Global Network in South Korea & Jeju
From: Bruce Gagnon's Blog: Organizing Notes
August 10-26 2015
Navy Eager to Send Warships to Jeju Island - Monday, August 10
SEOUL, Aug. 5 (Yonhap)
-- The United States Navy wants to send its ships to South Korea's naval
base on the southern resort island of Jeju once constructed for navigation
and training purposes, the outgoing head of the U.S. naval forces stationed
here said Wednesday.
"The U.S. is a Bad Country"
The Comfort Women continue to demand that the Japanese government issue an official apology (which they have yet to do), pay financial restitution to the women, and include the important story in Japanese school textbooks.
Following the protest we boarded a train for the two-hour trip south to the US’s Osan Air Force Base in Pyeongtaek for a guided tour by a prominent local activist. We were driven around the perimeter of the bulging base that is now adding a second runway – likely as a result of Obama’s ‘pivot’ of Pentagon forces into the Asia-Pacific to encircle China. (More airfields are needed for Pentagon warplanes.) In order to make the base expansion possible the US has forced the South Korean government to take even more lands from local farmers. Local citizens and their supporters resisted this land grab by waging a long fierce campaign but their villages and rice fields were eventually taken.
Osan AFB currently has F-16 and A-10 warplanes stationed there as well as the high-flying U-2 spy planes. In addition the air base hosts PAC-3 (Patriot third generation) missile defense systems that are aimed at China. Their job is to take out the retaliatory response following a US first-strike attack against Chinese nuclear forces.
The tour continued to the nearby US Army base called Camp Humphreys that is also undergoing major expansion. Similar to Osan AFB the US forced the grabbing of two rice-farming villages near the Army base to provide additional lands for the base expansion. These new facilities at Camp Humphreys will allow the US to move its current base inside downtown Seoul southward making it more difficult for North Korea to retaliate against the US bases following a Pentagon attack on the north.
We had dinner with one rice farmer who lost his land when his village was taken. He and others moved to another nearby location but they couldn't replace their rice farms in the local area. The farmer, now the mayor of his small village, had to buy new rice land two hours away and must make that long drive back and forth to work in his new rice fields. I was told he spent time in prison for “obstructing” the expansion of the Army base during their protest campaign.
The Pentagon currently has 27,500 troops in South Korea at 70 bases and
military facilities. In order to pay for the current expansion of its bases
the US has demanded that the South Korean government pay for the big changes
taking place at these military outposts. (My liberal Democrat Congresswoman
Chellie Pingree calls it 'burden sharing by the host nation'.) Thus for the
Korean people it is a double insult – not only is their government an
occupied client state of the US empire but the people must increasingly pay
for unwanted US military operations inside of their country.
Jeju Island Peace Walk - Wednesday, August 12
Video includes walkers singing, dancing, and celebrating their long
struggle to stop Navy base construction on Jeju Island.
Drowning Democracy in South Korea
Today I met with Korean activists who have been associated with the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) which the right-wing government of President Park has had banned. The UPP had six members in the National Assembly who were forced out of power. Their great crime? It’s hard to believe but essentially what the UPP did was dared to call for reunification of North and South Korea and the removal of US military bases across their occupied nation.
Under the draconian National Security Law (NSL) it is a crime to call and
work for reunification and to challenge US war bases in Korea. President
Park, the daughter of former brutal dictator Park Jung-Hee, is drowning the
exercise of democracy in her country because Washington does not want a free
flowing democracy to happen inside of this military colony that sits in such
a strategic spot so close to China and Russia.
I was told that it is believed by many inside South Korea that the US
government has to ‘approve’ anyone who wishes to become president of this
beleaguered nation. Many are convinced that the current Park regime
unleashed this attack on the UPP to divert attention from serious charges
that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) directly interfered in the last
national election that brought President Park to power.
Pentagon Shipped Anthrax to Base in South Korea - Thursday, August 13
A probe has been launched to investigate the handling of an Anthrax virus shipment at a US airbase in South Korea several months ago. But activists are calling for a tougher government stance. They say South Korea’s weak position has made the country vulnerable against the US.
Our Struggle Makes Us a Better Person
I write this in the car as we make the two-hour drive from Osan Air Force
Base back to Seoul. We were joined for this trip by a delegation of 17
Japanese peace activists from Tokyo and Osaka.
