Walking for Peace on Jeju Island

August 1-5  2016

From: Bruce Gagnon's Blog: Organizing Notes
Monday, August 1, 2016
Day 1: Jeju Peace Walk: The Start

VFP members Ken Jones (left), Bruce Gagnon (center) and Will Griffin (right) remembering the two Korean-American women who were to lead our trip to Korea but were denied entry into the country due to their work against US deployments of the THAAD 'missile defense' system here that will be aimed at China and Russia.

We gathered at the new Navy base front gate this morning just after 8:00 am in order to get registered for the six-day peace walk around Jeju Island, South Korea.  Many in the crowd walked down an entry road to the main gate that of course was blocked off with higher than normal security standing guard while military music blasted out for all to hear.

It was sad to see the new base housing for military personnel and their families and to get a glimpse of the warship docks. I was imagining very soon that US Navy destroyers, nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers will be ported there.  Gangjeong village has a population of 2,000 people and there are expected to be anywhere from 3,000-7,000 navy personnel based here at some point.  And then figure in the many hundreds of sailors on visiting warships.  This once quiet fishing and farming community will be torn asunder even more than it already has been.

Gangjeong villagers though have proven to be determined and resilient during this 10-year non-violent struggle to oppose the Navy base.  Before we began walking this morning a news conference was held right in front of the main gate and the village Mayor Cho Kyung Cheol said that "People in the village have been treated like dogs and pigs" by the Navy and the government.  He spoke of even more lawsuits being filed by the government and Samsung (the lead base construction contractor) seeking $3 million in 'damages' against the village and 116 persons in the village (and their supporters) because they allegedly impeded the construction process.  One activist called the fines "A new form of oppression" against the village.

We walked 11.5 miles today in the high heat and the hot top (what Boston folks call the asphalt) only made it worse – sort of like walking for six hours through a steam room.  Everyone was sweating but it was remarkable to see our large group stay together the whole way – especially so because many families came from the Korean mainland and brought their small children and they walked the entire way.

The food was prepared by teams of volunteers back in Gangjeong village and trucked out to us for lunch and dinner.  During breaks and lunch the iconic Catholic priest Fr. Mun joined us hobbling around with his cane but still inspiring people as he as done in virtually every progressive movement in South Korea for many, many years.

Legendary Catholic priest Fr. Mun

A van with a sound system (which included three speakers on top and two big ones in the back of the van) led the walk with its back door open blasting music to keep us singing and dancing to popular movement songs – many of which I recognized from previous trips to Korea.  Now and then people were handed the microphone as we walked and asked to speak.  I got a turn and told the story about the recent arrests in Bath, Maine when the Zumwalt 12 blocked the road and a gate at the June ‘christening’ of another Navy destroyer at the Bath Iron Works shipyard.  I told people that before we did our action we read a statement of solidarity from Gangjeong village.  (The Zumwalt 12 will go through arraignment on August 2 in the West Bath court, I obviously won’t be there.  Our lawyer will offer my ‘not guilty’ plea on my behalf.)

Jeju is a tourist haven during the summer so the traffic was heavy while we walked today.  We walked along the beautiful ocean, through small villages, and through a densely populated city – even spending at least an hour taking up one lane in a very busy four-lane highway.  So we are being seen – it’s really quite a sight to see a couple hundred people singing and dancing with their yellow shirts and flags flapping in the breeze.

I am glad to be here – sun burnt, sore feet, but soaring heart.  There is only one way that we might be able to stop the crazy US imperial war machine and that is by organizing global protests and taking the war and peace issue directly to the people.  It’s an honor to be part of this peace walk.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Day 2: Jeju Peace Walk Update


  • Day two of the Jeju Island peace walk in South Korea was another hot one.  We did 13 miles and everyone was very tired by the end.  One man who specializes in fixing blisters was quite busy from morning until 8:00 pm helping the walking wounded.  I developed just a tiny blister on the back of my heel from the rubbing of my sandals.  Going to have to wear socks and shoes today which I have dreaded doing because of the heat.
  • In the photo above you can see the dish washing operation back at Gangjeong village.  They make three meals a day and bring the food out to the walk in trucks.  Then the dirty dishes are brought back to the village and washed.  Remember that there are two walking groups - going east and west - so this is a major logistical undertaking.
  • Last night as we lined up for the supper meal - served outside - I was transfixed as the long line of people began singing together, accompanied by guitar and flute.  The walkers come from across the country and are activists from various movements including labor, church, human rights, Korean Green Party, alternative schools, peace and more.  Quite a few Catholic priests and nuns (dressed in their grey habits) are also walking.
  • It's amazing to experience 150 or more people constantly singing as we walk along (yesterday we began at 8:00 am and finished at 5:30 pm.  We took 90 minutes for lunch and took a 20 minute break every hour).  The singing helps keep the tired and hot feet moving along nicely.
  • I just learned that the court arraignment today of the Zumwalt 12 in Bath, Maine resulted in a pre-trial motions hearing of September 7 being set.  Everyone declared 'not guilty'.  The Zumwalt 12 were arrested on June 18 at the 'christening' of the second Zumwalt class destroyer at the Navy shipyard in Bath.  The 'stealth' destroyer's job is to sneak up on China and blast it with new electromagnetic railguns which can fire a shell the size of a car the distance from New York City to Philadelphia.  These warships would likely be deployed at some point at the new Navy base in Gangjeong village.  We felt it important to get the Navy crew used to seeing protests so that when they arrived in Gangjeong village they understood the message!  The trial story was covered by local and national media including the military newspaper called the Stars & Stripes.  You can see more on this here

