Jul. 02  2022
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Christian's Photo Column 

A Korean-American witnesses a growing mass movement in south Korea against the American military

Around 5,000 mostly students, activists, and religious figures braved chilly temperatures to gather at Jongmyo Park to carry the momentum of the previous Saturday's huge mass rally and subsequent demonstrations in various parts of the southern peninsula by a growing diversity of groups in order to intensify and expand the struggle to vindicate the deaths of the girls, who were ran over by a U.S. military tank last June.

Source  :  Base21

by Terry Park/Base21 Media Activist

Seoul, Korea--It's no longer just radical students, professional activists and militant workers. Pyon Yeon-shik, co-representative of the Korea House of International Solidarity said, "I'm a mother of two children, a normal Korean citizen, and I want to show everyone that this movement is not just comprised of radical students." Indeed, this is a movement of mothers and their children, young couples, grandparents, and junior-high school girls throwing their bodies at lines of riot police. Religious leaders of every faith and denomination, entertainers and baseball players have also lended their voices to the fray, participating in rallies or publishing statements condemning the acquittal of the two American soldiers involved in the now-infamous incident that claimed the lives of two Korean schoolgirls.

A friend of mine told me how, when she was a student at the prestigious Ewha Womens University during the Spring uprising of 1987, she marveled at the quickly unfolding scene before her eyes: her fellow classmates, dressed in the fashionable attire of the day, marching with businessmen and workers in high heels. Last Saturday in downtown Seoul near the U.S. embassy, I not only saw high heels but thousands of Fubu jackets, traditional "hanbok" and school uniforms rub with each other in genuine solidarity and against the U.S. military presence in south Korea.

Around 5,000 mostly students, activists, and religious figures braved chilly temperatures to gather at Jongmyo Park to carry the momentum of the previous Saturday's huge mass rally and subsequent demonstrations in various parts of the southern peninsula by a growing diversity of groups in order to intensify and expand the struggle to vindicate the deaths of the girls, who were ran over by a U.S. military tank last June.

Though the main demands of the activists--a revision of the U.S.-R.O.K. agreement that governs the legal status of U.S. troops stationed in south Korea, called SOFA, and a direct apology from President George W. Bush, unlike the one relayed by U.S. Ambassador Thomas A. Hubbard two weeks ago, there were increasing calls for the removal of the U.S. military from south Korea.

The rally then marched to Gwanghamun, where the U.S. embassy is located. At first half of the six-lane street was occupied by protestors, but thousands more, many of them onlookers, joined the ranks of the protestors, pushing police away and forcing them to give up the entire boulevard. At a famous intersection overlooked by a famous Korean general and an ancient pagoda, thousands of people held up candles as the parents of the slain girls spoke, thanking the crowd for coming. At one point a truck with the picture of presidential candidate Lee, a conservative from the Grand National Party, a descendant of past military dictatorships, passed by, and the entire crowd booed at its presence, showing the level of distrust displayed by many south Koreans towards the front-runner for president. Protest leaders then vowed to return the following Saturday with a 100,000 people.

You had to have been there to fully appreciate the awesome potency and diversity of the mass rally. Myriad candles and headlights from passing cars, lit up the night sky, like a beacon of resistance. Periodic whelps and songs of "arirang" echoed down the boulevard. It was a mass rally in its truest sense, but at the same time, minute details fleshed out--I saw a little girl, probably around the age of the slain girls, throw her body like a cannon ball at a line of shocked riot police, pushing them back. I saw many young girls her age that night, angry and shouting, some in tears, grasping the hands of their best friend. And in them I saw a glimpse of the future of Korea.

Two crimes have been committed in the past few months--the violent and still obscure events of June 12th and the military trial which found two U.S. soldiers not guilty of negligent homicide, a trial in which Korean authorities had negligible participation. Both crimes resonate with sound fury in a people who know very well that their daughters and sons have been subject to the unilateral whims of the U.S. military and whose very lives could be maimed and tossed aside again without justice, just like the bodies of those two girls. This is why many of them stepped from the sidewalk onto the street for the first time in their lives, like they were first-time actors gingerly taking the stage of history, as grieving parents and as agents for social change. In this industrialized land where the underlying soil is still wet with tears of oppressions, memory is a nourishing weapon of survival. As an elderly activist at the rally said, "Shin Hyo-soon. Shim Mi-sun. They are beautiful names. And they are our daughters. Remember them."

Of course, all of this does not mean that reunification will happen overnight, or that a mass rebellion will radically transform south Korea, or even the two main demands of protestors--the SOFA revision and the Bush apology--will happen soon. They probably won't. But what's important is that each candle does not extinguish inside the minds and hearts of each participant, but continues to nourish the nerves on a daily basis until the next struggle arises. Not only is the sovereignty of a nation at stake, but more importantly, the soul of a people.

At the same time, politicians can talk all they want, and attempt to coopt anger to cash in at the voter lines, but they just don't get it--this is a mass movement in the making. Even without those "radical elements" holding up the bullhorns, they would still be on the streets holding up their candles, some hesitant, others more gregarious. The streets of Seoul and other cities in south Korea have been turned into dynamic classrooms of awakening and power, a slippery yet necessary rehearsal for revolution.

It is interesting to note here how the leaders of the anti-U.S. military movement has framed the issue of the dead girls and lack of responsibility for their deaths as one of family and nation. The language used to capture the tenor of the anger is to channel it into terms immediately understandable to Korean people. They are "our daughters." And it is up to the Korean people, as a result of a defunct leadership subservient to U.S. interests, to be the rightful caretakers of the nation and any members threatened by foreigners outside of the family/nation. At first glance this language may be reminiscent of past south Korean dictatorships who ruthlessly punished student activists and workers for recklessly inviting communists from the north to destablize the carefully constructed family network built by those very same workers and peasants. However, in defense of an oversimplified and Western (mis)perception of a nationalism, with a small-case "n", that equates any nationalist movement with a regressive movement towards barbarism, and in the case of the seizure of the state, an undemocratic dictatorship unresponsive to a pluralistic society, in this case of the anti-U.S. military movement, it is not concerned with the seizure of the state, but a radical transformation of the present global orientation of the state in relation to the U.S. Of coures there is an absence of a discussion on the marginalization of groups within the nation-state and in the movement itself, which is a frequent criticism of nationalism, but the anti-colonial roots of south Korean nationalism, which is again finding its voice right now and in fact, the terms of that voice, of justice for the two girls and for the nation-state, is being debated, reevaluated, reconfirmed, and changed, at every protest and rally. This is why these mass rallies are crucial--not only to express anger at the deaths and acquittal, but also to clarify and channel that anger into policy changes that will effect the ROK-U.S. relationship, and more importantly in the long-run, to radicalize a population on an arduous journey towards reunification and a democratic revolution that embraces all who live, breathe, and contribute to "Korea"--whether they are women, peasants, gays, the disabled, or migrant workers.

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