Following in Martin’s footsteps

As my time in Gangjoeng has come to an end  I walk away feeling grateful for having had the opportunity to meet people acting from a place of love, not hatred.

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Having met the ones who would rather go to prison than compromised their moral beliefs.

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Hung out with the SOS team. Frozen kayak rides, stubbornly working as monitors and guardians of the sea, coast line, animal life, corals and sea bed, all deeply affected by the construction.

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Been inspired by all these politicians, leaders, villagers, supporter. Activists in different coats.

And yesterday six people from the National assembly(belonging to the Progressive Democratic Party) came to the same gate. Held a press conference. Talked about not being let in to see the base. Despite having their permits in order.

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Many big and small efforts.

And all these people have at some point reacted and decided to act. Laws and regulations are made by people. Structures are created but can be changed if needed. Patters of state power can be challenges. Do not obey it you feel you shouldn’t. The pink sign below says just that; sometimes it is your obligation to stand by your beliefs and disobey.

And doing it from a place of love instead of hatred is a good start.

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That’s the way we roll

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There are many faces in the movement in Gangjeong. Some bring their own vehicles all the way to the gates. I met them but was not present during the previous night. This is how it was described.

 

On Jan. 8, members of the Seongdong Center for Independant Living visited Gangjeong, joining the peoples’ struggle to stop the illegal construction. They stayed all night in front of construction gates to block the construction vehicles.

A witness who watched the struggle of the disabled visitors, most of whom are women, testified that the police were embarrassed by their courageous and active protests. He also stated that the police were violent and violated their human rights. The police forcefully lifting their wheelchairs, encircled an each person, and detained them. During the process, many of the disabled women’s cries of pain and distress could be heard.
Source

No Pasarán!

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It is not a totally appropriate title on this blog entry. No Pasarán was one of the battle cries from the guerilla in the Spanish Civil War.

Still, No Passage is one of the messages ringing loud and clear through the movement against the Naval base in Gangjeong.

Yesterday the wind picked up and snow came down over the gureombi rock, the palm trees, orange groves and the press conference where Mayor Kang and other community leaders again raised the issue of the 70 day construction stop that legally is in effect but not respected. The main purpose of the conference though was to voice a strong opinion of distrust regarding the navy’s 3d naval simulation to assess if cruise ships will be able to enter the port safely. This is taking place today and tomorrow but is considered a right out lie.

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But consider this. The sales pitch to  the villagers to Gangjeong (and Jeju island for that matter)  was that the base would be a naval/civil(civilian base)where happy, rich tourists would come on these giant cruise liners.

Have you ever seen a one entry navy port, which main purpose is to protect South Korea and USA from the Red Enemy sitting in China; filled with American Marine soldiers, warships, a well-developed missile defence system mingle with…eh, tourists?

Gangjeong is an amazingly beautiful place. It has been considered as a candidate for the so-called new 7 wonders.

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And now the base is moving in. And life becomes harder in so many small and big ways. Fishing use to be easy.

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There use to be a beautiful view if one wanted to just hang for a while, be by the sea and look at Tiger island in a distance.

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But now war ships are moving in. Tetrapods high and low.

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Construction and barbed wire.IMG_5821

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And still.

Small islands of stubborn active resistance.

Save Our Seas, or the SOS team had their weekly waterday activity on Wednesday(the Chinese symbol for Wednesday is water).

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Some folks from the navy security unit decided they needed to come along and sent 14 of their finest divers to make sure no rebellious kayakers would be up to something disobedient.

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Then they all sailed for freedom.

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Kayaks were observed and followed from both side of the navy base but not harassed. Depending on how you see it.

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And made their way in the strong wind around the man-made orange boundary and disappeared in the mist, their tiny yellow flags barely visible.

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Make art Not war

It snowed when I walked down to the gate this morning. It snowed during mass and it snowed during the press conference held about the hurried naval base layout simulation that is said to take place today and tomorrow(with results to be presented on January 30th) and is most likely fake.

