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US Social Forum 2010: A commentary on the challenges facing our movement toward social justice

By: Dr. Hope Cristobal

This year’s US Social Forum was held in downtown Detroit, Michigan from June 22 to June 26.  As one of the 10,000 progressive activists registered for the Forum, my experience that week was both captivating and disenchanting.

I was part of a small group of indigenous Chamorus representing a local non-governmental organization (NGO).  Our group – four from Guam, one from California, and one from Boston – was well organized.   Each was strategically packed with a schedule of mandatory workshops and People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs) in order to maximize our attendance at such an important forum.  Our goal was to bring home good solid knowledge and skills in addition to networking with strategic folks involved in issues of decolonization and self-determination.  I can tell you, in this respect, we certainly were NOT disappointed!

Our information table was also brimming with material for the American public about Guam, especially about the proposed hyper militarization of our island home by the Department of Defense.  The biggest draw to our table was this quote, spelled out in big bold white letters, “The indigenous Chamoru people of Guam who have already suffered near genocide and violent colonization for over 400 years will bear the burden of U.S. military buildup on Guam – and have been given no say in the process.”  Many people who passed by our table slowed to read the sign, shaking their heads in disbelief.  Manning the table was valuable experience for each of us.  We learned how fellow Americans knew little about what is happening in the westernmost U.S. territory of Guam.  Our efforts did not go unheeded; we received a few hundred signatures in support of our petition to stop the military buildup and to grant the Chamoru people the exercise of our legal and political Right of Self-Determination.  I do, however, wonder, “What does the American public understand about this Right and the struggles of colonized indigenous peoples in this world?”

I quickly realized through the week, that the terms “self-determination,” “anti-imperialism,” and “decolonization” appear to be the new ‘cool’ terms thrown into the political rhetoric.  I witnessed the term “self-determination” be reduced to anyone’s right to personal freedom. The truth of the matter is that self-determination in the case of the indigenous people of Guam is not just a “right,” but a “Right.”  Meaning, the Right of Self-Determination as recognized in the United Nations Charter of 1945 and other relevant United Nations documents—and further identified as “jus cogens” in the international sphere – is an inherent Right of indigenous peoples to simply exist independently from our colonial power.  This independent existence is made real through the expression of our right to freely choose our political status, or our Self-Determination.

On the third day, I was drawn toward a workshop strategizing a revolutionary movement from the left.  The workshop handout read, “building a more powerful movement and a stronger left that can defeat capitalism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, xenophobia, and gender oppression.”  What about political oppression?  The sad truth is even among revolutionaries, this struggle – familiar to many colonized indigenous people – goes unnoticed most of the time.  Colonized indigenous groups can’t yet deal with the struggles of racism, heterosexism, ableism, xenophobia, gender oppression, and other equality issues until they are allowed the basic Right to exist and have a voice.  Ultimately, an able-bodied, white, heterosexual, male can’t vote for the President of the United States or be protected under the U.S. Constitution as long as he is a resident of Guam!

There are two problems that I can see with our revolutionary movement so far.  First, when the term “self-determination” is loosely akin to anyone’s right to freely choose their future, it undermines the larger human rights struggle for indigenous people.  This struggle is a legitimate struggle for those living in colonies – indigenous or non-indigenous – especially the 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories around the world who go to the United Nations multiple times a year, demanding their right to exist independently from their administering power.  Secondly, discussions on social transformation will continue to fall short as long as the left continues to be blind to their own political-privilege, ignoring the fact that there are politically disenfranchised groups that truly have no political voice in their future or how they choose to live their life.  I will define political-privilege as the political advantage, benefit, or immunity enjoyed by people who can freely choose or express their governmental, civic, legal, and constitutional options and who are exempt from the burden or liabilities incurred by people who lack this privilege. Political-privilege results in laws, regulations, and political viewpoints favoring the desires, needs, and perspectives of those who have this privilege over those who do not.

