Supporting the Ukawa Villagers
We had a 12-hour day yesterday as we made the long drive to northern Kyoto prefecture along the beautiful sea coast to Ukawa village where the US has deployed a 'missile defense' (MD) radar aimed at China. Our group of 50 activists from a dozen countries arrived in time for lunch at a local community center. We were joined by about 20 members of the village committee who are actively resisting the radar deployment.
After some short speeches of welcome and introduction the village leaders shared their outrage over the base which took land from 50 families in the community. One woman in her 80's refused to sell and so today immediately next to the base still stands her home and a large area now called the 'Peace garden'. She intends to give it to the local peace community for an on-going place for protest.
At the end of the meeting with the village committee Global Network board convener Dave Webb presented the villagers with our annual Peace in Space Award. (The other award this year went to Bob Anderson & Jeanne Pahls from Albuquerque, New Mexico who were unable to come to Japan.)
The small fishing and farming village (the story is so similar to the one on Jeju Island, South Korea where a Navy base is being built to port US warships) has already been impacted by lots of traffic accidents as Army personnel are now recklessly driving the narrow winding roads. People fear the health affects from the electromagnetic radiation coming from the radar. They worry about being a prime target since the radar is a key instrument in US preparation for a first-strike attack on China or Russia. (MD only works if used to mop up a retaliatory attack after a Pentagon first-strike).
Following our meeting with the villagers we loaded back on the bus and headed to the local government building which also houses Japanese Ministry of Defense officials. (More than one person remarked about this unusual 'sharing' of the same building which indicates who has the dominant relationship in the community.) Two Defense Ministry representatives came outside to receive a letter from Global Network leaders demanding a closure of the base. The defense officials then took questions from our group for 30 minutes and their responses were the standard 'non-answer' that we've all come to expect. They were followed by a representative from the local government who also received our letter and then also similarly took questions - also giving us the usual 'non-answers' to our questions. All-in-all it was a powerful experience to watch our leaders from India, South Korea, the US, Sweden and other countries ask pointed questions or make firm statements to the very nervous Japanese officials.
Once finished with the government bureaucrats we moved to the radar base for an hour protest. A historic Buddhist temple was our first stop which is now virtually surrounded by the military base barbed wire fences. We were told that the public now largely avoids the once popular temple because of the extreme noise coming from the generators providing power to the radar. US Army personnel with machine guns approached us on the other side of the fence as we held our banners near the barbed barrier. Quite a few of the American GI's came out of various buildings to see our large and colorful peace contingent and as usually happens in these moments the military personnel were seen uncomfortably laughing at us. They have likely been told by their superiors that we are all Communists and China lovers and to avoid any conversations with us.
The long ride home on the bus gave us time to process the experience from this remarkable day. For me this is the best part of our annual conference. When we can go and stand alongside the broken hearted villagers I feel like we have really done something useful. We made sure to tell them that they are not alone and we pledged to them that we'd share their story widely through the Global Network international community. Ukawa villagers are now part of our growing family.