I’d like to share a short piece profiling recurring protests in Okinawa simply called, ‘On Hope’.
On December 26th, 2017, protesters in Henoko, Okinawa, Japan reached their 5000th day of protest against the ongoing presence of the U.S military. With over 500 protesters, the people of Okinawa continued their fight against U.S. military occupation.
I didn’t know that Okinawa used to be independent of Japan.
Transferred from one imperial power to another, Okinawa represents a forgotten space of colonial conquest. Once the independent Ryukyu Kingdom, it was annexed by Japan in 1879. A brutal program of cultural and linguistic assimilation followed, the reverberations of which continue today. In 1945, Okinawa was the site of the last battle of the Pacific War, part of Japan’s strategy of sacrificing the islands to protect the mainland. Since Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII on August 14th, 1945, the U.S. military has continued to occupy Okinawa.
The protesters are fighting another American base that is being constructed, in Henoko.
From a purely practical standpoint, their fight is a lost cause. In 5000 days of protest, barring the occasional sensational incident, the activists have been ignored by national and international media.
Construction trucks continue to roll into the gates of the military base, and the police continue to drag protesters away. The historical trend of marginalizing the Okinawan people, socially and economically, continues to endure.
Environmental concerns are ignored.
The same day at a meeting of the Environmental Oversight Committee, the ODB made an announcement in regard to a colony of scarce Stylaraea punctata coral found outside the ocean area planned for land reclamation work.
Rather than getting approval from the governor of Okinawa to transplant the coral, the ODB changed its plan to simply moving forward with construction.
It sounds as though the U.S. military has a free hand to do what it pleases there.
Around 3:30 p.m. on April 16 in Matsuda, Ginoza Village, 10 or more U.S. military amphibious vehicles crossed National Route 329 while traveling from the ocean toward the mountains. Regular traffic was stopped for over 10 minutes as the amphibious vehicles passed.
(U.S. military amphibious vehicles crossing National Route 329 from the coast of Katabaru)
And the U.S. military keeps expanding their air space.
But, for me, this story is about perseverance, tenacity, and humanity.
The resistance in Okinawa can teach us about selflessness. The protesters remain conscious of what future generations will have to combat if nothing changes. Their motivation stems from a desire not to repeat history, and for younger generations not to experience the pain and violence they once did. Urashima-san, an author and activist, expressed that she does not “…despise individual military men. The marines stationed here are usually the youngest soldiers from the U.S. They are people who are underprivileged; many of them join the military to get benefits and an education. They are people, too, they are also victims of American militarization.” Echoing popular sentiment among the protesters, she recognized the humanity of the occupying force, themselves people, caught up in the agenda of a powerful institution.
Although these issues are seemingly distant, the activists consistently recognized that U.S. militarism, the exploitation of marginalized populations, and the violence it all engenders, against people and the environment, are global issues and are not, in fact, unfolding in isolation.
And the protesters don’t sound as though they plan to give up any time soon.
These 5,121 days of protest have drawn protesters from across the country and delayed construction of the new base in Henoko. Although seemingly small successes, the people continue in hopes that something someday will change. And while civil disobedience and community organizing are highly effective methods of resistance, perhaps the most powerful tactic is an unyielding sense of hope, a deep-rooted faith in the ability of a unified and persistent people to confront even the most daunting of forces.