What should the left do?  First of all, acknowledge that political-privilege exists in this country and the fact that there are people who are not politically recognized as legitimate entities, is an equity issue and a human rights issue.  Secondly, be aware, understand, and make distinction between the Right of Self-Determination and the right of the politically-privileged to make personal choices in their lives.  Political-privilege will continue as long as those who have it remain ignorant to the true political meaning of “Self-Determination.”  Lastly, any revolutionary strategy needs to be inclusive of the politically-underprivileged and disenfranchised.  By this inclusion, privileged folks discourage the reenactment of colonial marginalization already committed by administering Powers of colonial territories and peoples.

Ultimately, until indigenous people living in this country can be afforded our right to political equity, there can be no legitimate fight for equality.

About the author:  As an indigenous Chamoru and active member of Famoksaiyan, Dr. Hope Cristobal was born and raised on the island-territory of Guahan.  She is a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment and assessment of indigenous and marginalized populations, focusing on the unique situation for colonized Chamorus from Guahan. She is a community advocate at the local, national, and international levels. She has presented at a number of workshops and conferences regarding the psychosocial problems currently facing the Chamoru people in Guahan and abroad.  Her testimonies to the United Nations’ Committee on Decolonization is highlighted in a documentary film, The Insular Empire: America in the Marianas Islands. You can contact Dr. Cristobal at hope.cristobal@gmail.com.

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US Marine Training on Okinawa & Its Global Mission: A Bird’s-Eye View of Bases From the Air

posted by Martha Duenas Baum

The online Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus has recently posted several articles piecing together the larger context of the shuffling by Japan, China and the US in the past months. These dance steps have taken us through numerous proposals by the Japanese government to appease the communities in Okinawa who have suffered the abusive presence of US soldiers “training” for war; threatening and intimidating statements and visits by various US government and military officials to Japan warning of security threats, and the overwhelming response of the Okinawan  people coming together on 25 April with the force of an estimated 93,000 people to claim, “NO MORE US BASES IN OKINAWA. PEACE TO THE WORLD.”

The video footage of the bases on the island of Okinawa included in this post are rare scenes of the training areas occupied by the US military on the island.

The story of Okinawa is the story of the people of Guåhan. We are to the United States what Okinawa is to Japan: a strategic posession that carries enormous importance in the political, economic and military dominance of the United States in their quest for global control, that carries NO consideration of the culture, the islands or the people of our beloved islands.

The work of Japan Focus’ reporting can inform us in ways that can help us to understand this many-headed monster we face in standing up to the hypermilitarization of our islands. The information can help us to see the process and pattern of the United States in its relationship and treatment of its hosts in their land. We the people of Guåhan and the Mariana are mere possessions of the United States. When have they ever listened to us?  Consulted with us? Collaborated with us? Acted in good faith in the democracy that peoples across the earth yearn to experience under the governance of the United States of America?

What we have as the people of Guåhan (we have) are resources to inform and educate ourselves to our own colonized history under the United States, about the movements across the globe resisting such aggressive militarism that brings harm and destruction to our culture and our environment and we have the will to claim our place in the world amongst the numerous peace-loving communities who say “NO” to militarism and war and join the voices who say, “YES” to peace and prosperity for our world and mother earth.

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from The Asia-Pacific Journal::Japan Focus:

http://www.japanfocus.org/-Furutachi-Ichiro/3363

 

Furutachi Ichiro (video) and Norimatsu Satoko (text)


On May 20, 2010, TV Asahi’s nightly news program “Hodo Station” broadcast a 20-minute special by anchor Furutachi Ichiro on the US Marine Corps bases in Okinawa.  The previous day Furutachi and his staff flew around those bases by helicopter, from the south to the north of Okinawa Island, then to Iejima and Torishima, two islands west of the main island.  They provide rare bird’s-eye views of the bases, despite restrictions on how close civilian aircraft can fly. This is supplemented by rare footage of Marine training and action from Okinawa and Japan to Vietnam and Iraq.