The students began by walking to various military sites starting around August 6 and converged at the gates of Osan AFB in the blazing heat today. The reason for coming to Osan AFB was because of the recent revelations that the US Forces in Korea (USFK) had recently brought anthrax to the base and at least 22 people were contaminated. This was a Top-Secret program but the word got to Korea from some American media. The Pentagon claims it was all a mistake. The USFK are not giving out any information at this point. The Korean peace movement is demanding a special independent investigation by the South Korean government but so far the puppet regime in Seoul has not shown much interest in making any such demands on their masters from Washington.
I was invited to speak to the assembled peace walkers outside the Osan base
gate and told them that the Native Americans said the white man spoke with a
forked tongue – Washington always lied. I said that inside the Osan base is
a so-called ‘missile defense’ system (PAC-3) but the Pentagon lies when they
claim it is for defense – it’s really an offensive system. I told the
students that the US lies when it claims its biological weapons program is
‘defensive’ – it’s offensive. I said that Washington lies when it tells the
Korean people that it was a mistake to send the anthrax to Osan AFB. I said
the US was in fact sending a clear message to North Korea and China.
After dinner we joined the students again at a big park in the city center of the air base town. There organizers set up a sound truck with a huge TV screen on top of the vehicle and began with speeches and wonderful song and dance routines expressing their outrage against the US military occupation of the country.The messages were clear and resolute:
As I sat on the ground in the park, surrounded by student groups in their colored shirts, I had tears in my eyes while I listened to their strong words. Just minutes before, after coming out of the local restaurant where the international guests had dinner together, I saw groups of American GI’s walking through town in their civilian clothes. I thought back on my own time in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and felt proud that this time I was sitting on the right side of history.
I know that the GI’s at Osan AFB will be talking about the protest today in
the barracks, the chow hall, and at their work sites. I thought about how
much the GI’s really need to experience the collective outrage, love and joy
that I experienced today being in the middle of this great protest event.
Liberation Day Rally for Democracy & Peaceful Reunification in Seoul - August 14
It was another wonderful day as more than 10,000 people gathered in two lanes
of a city street in Seoul today for a big rally to celebrate the 70th
anniversary of Korea's liberation from the imperial Japanese.
I have been able to see several people again that I'd met on previous trips to Korea such as Young-Je Kim Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) leader who calls me brother and Eun-A Choi who I visited while she was in jail when I visited Korea in 2009. Eun-A was one of the key organizers of the events today.
After about an hour of walking the march that followed the rally was ended
abruptly in the shadow of the massive Samsung building in the heart of the
financial district of downtown Seoul. The police blocked us from moving any
further so people sat down and completely closed the already congested
intersection. The police presence was massive. (I'll post more photos as I
get them.) The organizers moved the international guests out of harms way and
we later heard that 3,000 of the marchers were able to break off and headed to
the US Embassy where they held another rally.
I was very proud to be among these remarkable fighters for real freedom and true democracy on such an important day. Every time I come to Korea I become even more convinced that the folks here are the best organizers I've ever seen and their spirit of love and determination fills me with the kind of hope that people always ask me to help them find. The Korean movement reminds us that hope comes from determined struggle. Wishing and dreaming don't bring change. It comes from hard work and the willingness to build coalitions and link the issues. No one does it better.
I bring you greetings from the US Solidarity Committee and the Global Network
Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. We recently met in Kyoto, Japan for
our 23rd annual space organizing conference. We were invited to hold our
meeting there by local activists in Ukawa village who are protesting the US
deployment of a so-called ‘missile defense’ radar system aimed at China. The
US missile defense program is a key element in Pentagon first-strike attack
Arrived on Jeju - Sunday, August 16
Juyeon Rhee and I arrived in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island this evening. We were met at the airport by GN board member Sung-Hee Choi and her partner Koh Gilchun. We boarded a bus for the hour long ride from the airport to the village. (Juyeon who lives in New York City has been my translator and guide during my time in Korea so far. She is great fun to be with and a dear soul. We are both part of the US Solidarity Committee for Democracy & Peace in Korea.)
Once we arrived in the village Sung-Hee took us to the now famous (if you've see The Ghosts of Jeju) food kitchen where activists are fed any time of the day. Various varieties of kimchee and rice were available. I've seen so many videos and photos of this kitchen but had never been inside it.
