On Jeju Island, an environmental jewel sixty miles south of the
Korean Peninsula, a massive naval base is being built to house US
warships, submarines and aircraft carriers, serving as a key forward
base for the " US Pacific Pivot", and turning the region into a hair
trigger for global confrontation. Seven years of principled non-violent
struggle by the affected villagers have resulted mostly in endless
beatings, arrests, fines, imprisonment; a growing international
solidarity movement; but little tangible in the way of political support
from any national or local government.
On December 3rd,
2013, the City Council of Berkeley, California voted to support the Peace and
Justice Commission's Resolution in support of the residents of Jeju
Island and to End US support for construction of the Jeju Naval Base.
This makes it the first city in the world to formally declare its
support of the Jeju Islanders and its opposition to the base.
Despite being stripped out of the consent calendar and placed almost at
the bottom of the council agenda--usually procedural maneuvers designed to kill
off the item or impede passage--the resolution ultimately passed (with 5 votes in favor)
and 4 abstentions in the Berkeley City Council. Council member Kriss
Worthington, who had sponsored and fast-tracked the resolution, tabled the two items
preceding the resolution, allowing it to be put to discussion and a
vote, minutes before the clock ran out.
support, an unusually vibrant and vocal group of speakers who stayed
late into the night--waiting for over 4 hours for the opportunity to
address the council for a single brief minute--and a massive flurry of
emails from concerned individuals all over the country may have
influenced the final vote.
Motivated activists from Starr King School, Pacific Lutheran Seminary, from the Berkeley
Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, the Peace and Justice Commission, the
Ecumenical Peace Institute, and others made passionate, informed pleas for
support of the resolution. An activist in a wheel chair broke down in tears as she
implored the council to support the cause of peace.
significant was a letter from Christine Ahn, a scholar at the Korea
Policy Institute and peace activist, who wrote in a heartfelt and moving
letter that she had named her daughter Jeju because of her passion for
the cause of the peace activists on the island.
version of the resolution had previously been shot down in February by
the Council. Even as it was drafted by the commission, Thyme Siegel of
the Peace and Justice Commission had stated, with a straight face, "It
is not our business of the US to tell the South Korean government and
military how to defend itself against North Korea and China."
Council Member Linda Maio attempted to water down the resolution by
stripping out references to the Pacific Pivot (despite corroborating
statements from the Secretary of State and Defense); references to toxic
dumping in bases in the Phillipines, and rapes and violence in Okinawa,
(as well as missile tests in the Marshall Islands and drone bases in
Australia). In particular, Council Member Maio stated, "Condemning the
U.S Military for rapes--I can't put it in there", apparently oblivious
to the fact that 22,000 rapes and sexual assaults occur within the
military annually, a number that itself pales in comparison with the
abuse that is dealt out to the general population by an occupying
military immunized from local prosecution by Status of Forces
She also removed information regarding the hardware being deployed (the US Navy's Aegis Combat System).
Council Member Max Anderson, a war veteran, however, stated that he had been in Okinawa, and had witnessed first hand the
abuses, the rapes, the violence, and ugliness of the military
Council Member Gordon Wozniak mentioned the
recent escalation of hostilities in the pacific with Air Defense Zones,
stating that "it was not just about Korea, that it was Japan, China",
and that the supporters of the resolution were "missing the point" [in
focusing on Korea]. He did not seem understand that he had just proven
the argument of the supporters, that the Jeju base was part of the
general escalation of hostilities and projection of force in the
pacific, and that its presence would exacerbate regional conflict.
Ultimately, what may have swung the vote may have been a missive from
Gloria Steinem, legendary feminist icon and supporter of Jeju,
addressing the city council:
"As you cast your votes
about Jeju's future, I hope you will consider the attached", referring
to her article in the New York Times where she had written, "There are
some actions for which those of us alive today will be judged in
centuries to come. The only question will be: What did we know and when
did we know it? I think one judgment-worthy action may be what you and I
do about the militarization of Jeju Island, South Korea, in service of
the arms race."