This week I have seen very few police and have been told it is because they are taking a national test.

People don’t leave the gate unattended anyway of course.

I wonder where they go to find rest and inspiration. And I wonder about why there is so much art. And very few, if any, scare tactic posters, posters of the consequences of war, war ships coming to kill etc. Instead I find this.

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And a guy who made a flute from a plastic pipe.

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There is something in the way he walks

It is the small things that get to me. The young man hanging, as a last desperate measure, on the front grille of the construction truck the other day. Before being torn down by the riot police and hired security men.

IMG_5696And being violently thrown, pushed around and handles inside a detention circle.

IMG_5699Before it was all over for this round and the police left.

IMG_5697But the next time I see him. He is back at the gate. Doing bows for peace.

IMG_4959And I think of other young men that I have met. In other places. Other struggles. Who have chosen another, more violent route. And I think to myself, this is quite unique.

Then I went to mass. With two disobedient priest who have paid the price for opposing the base. Father Joseph and Father Mun Jeong-hyun. Being beaten by the police. Jail. That sort of thing.

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IMG_5737I look down. I look up. Father Joseph is missing.

No he is not missing. He is walking with the bread and blood of Christ down to the people blocking the gate. Here he is coming back. Walking through the traffic. Another day, another walk.

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IMG_5741People often ask me what they can do. For peace. Against violence. Ignorance. For other people.

Against military and political forces with a moist moral surface.

The answer is simple.

Do something. Do something you are good at. Something with a heart.

Write. Sing. Inspire people. Document. Analyze. Make it personal. Deliver the Eucharist in the street.  Go sit and talk and eat oranges at the gate of a naval base i Korea. But do something.

The Mermaid Advocacy Tour

As it turned out. I wasn’t completely wrong. And my Korean friends were not completely right about the mermaids.

The woman we went to see in lovely, lovely U-do island is known for her spectacular photos of the female Korean divers or haenyo. Here is an old photo of them, taken in the 70’s. Today they wear wetsuits but look very similar in their own way.

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The purpose of the tour was to relax and get away from the police and the gates for a while. One gets tired of battling it out and of thinking about the election, the 70 day ban on construction that is not listened to, the fines and court orders that are coming in. And the police surveillance van with a very visual camera staring right at the gate. It does not matter so much if they were actually in the van, the culture that I experience here is so built around us and them now that it seems more or less expected that they have the activists mapped out.

Anyhow.

While it was a vacation, the advocacy flyers were not far away in the car and were handed out when it seemed right. The yellow vest was on the driver. I came along as a friend and as it turned out, a token international who came to Korea to support and document the struggle. Which went ok even if I don’t speak Korean. We had coffee and orange marmelade sandwiches at the photographer’s traditional house on the island and talked about the naval base not being just a Gangjeong issue but a much bigger one. We met with the catholic priest and talked about other islands(like Okinawa)where there already are bases connecting the American defence to other islands and bases in the mainland of, for example South Korea. The cost of that. For the world. For the people coming after us.  And also what price people like the Haenyo are paying when the sea bed and the sea-shore, gureombi, is changed and off-limits where the base is being built.

And it not just because this is a traditional trade that is passed on in the families. It is not just because this is a job that brings in money by picking a variety of sea food, shells, sea weed. Or even because there is a traditional shaman faith in the community that ties them together with the sea and is often practices outside. It is not even because they now know that the local dolphin, red-handed crab and several types of hard coral are on the red alert list, being rare and are all in danger of being extinct due to the naval base.

It is all of these things. Things that are hard to put a finger or a price on. Things that the navy can’t pay their way out of when they buy off the women that can no longer use a part of the sea.

Hallo, is this the police?

An outsiders perspective on how things possibly went down this morning.

– Hallo, is this the police? I need your help.

– Yes, again.

– There are three people blocking the entrance to the gate. I know you have been here 7 times a day since 2007. Yes, that is 12 775 times but they are still here.

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I have trucks on the inside that need to get out.

