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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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‘Do not allow Guam to sink into oblivion’

For the deeper word on Hank Johnson & the capsize controversy check out this Melvin Won Pat-Borja article posted by Kyle at dmzhawaii.org. Guam can’t sink, can it? Oh yes it can.

from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Conference 2010 NYC

by: Melvin Won Pat-Borja, Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice/We Are Guahan

During a congressional hearing on the Guam military buildup in early April, US Representative Hank Johnson said that he feared the Military Relocation on Guam would cause our tiny island to capsize and sink. The comment, though not meant to be taken literally, caused an uproar among Chamorus everywhere. People were so outraged at his perceived ignorance that they continually bashed him in the media and all over the internet. The sad truth however is that Guam WILL sink. It will sink under the weight of tons of toxic waste dumped by the military each year, sink under the pressure of contaminated drinking water, sink under the weight of overpopulated schools, massive amounts of traffic, inadequate health care, and extreme over population. If this military expansion goes as planned, the people of Guam will surely sink to the bottom of the Marianas Trench and become nothing more than a footnote in America’s colonial history…(go to the article)

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From Radio Australia, interview with Camacho’s spokesman.

Japan protests could cause delays in relocation of US troops

Updated May 4, 2010 07:54:12

Protests in Japan could cause delays in the movement of U.S bases and troops.

The mayors of three towns on Tokunoshima Island in Japan will meet with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday.

They’re objecting to an idea to transfer some of the U-S Marines stationed in Okinawa to the island.

The spokesman for the Governor of Guam says delays in the movement of US troops in Japan could also delay plans by the US government to relocate thousands of troops from Japan to Guam.

Presenter: Helene Hofman
Speaker Shawn Gumataotao, spokesman for the Governor of Guam

GUMATAOTAO: Absolutely, in fact it’s been very clear that any lack of movement from any of the areas in Okinawa of the US marines to Guam, well actually any move to those outer prefectures would have a direct impact. It’s been very clear that this is an agreement between two sovereign nations, the US and Japan, anything that would go against the 2006 accord would have an adverse effect on that movement.

HOFMAN: And then also yesterday the head of the government coalition said that the people of Okinawa seem to be in no rush to come to a decision by the end of May. Is that in some way frustrating for you in Guam?

GUMATAOTAO: Absolutely, as the delays continue to happen in Japan it also delays some of the issues in the United States as we are all watching to see what will be the next step. And we know that the US Congress is watching very closely. If there’s a lack of movement in Japan we believe that the Congress will probably either take a different tack related to the buildup, or could wait it out to be in for the long haul. But it will definitely challenge our efforts to have the US marines move from Okinawa to Guam.

HOFMAN: And how thoroughly are you updated about developments in Japan, and where does the information come from?

GUMATAOTAO: Well interestingly enough Governor Camacho mid last week met with assistant secretary Wallace Chip Gregson who was in Guam invited to speak at the University of Guam. He was on his way back from Hawaii and into Japan regularly as the officials come through from Washington into the region we’re normally getting our briefs on the lead-in. So we have an idea of what to expect from their visits into the region. But fairly regularly now, especially in the last seven, eight months there’s been quite a lot of activity by the US government going into Japan and they are very concerned about the situation as well and continue to brief the Governor on a fairly regular basis.

HOFMAN: Now Palau last week stepped in and offered an alternative location to the US Futenma airbase in Okinawa. What did you make of that proposal?

GUMATAOTAO: For President Toribiong to make that kind of request I’m sure he’s looking for the best interests of the people of the Republic of Palau. But the infrastructure is a bit different than say Guam and the sheer size of the islands are a bit different. So I’m sure that’ll pose as challenges.

HOFMAN: Absolutely, it seems to be a case of a lot of Pacific neighbours weighing in and trying to cash in on this one sometimes?

GUMATAOTAO: Absolutely, and I think for us we’ve focussed more on bringing the labour forces from those areas, so that the labour force from say Palau or the CNMI, from our friends even as far down as Australia and New Zealand, we want to give them the opportunities to be able to come into the region, into Guam for the buildup as it is really this one time that we’ll see this kind of activity that we believe that they can be very helpful in that capacity. Anything else I think would be much more of a challenge in terms of relocation of US troops there and that’s just my opinion on that.

HOFMAN: Now moving on to something slightly different, the US Senate has appointed the first ever female Chamorro as the next US Attorney for Guam and the CNMI. Good for Guam?

GUMATAOTAO: Absolutely, Alicia Limtiaco has been an outstanding Attorney General to Guam. of course Governor Camacho will be appointing her replacement when she’s officially sworn in. But yes, for her to be the first woman Chamorro to serve in this position is a great station and we are very proud of her and much of the island leaders are in full support of her efforts, and she will continue the good work of the US Attorney in Guam and the CNMI.

HOFMAN: Now the hard part is finding her replacement?

GUMATAOTAO: Absolutely and in fact as of today because she did not resign and then she’ll be kind of waiting to see what will be the next steps with the appointment by the US Department of Justice. Governor Camacho will be apointing the next Attorney General of Guam to fill the unexpired term of Alicia Limtiaco.

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Stars and Stripes article on Okinawa anti-base rally

Okinawan organizers project 100,000 people to attend a rally on Sunday to demand that the US military close Futenma and move completely off the island. Of course military news outlet Stars and Stripes‘ main concern is to warn DoD personnel to stay away from the event to prevent “incidents with protestors,” but it only shows that the Okinawans’ incredible people power is getting their attention.

Okinawa Rally Could Draw 100,000 People
By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, April 23, 2010

GINOWAN, Okinawa — The U.S. military on Okinawa is advising Department of Defense personnel and their families to stay away from the village of Yomitan on Sunday, where a large anti-base rally is scheduled.

Organizers said Wednesday they expect 100,000 people to gather at the village sports complex for the 3 p.m. event. Among featured speakers will be elected officials and union leaders.

If the size of the crowd turns out to be as big as predicted, it will be the largest anti-base event on Okinawa since 58,000 people gathered in Ginowan in October 1995 to protest the abduction and gang rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor.

The crime sparked an anti-base movement that resulted in the U.S. and Japan agreeing the next year to return about 20 percent of the land used by the U.S. military on Okinawa. That agreement included closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma if an alternate location on the island could be found. Several relocation plans followed and were scrapped because of opposition by anti-base and environmental-protection groups.

Japan’s new left-center government is reviewing a 2006 agreement to close Futenma and move the Marines to a new air facility to be built at Camp Schwab on Okinawa. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he will settle on a proposed new location for Futenma operations by the end of May.

The rally, sponsored by Okinawa’s prefectural assembly, passed a unanimous resolution in February calling for the immediate closure of Futenma and moving Marine air units off Okinawa.

The rally is expected to tie up traffic in Yomitan, especially along the main access road, Highway 58, from Kadena Town to Onna Village.

Ed Gulick, spokesman for the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base, said personnel also are being advised to stay away “as a precaution to avoid the potential for incidents with protesters.”

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.

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