Friday, August 13, 2010

Hiroshima Trip, Post #9: Picturing the Multitude

During the Hiroshima Rally for the 2010 World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, as an overseas delegate I got to sit in the very front row, with a great view of every speaker who stood at the podium or almost everyone who got on stage. This meant that even with my cheap K-Mart digital camera I could still take “cool” looking shots, which would have been mediocre or impossible to discern if I had been a hundred feet or so back into the crowd.

As I saw dozens of speakers cycle across the podium and dozens of activist groups from around Japan come up to present their efforts, I didn’t only take pictures of them, but also found myself taking pictures of the people who were taking pictures. For different speakers, a different, always evolving and morphing throng of people with cell phones, digital cameras and yes even disposable camera would be surging forward to get a better shot at what or who was on stage. For some there would be just a handful of picture-takers, who would laze about finding the best angles. But for others, i mas matungo’ pat maguaiya na taotao, you would have a mob, all wrapped up, arms and limbs twisting together, arms holding their cameras in flailing ways, attempting to somehow get a great random shot from over the unhelpful currents of people in the crowd. I’m certain that a lot of people after returning back to their seats, and looking at their pictures, were irked at the fact that they had taken a dozen quick and blind shots of the armpit of someone, the hair of someone, the ceiling, or even their own fingers.

After a while, I stopped just taking photos of those taking photos, but also decided to count them as well, to try and keep track, as best I could of who was the most popular, who was the one that the most people wanted to have a blurry image of on their Iphone, or something to share on their Facebook. Some people were press, from various media outlets and so they were always milling around the stage somewhere. One camera man, a short middle aged Japanese man was particularly visible and present, because he carried with him a short step ladder, which he would quickly open up and scale to give him an extra 3 or 4 feet over the rest of the crowd.

There was a small boy who was mampos kinute, in the way that he would run forward periodically to take photos with a digital camera that looked massive in his hands. He was short and would sometimes have the place the camera on the stage above him, and reach up to click the button to take pictures of what he hoped or assumed would be there.

The program was primarily single speakers representing groups or countries, but at times large numbers of people holding signs and banners and artwork would head up there, to represent a certain grassroots group or area. At a certain moment during a presentation (the moment I felt was the height of their “fame” in terms of people gathering taking pictures) I would quickly count and jot down the number present. Once the conference was all over, I tallied them up and will share with you now the top three.

Interestingly enough the top 3, all came on the second day of the rally, which was also the last day of the rally in Hiroshima, before the conference moved to Nagasaki. I’m assuming that part of this was because people had slowly built up enough nerve to charge forward, cameras ready and so by the second day more and more people felt comfortable with placing their dåggans in front of the faces of 7,400 people.

The 3rd biggest crowd was for the United Nations High Representative of the Commission on Disarmament, Sergio Duarte. Earlier in the day, the UN Secretary General had attended the memorial ceremony for the Hiroshima Bombing at the Peace Park and given a speech, and throughout the conference people had spoken favorably about Ban Ki-Moon and his being more aggressive on nuclear abolition as connected to issues of peace, security and survival in the world. During the NPT Review Conference in May, he had given a speech at the Riverside Church, which had given a lot of hope for activists from around the world, who would later be disappointed or frustrated with the lack of hope, change or progress from within the NPT negotiations themselves.

Although Sergio Duarte was most definitely not Ban Ki-Moon, the star of the UN Secretary General and the UN in general had risen so high in Hiroshima by that point, that High Representative Duarte got the spillover love and affection. I am more than certain that most people who took his picture had no idea who he was, but the fact that he was from the UN alone and probably passed Ban Ki-Moon in the hallways in New York sometimes or had fondue with him sometimes, was enough to get people out of their seats to take his picture.

The 2nd biggest crowd that I counted belonged to the former chair of the Communist Party in Japan, Kazuo Shii. This may come as a surprise for most people who read this blog, who might be left-leaning or liberal, but still staunchly distrustful of “communism,” but Japan (like most countries including the United States) has an established communist political party. In some places it is weaker than others, and so in Japan, several years ago around 40 members of both houses of its Diet were from the Japanese Communist Party. Today however, changes in how districts vote, make it more difficult for smaller parties to get seats and so one reporter told me that they only have about 10 seats now. Satoshi Inoue, a current JCP member of the House of Councilors and a former member Koizumi, both visited Guam last year in order to gather some information on Guam and whether or not it could handle or even wanted the transfer of Marines from Okinawa. I got to have lunch with them and their delegation while they were here, and it was refreshing since they represented the first politicians from either the US or mainland Japan to come through Guam and visit, who actually listened and were concerned to the point where they weren’t just looking for an excuse to say things will be okay and that the buildup train should proceed as planned. They were an important link for me in terms of finally receiving some word from Japan that they weren’t as mindless and stupid as the US media portrayed them, to enthusiastically agree to pay billions of dollars so that a foreign government can move its military forces.

At the Hiroshima Rally, which was a gathering of several thousand liberals, progressives, radicals and peaceniks of all kinds, the chair of the JCP was a celebrity of sorts. I have to admit though, that I didn’t know who he was, and since his name wasn’t listed in the program it was hard to figure out who he was. I had to ask one of the organizers who he was after I saw a huge mass of people rush to the front rows and aisles to get a picture of him.

Finally, put fin, the “presence” which drew the most flashing cameras, was not actually a single speaker or a single group. At the end of the rally, a few musical artists performed, and then everyone and anyone was called onto the stage in order to sing the song “We Shall Overcome.” As hundreds of people, activists young and old, delegates from all across Japan and from overseas all crowded onto the stage, a folk singer who had performed during the first day helped lead people in the verses of “We Shall Overcome.” People held hands, hugged each other, cried, and swayed back and forth, feeling the energy of the past few days, feeling the energy from their actions over the past few months, whether it was protesting, gathering signatures, folding paper cranes. As they stood on stage singing, hundreds more people left their seats and gathered around the stage, taking pictures and sometimes quickly shutting off their cameras to rush on stage to join the crowd there. This crowd of picture takers was so massive and amorphous that I couldn’t even accurately count it very well, which is why it’s at the top of my list.

It was a truly inspiring moment, to see not a single person or group, not a celebrity or famous face drew the most people to the stage, but rather this multitude, the manifestation of peace and possibility. People who are drawn to take a picture, to capture a moment, to idealize the commitment of someone else, the work they are doing, to admire them upon their pedestal (or stage), but then suddenly drawn into the movement, seeing that the difference is minute, that the difference between the supporter of a cause and those active in it is not only nothing, but something that can and should be overcome.

I’m almost embarrassed to say how many people took pictures of me while I was speaking. It was not a lot, but at least I can take solace in the fact that the photographer with the step ladder, got a lot of good shots of me from his perch.


1 comment:

TenThousandThings said...

Thanks for the wonderful photos.

Just wanted to comment that there were also traditional conservatives and people of other political orientations --not just liberals, radicals, and peaceniks--at the Hiroshima Rally.

All it takes to turn a person into an activist against nuclear weapons is to be a survivor (or someone who empathizes with the survivors) of nuclear bombings.

Jean at TTT

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