

On our second day in Gangjeong a community forum was held (at about the same time the South Korean soccer team was playing for the World Cup) and 70 people turned out. Each of the people in our delegation spoke and here are a few key points that were made:

  • Corazon Fabros reported that the U.S. still refuses to take responsibility for the toxic pollution long after its Navy base was closed in the Philippines. "We have to match our enemies strength with our unity and solidarity," she said.
  • Shinako Oyakawa (University student from Okinawa) shared that 20% of their island has U.S. military bases since the end of WW II. Now the U.S. is attempting to build another base on environmentally sensitive lands in Henoko, Okinawa. They have learned that the U.S. military created the Henoko base plan all the way back in 1966. 85% of Okinawa citizens want the U.S. bases closed.
  • Michael Lujan Bevacqua (College instructor from Guam) said that 30% of Guam has U.S. bases, and the U.S. wants to build two more, also to be located in environmentally sensitive locations on the island. The U.S. military controls the largest water source on the island. The U.S. Navy wants to bring nuclear-powered aircraft carriers to Guam which will kill the coral reefs.

The South Korean government has announced that they intend to begin actual construction of the Navy base in September and expect to be finished in 2014. The South Korean Defense Minister has called the Gangjeong villagers "African natives" in an obvious racist slap at the fact that they are unwilling to be controlled.

The people in Gangjeong are a rare inspiration. They intimately feel their sacred connection to the land, the sea, the rocks, the fish, and the coral. As a village young and old alike are taking collective responsibility to protect it all. It is not a common sight in today's world to see virtually an entire village moving together with such common purpose. It indeed is a pure honor to be able to witness and find even small ways to support such a principled struggle.

My primary lesson from listening to the villagers of Gangjeong, and the other activists from Okinawa, Guam, and the Philippines is that the American people have no clue about the suffering that our military bases around the world are causing the people who have to deal with these outposts of empire. Many U.S. citizens seem to avoid opening their hearts to the enormous harm that is being done in our name with our tax dollars. The environmental degradation that results from these U.S. bases is beyond imagination.

The voices of those opposing U.S. bases must be heard. Each of us should hear their crys for support and we must do more in our own communities to bring these appeals to the public attention. The American people must learn that there is a consequence somewhere in the world when our planes, ships, tanks, and troops are deployed in a particular country. There is an impact on the environment and the human population who live there.

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