I am staying at a brand new four-story Catholic center that was built by
donations from Catholics across South Korea. Renowned activist Fr. Mun and
Jeju Bishop Kang raised the funds to build this permanent center where priests
from across the nation can come and stay when they arrive in the village to
join the on-going protests at the base.
Watching the Tides Roll Away At Jeju Navy Base Gate - Monday, August 17, 2015
I was awake earlier than I wanted to be this morning. I made myself
breakfast in the 4th floor kitchen here at the Catholic Center in
Gangjeong village. Since I arrived after dark last night I don't know my
way around that well yet so I went walking and exploring for awhile. The
tangerines that Jeju is famous for are now young and will be harvested in
the late fall. The trees are all around the village as are the plants
with hot red peppers and the green bean plants.
All day cement trucks come and go from the base along with other
construction vehicles and workers. Our group sat on chairs and blocked
the entrance and then about every 15-20 minutes the police announced on a
loud speaker that we had to move because by now trucks had formed a long
line to come and go from the base gate. Then the police came and four men
or woman cops grabbed the chairs with people in them and carried us to the
side. They let the trucks pass through and then we (priests, nuns,
activists) moved our chairs back in front of the gate and the dance
started all over again.
It's hard to keep a movement going at a hyper pace over this many years so
like the ocean on the other side of the Navy base gates the Save Jeju Now
movement has ebbed and flowed. It's the law of nature in motion -
movements come and go - they go up and down. The key to successful
organizing is being able to maintain some level of activity in the lean
times so that when the tide comes flowing back in again there is
organization ready to lead the surging people.
Contrast the two images.
The Human Chain at the Navy Base - Wednesday, August 19
Sewing & Dancing in Resistance on Jeju
A South Korean Peace Activist’s Perspective
Wildflower’s art has become a symbol of both the grief and joy shared by
local villagers and peace activists here in Gangjeong. Through craft and
dance she expresses both feelings of loss of the sacred Gureombi Rock which
was destroyed during the construction of the naval base and joy generated
from the close-knit peace community which resides here. Her art celebrates
friendship and solidarity in the face of the ongoing struggle to
demilitarize Jeju Island.
Peace activism is not all work. Now and then we get to have some fun. Two
days ago fellow Mainer Marlon Brando and I were taken to Jungman beach for a
delightful swim. Our host was local Jeju Island native MiYoung whose mother
was once a sea diving woman and in later life created a shelter for battered
women. MiYoung is a fervent supporter of the Gangjeong village fight against
the Navy base. One activist told me that often when the villagers feel really
depressed it is usually MiYoung that rolls in and stirs people back to life.
I can believe it.
More than Meets the Eye in Korea - Thursday, August 20
There are lots of people coming and going each day in Gangjeong village. The numbers change quickly. Not only are there people blocking the Navy base construction gate but there is always a Catholic mass being held just across the street in the make shift church. Yesterday a big bus pulled up soon after we arrived and two-thirds of the passengers stepped across the street to join the mass and the rest came to help block the gate. (The Catholic Church here is unlike any I've seen before. Many give Fr. Mun and Jeju Bishop Kang most of the credit for the daily presence of priests and nuns in the village.)
While we sit in front of the gate the Navy has 2-3 of their agents filming
everything we do. Not to be out done the activists have five regular camera
people filming every thing the police do during the 90 minutes we are blocking
The people in Korea have been living with war, or the daily threat of war, for
a very long time. Sadly the American people know virtually nothing about
Korea or don't really much care. Even the peace movement knows little about
Korea (historically or the present). My hope is that the current focus on
Jeju Island will help draw some peaceniks interest and maybe, just maybe, even the American
people might eventually open their eyes and see what our war mongering nation
has wrought here.
Today at the Navy Base Gate
Images from Gangjeong Village - Saturday, August 22
This is the promo bit sent around about my talk Tuesday night at the Gangjeong
peace center. Title of the talk is 'Why Jeju?'
