Activism 101 – the importance of charging the batteries away from the gates

I have lost count of how many priest, ministers, academics, artists and other activists I have met who told me they have been to jail, are on probation, facing trials, have been abused and kicked around, been intimidated and threatened, have letters of complaint from the police and numerous fines to pay for ‘obstruction of business’.

A well know priest told me yesterday that he was concerned about the, often young, activists who live(literally)by the gate and confront the police several times a day. He senses that they are getting worn down and wishes a little rest for them. For both body and mind.

Some of the activists do take time out. And today my post will be short. If I understand things correctly I have been offered to go on a journey to visit an island to meet with a woman who takes photos of mermaids. How could I possibly refuse that?

–Peace out!

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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.

IMG_5010These were the activists.

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.

A village in mourning

IMG_4963Across the road from the army base entrance there is a small tent where the Christian ceremony is held every morning. There is also a smaller artfully decorated tent where activists can hide from the weather, rest, get a cup of something. Maybe a sweet potato, cooked on the top of the tin drum that doubles as an outdoor fire.

Or warm tangerines from the local orchard or a boiled egg and some warm soy milk as was the case for me this afternoon.

It has been five years, going on six. For the villagers and their supporters. The struggle. Lawsuits. Civil disobedience that landed people in jail. The mayor. Clergy. Local villagers. Supporters from the mainland. Harassment. Hard words. Violations. Bringing back memories of the war for some.

And also, peaceful resistance 24/7 outside the gate, aimed at stopping, or at least delaying the construction. More than a few have been beaten up. More than a few have faced trials, deportation(14 at the border already), probation.

The word on the street is that journalists and internationals have been warned that they face deportation if they support the opposition.

People come anyway of course. Noam Chomsky, Angela Zelter are among those who have raised their voices in support. But one gets tired.

And the deep sense of mourning I experience here I wasn’t prepared for. When I had been greeted by the gates by the local activists and handed some food I asked if the man next to me would teach me some korean. Of course. What words did he feel I should know? Well, the ones that are close to his heart. From what I understood, he tried to explain in broken English that the island is a part of him, it is his spiritual foundation and part of his core. There are severe ecological effects trailing in the wake of the construction and human rights have been violated but his choice of words brought me back to the fundament of self-determination, what lies beyond the legal definition – your right to freely define what you are and what is important to you. Therefor I was taught the following words today, my first in korean.

Gangjeong Dolphin — Sha do ri

Water — Dae Wang 

Sea — Ba da 

Sky — Ha nul

Earth — Ddang

New Year 2013 in Gangjeong village

The village is waiting for the final say on the budget for the construction of the American Naval base here in Jeju.

This morning was quite by the gates. The catholic mass went on at 11 with no police trying to interfere. How strange to be happy that a religious service can happen on the boardwalk on the opposite side from the base.

1000 prostration(bows)for peace was underway. Three Buddhist practitioners. Backdrop, the beautiful, huge orange orchards. Snowy fairy tale mountains. Strong winds. Bow down, stand up, hands in namaste.

Violence is not the way.

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