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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The watch dogs of Gangjeong

IMG_5526Today there were many watch dogs by the gates of the naval base.

Unification day. And it has been a hectic day.

But first. Two concepts that are hovering over the base.

Civil Disobedience (Resistance to civil government) Henry David Thoreau argues that individuals should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences , and that they have a duty  to avoid allowing such acquiescence  to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice.

Direct Action occurs when a group of people take an action which is intended to reveal an existing problem, highlight an alternative, or demonstrate a possible solution to a social issue. This can include nonviolent and less often violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the direct action participants. Examples of direct action can include strikes, workplace occupation, political violence, nonviolent resistance, sabotage, property destruction, blockades etc.

My morning started with meeting this friendly Baptist minister from Seoul.

IMG_5532The things got less friendly.

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IMG_5545The religious leader from Seoul was removed from the gate and the trucks could pass.

The police came en masse. They never seem far away and they probably aren’t either.

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And as the day went on….IMG_5540More people being lifted from in front of the gate and place inside so called detention circles.

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Then there was a big manifestation. The mayor spoke. Urging the goverment to listen to the National Assembly’s decision to halt construction for 70 days, starting from January 1st. Two supporting politicians from the democratic party were part of the demo in fron of the gate.

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There were plenty of photographs taken.IMG_5563And plenty of people in the manifestation.

IMG_5564The 100 bows for peace were made.

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IMG_5598There were many people visiting Gangjeong today. Maybe that is why the police decided to wait until the afternoon to open the gates again.

Things started to heat up. Activists gathered at the gates, the alarm went across the village. Police started lining up(first casually, then in a more tight formation) along the peace camp tents, making it difficult or impossible to leave or get to.

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It got more and more hectic as more and more activist were moved into circles where they were surrounded by police.

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And when you are inside a cicle many activist choose to just sit quietly.

IMG_5660When you are dragged from making your peace bows, your shoes often end up someplace else.

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.

When democracy does not quite work

You know what they say. When you are pointing a finger at somebody, three fingers are pointing back at you.

At the same time, I am getting a stale taste in my mouth when I hear what the villagers are saying about the process that brought the naval base to their little fishing town.

I hear them talking about the importance of democracy and how it wears of cloak of many colors. It swings in the wind and changes with the people who wears it. Sometimes it is the best we have and sometimes it does not quite work.

The Gangjeong activists speak of having been railroaded into accepting the construction of the naval bases and have not as a community been able to participate in a “fair and democractic way”.

This is the story:

In 2007 Yoon Tae Jun, the former village chief of Gangjeong announced that he had approved the building of the base and would make an application to the governor of Jeju. Normally a meeting is held in the village in about 7 days to discussed issues like this  but this time a vote was planned only 3 days later on April 26. Only 87 people participated and voted yes to the base. Which is the same as saying that about 10 % of the people represented Gangjeong village voted. Another meeting was promised but it never took place.

On May 14th, the governor Kim Tae Hwan announced that Ganjeong would get the base, followed by a very negative response from the villagers. A referendum took place about 4 months later, on August 20th, 2007 and according to Kang, the present mayor of Gangjeong 94 % of the villagers had their say at the ballots on the construction of the base.

725 people voted. 680 said no. 36 said yes and 9 votes were defective.

But the first vote was deemed valid. And today Gangjeong looks like this.

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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.

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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War resistance by Kayak

In Jeju, it is illegal to kayak near the naval base. There is a fancy wording for that but practically that is what it comes down to.

It is NOT illegal to kayak in the harbor though.

The SOS team and a single diver(wanting to assess the effects the blasting done by the naval base on the rock formation and sea life) took a watery stand against the construction of the naval base yesterday and while they did not make it very far the yellow flags rose out of the water like peaceful water lilies.

What you see in the photos is the resistance they meet from the coast guard, the diver being held in the water  by the water authorities after some pushing and kayaks being prevented from sailing.

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Sweet Mary and Joseph, is North Korea attacking?

Was rudely awakened before 7 am by a loud wailing alarm coming from the street. Sweet be-Jesus. Before I knew it, me, my camera and part of my woken self was in a car raising towards the gates of the army base. It turned out that the villagers set of the alarm when something big is happening.

The gates to the base were open and a direct (but quite)action was underway.

How many police and conscripts do you need to move three non violent activists with banners?

IMG_5111Irony does not translate well into words but as it turned out, quite a few.

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The strong light in the photo is from a passing bus next to one of the cement trucks waiting to get into the naval base.

In the end, the trucks passed(by another route) and the work continued. The mayor talked them down at first, rightly pointing out that the GA took a stand yesterday which simply stating that there has to be a new naval simulation conducted on the base and therefore the 70 day hold that was stipulated in the decision was valid from the time of signing. Therefor no work inside the base could legally be done.

Despite this, the construction inside the naval has continued all day.

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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