Wednesday, June 16, 2010

SK Solidarity Trip Day 1: SPARK Sit-In

Every month the group SPARK (Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea) holds a peace action in near the US embassy and the city hall in downtown Seoul. It’s called Self-Reliance Peace Unification Action, and it is basically a small sit-in style rally. The event even comes with its own small red-seat cushions which are laid out prior to the start of the event, rewarding those who come early with more comfortable seats from which to listen and observe.

When I first arrived at the protest, it was primarily old people there, who were all holding signs which I was told described different things such as reunification, demands of the South Korean government to stop trying to take away civil rights and the closure of US bases in the country. After seeing so many manåmko’ I asked my interpreter and guide Sung-Hee if this was a good representation of the activist community in South Korea, meaning are most of the progressives here are a little bit older? For several years, when I first started my life as an activist in Guam, kalang todu tiempo gaige yu’ gi halom linahayan manåmko’, I was surrounded by old people, the activist community was old, primarily made up of people from my mother’s age group and older who had been fighting to get back family properties from the military for as long as 50 years. It was only recently that activists on Guam have had a “young face” again, when people such as myself, Julian Aguon, Victoria Leon Guerrero, Fanai Castro, Lisa Natividad and many others started to become more visible. The DEIS comment period recently helped cement the figure of the activist on Guam, as no longer an “angry former landowner” or “angry Vietnam Vet,” but once again as John Benavente (un bihu na activist) puts it a gang of “young turks.”

Sung-Hee laughed when I said this, and responded that this is actually an old people’s organization and so that is why there are so many of them here. Not all activist groups are like this. But for groups made up of older activists, (such as this one) their main focus is usually reunification of the Koreas. Those groups tend to attract older people because they experienced the pain and the trauma of the Koreas being divided, and so they see a reunited Korea as their last dream, something they would like to feel, touch and taste before they pass away.

The sit-in lasted for more than an hour, and although the crowd was pinat manåmko’, those who spoke were young, old and everything in-between. I found out, that although the group’s main goal was reunification, this space was not solely about that. A microphone and speakers were made public for whoever wanted to speak, and each took turns. Like at any activist meeting there were the 20-30 minute long droning talks where the speaker is oblivious to everything around them, as well as the quick 2-3 minute very nervous, shaky speakers who are rushing to get through their speech and completely elated when they do.

One issue which was very prominent was the sinking of the ship Cheonan. Many of the speakers found ways of referring to that incident and also cast doubts on whether or not the North Korean military was really responsible for its sinking.

I found it a very interesting experience in the way in which coalition building is born, as well as a metaphor for Leftist politics in South Korea. The space was explicitly for reunification politics, yet all sort of progressive causes were present. As I’m sure I’ll post about somewhere else, the idea of reunification is something which you could call a master signifier in South Korea, as something which ties together and gives meaning or consistency to a variety of discourses, on both the Left and the Right. For the Left, at that meeting it was clear that the trauma of the Koreas being divided, and the way in which both the US and the South Korean government use that division in order to militarize or oppress the country was key to how they articulated their combined or specific projects.

I imagine that Guam’s activist community would benefit from something such as this. A regular, open space where people can share, organize and sometimes vent. Where even the activists themselves can be informed about what’s going on, share their thoughts, and both not feel alone in their struggle, but also know they have a place where hopefully the next strategy, tactic or fight can be born.

The last image of this post was one of the more cheerful high-lights of the sit-in with, a short skit where people wearing masks representing Barack Obama and the President and Defense Minister of South Korea were hit on the head with a hammer by an otherwise kindly old man, and then expelled from the protest by being wrapped in a banner (lao depsensa yu’ sa’ ti hu hulat tumaitai gui’). Although I could not read the sign, I assumed that it had something to do with selling out Korea for US bases and pursuing the path of war and not peace.

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