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And there are trucks on the outside that need to get in.

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We need to move all the junk.

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All the chairs.

IMG_5419And we need to move the people.

IMG_5421We need to do it now.

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This happens every hour during the day. And every second hour during the night. On an average. Persistance and determination like this is hard to find.

Many of the conscripts look very young. Many look a bit scared or at least confused. They come from the mainland and are circulated every 2-3 weeks. It is doubtful they know what is going on in front of the gates.

Police covering their faces is a thing I have rarely seen. It is not legal either. You, as a representative for the state force should identify yourself.

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You are also obliged to identify yourself when you are filming. In the name of security.

Some activists decide to open up a discussion about that.

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If you film me and don’t tell me who you are, I will cover my face.

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For more than 1825 days these activists have been practicing civil disobedience in the name of peace, determined to stop the building of the base and they are in good company.

Gangjeong village – and the protest goes on

The activist in Gangjeong are a mixed bunch. They come in colorful hand sewn clothes.

IMG_5081They come in their official church garbs from the mainland, the island and abroad and move the church onto the street next to the base.

IMG_5225They protest alone. Resilient. Like this quaker man who kneels up and down the busy road outside of the base. Twice a day. Everyday. Dressed in the traditional white mourning clothes.

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He is mourning the death of four things:

  1. The death of the sovereignty of Korea
  2. The death of Human Rights
  3. The death of democracy
  4. The killing of the Gureombi rock

The Gureombi rock is a lava formation that can only be created under certain circumstances in rocky wetlands. It is found outside the village of Gangjeong and stretch 1,2 km further. It is a unique habitat in which fresh water ponds are formed often used by the traditional women divers to wash their catch. It is also considered sacred by many villagers.

Sometimes they let the message speak.

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Sometimes showing your face is important.

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And then we have the artists.

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And all the people in the wings, the fabric of a large support network. Cooking, providing free food, offering car rides et cetera.

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But Gangjeong is also a village torn apart.

There are people waiting to make profit from the building of the army base. People who are disturbed by the protest, annoyed at the attention it is given. Today even the shopping has become political. You choose a shop after its pro or anti base sentiment. Families don’t speak to each other. This is recognized as a big problem in the peace community and yesterday in the community get together the consequences of the protest and possible solutions were aired. There was even an apology to the activists coming from outside, we should be united as a village but we are not.

I left with the feeling that there is often a high price to pay for following your moral convictions. Not just losing respect for authorities that misbehave, prison sentences or a sense that your state is not listening to you.

But loss of friendship, family fall outs, loosing jobs and opportunities and maybe most of all your innocence.

The gates of Civilian Military Complex Tour Beauty

The official name that ROK(Government of Republic of Korea) has given the naval base is intriguing – The Civilian Military Complex Tour Beauty. Complex? Yes. Beautiful? Well, maybe not so much.

For those of you who haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit Gangjeong, allow me to take you on a virtual tour.

First off, there really both is and isn’t such a thing as an ordinary day here in the peace community in Gangjeong. It is ordinary because the struggle goes on 24/7. The gates are blocked. With a hand made stove. With timber. Chairs. Flowers.

And activists.

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The police comes. The gates are unblocked. The activists are removed. Not always as fast and efficient as they would have liked. And everybody films everybody.

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There is advocacy going on. Here a reminder to the defence department that it is a 70 days’ construction stop period.

IMG_5239Activists are protesting by strolingl at a leisurely pace in front of the truck. Police trying to identify the disobedient character.

IMG_5245The treats of arrests, more often than not ” obstruction of business” is verbalized and also one of the charges that activists face in court.

Sometimes there are press conferences. Like yesterday when Kang Dong-Kyun(to the left), the mayor of Gangjeong (a persistant and active figure in the struggle against the naval base who has also spent time im prison for his involvement) talks to Jeong Bong-Ju(right), a former National Assembly man and a member of the Democratic United Party. He has been in prison for opposing the naval base.

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