Coalition Party in Gangjeong Village
Yesterday more than 100 people from mainland Korea arrived on Jeju Island. They are part of the Sky team which is a coalition of movements throughout South Korea - striking auto workers, Sewol ferry tragedy families, campaigns to oppose massive nuclear power plant powerline towers in several villages, campaign to protect neighborhoods in Seoul from redevelopment demolition, and the Gangjeong Navy base struggle. They have been working for a couple of years to support one another and last night was the first big joint bash.
When the Sky team arrived in the Jeju airport they were met by many Gangjeong villagers and supporters. Then the visitors were taken to the April 3 massacre museum and to the ocean. At 6:00 pm folks gathered in the village center for opening ceremonies that included the presentation of many organic farm products from one of the visiting village struggles to the people of Gangjeong. A delicious supper was next followed by two hours of singing and dancing.
I was pulled up several times to dance and fellow Mainer Brando got up and
sang 'My Way' which got a big cheer. My favorite was a slight 82-year old
woman dressed in a blue shirt who danced several times and even sang one
song. At one point she came up to me and thanked me - I'm not sure for what -
but I was deeply touched by her kind gesture.
Big Crowd at Navy Base Gate
The Sky team from the Korean mainland joined us at the Navy base gate this morning in Gangjeong village for the 90 minute vigil and Catholic mass (simultaneously underway just across the street). Usually the police drag us away from the gate 3-4 times each day but with the big crowd of well over 100 people today they gave up on their first try.
One granny sat in front of a cement truck and my favorite 82-year old woman (she can't weigh more than 75 pounds) leaned up against the front of the truck and refused to move. Others quickly crowded around and the Navy was forced to back up the cement truck and wait us out. Just goes to prove that numbers can make a real difference.
It did everyone good to have so many folks there at the gate today. It was a real boost for the Gangjeong community and those that made the trip to the village clearly enjoyed the experience.
As we continue the daily protests on Jeju Island all of Korea is holding their breath as the US and their puppet regime in South Korea step up their provocations and war games aimed at North Korea. There is a petition calling on the right-wing South Korean President Park to stop blasting their propaganda broadcasts toward the north. This is just another example how the US and South Korea continue to keep poking the hornets nest with a sharp stick.
Last Night in Gangjeong Village - Tuesday, August 25
We gathered last night at the peace center in Gangjeong village for my talk
and then a party. It was a lovely night with some great songs by three
different activists and then some good food.
Navy Trying to Kill Gangjeong Village - Wednesday, August 26
I was invited to come to Jeju City today to appear on live radio show for 20 minutes at 6:00 pm. As we were preparing to leave Gangjeong village we looked into the sky as a formation of Navy Blue Angel war planes came screaming over the village. For the next 15 or so minutes they went back and forth directly over Gangjeong doing various stunts. One of the stunts brought the planes very low in an ear splitting maneuver.
The Navy was sending a message to Gangjeong village. The
message was loud and clear. "We own you now. Your village will become a war
base. There is nothing you can do. We will project power against China from
Jeju Island. You'd better get used to the idea." This is the way the US
military empire thinks and the way they treat people who stand in their way.
I am writing from an airport hotel in Narita, Japan after my flight to US got cancelled. We sat on the plane for 6 1/2 hours yesterday with mechanical problems. United Airlines pushed us back from the gate three different times but after sitting on the runway the plane went back to gate for more repairs. Finally, hungry, tired, and extremely frustrated, we were unloaded and had to wait in long lines to get hotel passes and then more long lines at the hotel to check-in. We still have no idea when the plane will finally leave.
Once I got to the hotel I was able to check emails and I found an enormous response to my post yesterday about Gangjeong village. (I apologize for multiple emails on the same subject, my server went wild on me and sent out 3-4 emails to each person on my list.) I've been asking people to call the South Korean Embassy in Washington DC. Several have written back saying they only got a recording but they left a message. No matter where you live just search the Internet for the nearest South Korean consulate or embassy to you and call them. Make that effort on behalf of the Gangjeong village on Jeju Island. It is the least we can do. Please help spread the word and ask others to do the same.
Thanks to Keven Zeese at the web site Popular Resistance for posting my story about the village. I'm sure many more will read about it at this very popular site. You can see it here.
I hate flying anymore. I prefer taking the train when I can. But I am glad I
was in Gangjeong village during this aerial flyover. I felt like I was in a
war zone. The truth is that for villagers every day of their life is like
living in a war zone.