Thursday, September 06, 2012
I have been to Okinawa twice over the past year. The first time last November for the Japan Peace Conference and then earlier this year in May, where I traveled with Ed Alvarez (director of the Commission on Decolonization) and former Guam Senator Marilyn Manibusan on a solidarity trip to meet with Okinawans interested in discussing decolonization. I saw so many things, meggai lini'e'-hu guihi, but one image that has stayed with me is a military fence covered in brightly colored ribbons.
The fence in question was part of Camp Schwab near Henoko Bay in Northeastern Okinawa. It is the site of a proposed expansion of US facilities in the island and so it has been a site for regular protest and resistance as well. In order to secure the closing of Futenma in Ginowan City, a base that lies right in the middle of a crowded urban area, the US required that their bases in the north of the island be expanded to make up for the loss of their facility. As part of this proposed realignment the ecosystem in Henoko Bay would be drastically affected. I visited the camp there where they had information on what the US and Japanese governments have planned for the area and also history lessons on what people have done to stall and resist the militarization of the area.
Nearby the protest camp is a military fence that runs along the beach from the water into nearby hills. On the other side you can see parts of the base. As people have come to visit the protest camp, they have made a habit out of visiting that section of the military fence and tying ribbons of many different colors, with messages on them. As you walk along the fence you can read those messages all of which are related in some way to peace and protecting the beauty of the area. You can see messages in English, French, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish and if the ribbon that I put up is still there, Chamorro.
In some areas the ribbons were arranged to form the outlines of animals, such as the Dugong, whose habitat would be destroyed if the base expansion took place, and also hearts and other related love and peace symbols. It is surreal sometimes to see the relationship that other communities sometimes have to military fences. On Guam fences are so naturalized and normal that you often times don’t even notice them. But for other communities they scar the landscape, they exist as ugly reminders. It is no wonder that the fence at Camp Schwab was remind in brightly colored ribbons. It is an attempt to regain the meaning of the space. The fence is meant to block you your gaze and prevent you from imagining or seeing or moving past it, it is meant to obstruct and obscure. The ribbons perform the same function except they are supposed to obscure the fence itself. They seek to recreate it as a symbol of the power of peace and peaceful people.
This coming week on my Tumblr, I’ll be posting some pictures of the ribbons and the fence.