Friday, December 02, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #8: Young and Dangerous

Kao hoben yu’? Hekkua’. Anggen un kompara ham yan i manestudiante-ku siha, ahe’. Esta bihu yu’.

Lao kao hohoben ha’ yu’? Lao yanggen un kompara ham yan i otro na manactivists siha giya Guahan, hunggan hohoben ha’ yu’.

The conference in Okinawa is an Asia-Pacific conference, but in the International Forum, 10% of the delegates come from the Pacific. In the general Japan Peace Conference around 0.01% of the delegates come from the Pacific. We were incredibly small in terms of presence, yet we had a huge impact on the proceedings. Part of the reason why the Japanese were impressed and enamored with us is because or our youth.

Looking around the conference, you might imagine that the average age of a peace-activist in Japan is somewhere around 50. This conference many many times felt like a Japanese version of the movie Cocoon. It was surreal to see so many friendly old Japanese men, talking about peace and love in such ways that you might expect them to be a hippie girl working for Kucinich for President.

This was a huge contrast to Guam’s delegation which comprised eleven people, where the average age was 28. A further contrast was that for Guam our delegation was seven women and four men, and women were at the forefront of everything. The leadership of most Japanese peace organizations is older men. Our youthful energy ended up infecting so many situations. On many occasions, meetings would descend into laughter. There was singing everywhere and a dash of dancing. Although we often times stressed out the organizers of the conference, no one could deny that having young delegates in charge, young activists at the front was a very different experience.

More than once, speakers from all over Japan went out of their way to talk about how impressed they were with the youthfulness of the Guam activists. Some spoke about fighting their own fights for so long and feeling so tired and saddened to not see more young Japanese people becoming more conscious and joining the fight. When delegations of peace and anti-base groups from different prefectures would present themselves as part of the conference it was surreal to see their makeup. Part of the excitement of the conference is seeing each delegation come before the gathering as a whole and carrying large banners, signs and artwork they inform everyone else about the status of the struggle for peace or against US bases in their corner of Japan.

With the exception of the Kanagawa delegation, which boasted being the unlucky host of the second highest amount of US military installations of all Japanese prefectures, the activists that represented their communities were fairly old. But in most groups there would be a token young person who would sheepishly hold a sign or part of a banner. I imagined that so many of these young men and women would look back and forth at the elders to their sides, most likely pondering, “Hafa hinangai-hu guini?”

This seeing of Guam and its movement for peace through the eyes of someone else was interesting. I have written elsewhere on this blog about how we on Guam feel that we have such terrible decolonization movement and that our level of discourse and consciousness is so miniscule it’s almost embarrassing. But if we were to look at the level of discussion in Guam today and other non-self-governing territories, we see that Guam is actually mature and much further along than other places in terms of recognizing its subordinate position. It is similar in terms of our movement being young. We may not realize it on a day to day basis, but in terms of activism around the military buildup and for peace, it is primarily young people, or at least younger people leading today. When I was asked by a number of Japanese activists as to what the secret was to our Guam movement that we could entice so many young people, something the Japanese progressive community has not succeeded in doing, it was actually a very sobering moment. When I looked at the state of affairs in Guam and also what I knew about the state of things in Japan, I came up with some possible answers as to why Guam’s movement is so young.

When you look at the Japanese peace movement, several words come to mind. It can be called formal. It could be called boring. One of the main words I might use to describe it though is established. Some of the conferences that I’ve attended in Japan have been around for decades. Japan has peace groups that have hundreds of thousands of members. When Japan sent a petition to the NPT or Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting in New York, they sent millions of signatures with them hoping for nuclear abolition. When you attend their conferences things are tightly organized and scheduled, even to the point of things feeling dry and oppressive. Since many of the leading groups are fairly large and have been around for many years, they have their ways of doing things, and they try to not deviate since it has worked so well for so long.

The success of the Japanese peace movement ends up becoming a significant part of its failure or potential undoing. They have an ordered process. They have groups. They have leaders. They have been doing this for decades. Their peace movement runs like a well-oiled machine compared to other countries. They are so successful at this, what is the need really for young people? If all of the old people, the existing leaders can run things just fine, what is the value of bringing in young people? It is always nice to have young people involved or participating, but in terms of making the peace movement happen, they aren’t really needed. You can have all the conferences and forums without them. In fact, the including of large numbers of uninitiated, new people could be a catastrophe, it could make the trains run late, it could make the conference format go awry. The fact that things work so well, means that the inclusion of new people, especially those who come from a different generation and may see things very differently becomes something that is both necessary but also uncomfortable. It is something you desire and strive for, but never too much since it could mean the end of things as you know it. Your success works against you, but it restricts your ability to change and grow.

Guam is in the opposite position. Guam’s own decolonization and demilitarization movement has been in hibernation for many years. People still protested, kept the fight and conversation alive, but there was a clear decade long period where Chamorro activism was almost completely absent. After reaching such a high point in the 1990’s and changing the ideological landscape of Guam, the group responsible for this shift, Nasion Chamoru seemed to lose all its effectiveness. After scoring two huge victories for land rights, they fell to pieces, and for years there was a huge void. The military buildup was announced and there was no consistent response to it, there was no real coordination in how to counter it or critique it. By this time there was dozens of different groups, and some of them existed in name only, others with just a handful of members. The previous generations of activists didn’t seem able to either organize themselves or mentor the younger generations into taking their places. It was during this period that historic events such as the Famoksaiyan conference in 2006 took place in response to desires by young Chamorros to learn more about decolonization, as well as the formation of We Are Guahan in response to the release of the DEIS by DOD. All of these events were led by relatively young Chamorros, in their 20s or 30s.

Guam is thus the opposite of Japan in terms of activism. The previous generations proved their effectiveness, but could not maintain their relevance and quickly lost their ability to adapt or be effective. They could not even keep up the appearance of appearances and as such a massive vacuum was formed. Younger Chamorros looking to get involved would be tossed into that void, with little mentoring or guidance and find only remnants of a movement that once was, and not one that they could readily join. Lacking a strong cadre of elders who have been keeping things going, younger activists were forced to get creative, and hence the faces of Chamorro activism are no longer working class middle aged Chamorros protesting by the roadside, but instead young college professors professionals.

A lesson for Japan, might be to loosen up a bit, and make things a bit more chaotic and frayed around the edges. If they do, that might create the space for younger activists to feel that they are needed and to rise up the ranks in order to fill that perceived gap.

1 comment:

achakma said...

Chatanmak Chamoru


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