Map of US military bases in Okinawa.  Red: Marine Corps; Dark Blue: Air Force (Kadena); Green: Army; Bright Blue: Navy; Light Blue: Water Space and Airspace for Training

About 20% of Okinawa Island is occupied by bases exclusively for U.S. military use, 77% (15 bases and facilities) of which are managed by the Marines.  Furutachi flew from Makiminato Service Area (Camp Kinser) just north of Naha, a logistic service base that supplied everything “from toilet paper to missiles” during the Vietnam War, then to Futenma Air Station in Ginowan City and Camp Schwab in the northern city of Nago, the two bases that have been the centre of media attention, with a replacement facility of the former planned to be built near the latter.  Furutachi guides viewers beyond the often-reported Cape Henoko, proposed site of the new base jutting into the bay, to the mountainous inland area of Camp Schwab, where Marines conduct jungle training, drawing attention to several rectangular buildings described as ammunition depots.

Map from the website of Okinawa Prefecture.  Torishima, which is not shown on this map, is about 60 miles west of the Okinawa Island.

Furutachi’s guided tour reminds viewers that Marines are really in Okinawa for training, a global mission that has little to do with “protecting Japan”, as many Japanese have been led to believe by the notion of “deterrence” incessantly cited by politicians. Particularly striking is the scale and nature of the drills conducted within Camp Hansen in central Okinawa, which is ten times the size of Futenma and occupyies more than half of the towns of Kin and Ginoza, and significant portions of Onna and Nago.  The camera reveals several “simulated cities” among the thick forests of the base where live-fire training prepares Marines for urban combat. 2,200 troops were dispatched from this base for the attack on Fallujah, Iraq, in November and December, 2004, in which thousands of civilians were killed and the city virtually destroyed.  Furutachi discloses that “Three months prior to the Battle of Fallujah, a USMC helicopter crashed into the campus of Okinawa International University adjacent to Futenma Air Station.  That helicopter was scheduled to go to Iraq after being joined by battle units of Camp Hansen.”

Camp Gonsalves, the largest of all Okinawa bases, is set in the rich “Yanbaru Forest” of northern Okinawa. Home to the Jungle Warfare Training Center, it is the only US jungle training facility in the world.  Furutachi moves onto Camp Kuwae (Camp Lester), where the largest military hospital in the Far East is located, Camp Zukeran (Camp Foster), where spacious suburban-style family houses “built with the ‘sympathy budget’ of Japan” are shown, and then on to Camp Courtney, headquarters of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and 3rd Marine Division.  Furutachi points out that “These facilities are command centers of US global wars from Hawaii to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.”

The last two stops of Furutachi’s helicopter tour are the islands of Iejima and Torishima.  Iejima’s Marine air station is used for parachute drop training and take-off and landing training.  Torishima serves as an aircraft firing range for both Air Force and Marines.  The island, once covered with rich forests, is now completely disfigured.  After testing depleted uranium weapons on Torishima in the mid-90’s, the Marines have recently assaulted it with cluster bombs.

The significance of Furutachi’s report is in the detailed visual exposure of the training fields and live-fire ranges that have rarely been subject to scrutiny in Japan, the United States or internationally, in contrast to such visible emblems of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa as air stations and beaches.  Furutachi and other commentators were stunned to encounter the reality of simulated battlefields, beyond the dry statistics of bases that comprise “20% of the island”, a figure that the media repeat ad infinitum.

On May 23, Prime Minister Hatoyama announced the government’s plan to build a Marine runway over the Cape of Henoko, betraying his pre-election pledge not to build a Futenma replacement facility within Okinawa, an island already saturated with military bases. Okinawan people have expressed overwhelming opposition to base expansion on the island.  Footage like that provided below can not only strengthen the deep Okinawan resistance to expansion of the military base footprint on their island, but also could help to awaken Japanese who have found it easy to look the other way so long as the bases were largely confined to Okinawa. 

Norimatsu Satoko prepared this introduction for The Asia-Pacific Journal and for the Peace Philosophy Centre. She leads various peace initiatives in Vancouver and beyond, including, Peace Philosophy Centre and Vancouver Save Article 9.

U.S. Marine Corps Bases in Okinawa (1)

U.S. Marine Corps Bases in Okinawa (2)

 Recommended citation: Furutachi Ichiro and Norimatsu Satoko, “US Marine Training on Okinawa and Its Global Mission: a Birds-Eye View of Bases From the Air,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 22-1-10, May 31, 2010.

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