Blocked from Entry for Peace Work

On July 26, two Korean American peace activists – Juyeon Rhee and Hyun Lee – had planned to be part of a peace tour as representatives of the U.S.-based Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea but were denied entry into South Korea by its government.

After being deported back to the US, Rhee and Lee spoke with ZoominKorea about their deportation and their thoughts on the South Korean government’s attempt to isolate the residents of Seongju (where the THAAD missile defense system is to be deployed) from international solidarity.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Day 3 - Jeju Faces Even More Militarization

Day 3 from the 5th annual Grand March for Life and Peace here on Jeju Island, South Korea.

Yesterday we walked about 13 miles in the hot heat (and sometimes rain).  We hit the area called Seongsan by the end of the day that is presently mired in its own fight against the government.

Without consulting the residents of Seongsan, or any other villages in the area, the South Korean government (which is totally controlled by the mega-corporations) has announced their intention to build a second airport on Jeju Island.  The current airport is in Jeju City which is on the northern part of the island while Seongsan is on the southern side of the egg-shaped island.

Last night during the after dinner nightly walk program we heard from the local committee leaders opposing the airport plan.  It appears that more than 75% of the villagers in Seongsan would lose their homes and four other nearby villages would also be severely impacted.  The chairman of the opposition committee told us that they believe the airport is related to the Navy base in Gangjeong village.  It seems that the Pentagon does not want to port their expensive destroyers, nuclear subs, and aircraft carriers in Gangjeong village without 'close air support' thus the need for an airfield nearby.  But the government knows that another US military base would create big political problems so they are saying the airport would only be for civilian use.  By now the people here understand that the US and South Korean governments lie about virtually everything.

(It must be remembered that the announced Obama-Hillary Clinton 'pivot' of 60% of US forces into the Asia-Pacific means that more airfields, ports-of-call, and barracks are needed for military operations.) 

One of the most impressive things about the peace walk is the numbers of children and young people who are walking.  There are a group of 5-6 kids who have undertaken the job of handing out walk flyers and they spend the entire day running from house to shop as well as plastering the flyers at bus stops and on light posts.  As we pass by people watching us walk, I notice that most find it very difficult not to take a flyer from these kids.  I think of them as the 'wild pack' and smile.  I don't know where they get the energy to keep it up all day long but I need some of it!

Today Ken Jones and I are taking a break from the walk.  I had some Global Network tasks needing immediate attention and later in the day I will take Ken to the April 3 (1948) massacre museum near Jeju City.  You can't come here without learning more about the US-directed massacre of more than 30,000 Jeju Islanders after Washington took over Korea from Japan at the end of WW II.

The US installed into power the Koreans who had collaborated with the imperial Japanese during their occupation of this country.  The public, thinking that the defeat of Japan meant their freedom, were angered and began to protest against the US installation of these right-wing Koreans.  The US responded by enforcing the systematic killing of well over 100,000 Koreans across the nation who opposed the way the US was running the country.  In the end this dynamic is what led to the Korean war that still is unsettled as Washington refuses to sign a peace treaty with North Korea.

Ken and I get back on the walk tomorrow morning and over 2,000 people are expected in Jeju City for the big finish program on Saturday evening.

Our Tour of Kunsan AFB in South Korea

August 6, 2016
We Must Support One Another

The Grand March for Life and Peace concluded last night with a rousing rally in Jeju City along the sea wall (that reminds one of the Malecón in Havana).

As our east team met the west team in the center of the city each side carried one of two large banners depicting wooden totems that now stand in front of the peace center in Gangjeong village.  The two banners were brought into the busy traffic clogged intersection and symbolically joined.  From there the two merged teams walked the last few miles to the rally site.  The totem banners were erected onto the large stage and as dark came, and the stage lights hit the banners, the beautiful colors came alive in a brilliant display.  I was very moved to stand on that stage and deliver the message representing the international guests.

As you can see in the short video above, taken of the west team during a storm, not even a down pour bothered the walkers.  Very few pulled out umbrellas or raincoats - most just keep moving along to the music coming from the sound trucks.

There is so much to say about this walk including the many things I learned and about the Korean people that we had the great fortune to meet during these days.  I will likely write a series of posts, with many more photos, in the coming days as time and the words make themselves available to me.

In the meantime I must say thank you to all our new friends and co-walkers for this incredible experience.  Despite the fun and the excitement of the walk what must come first is the reminder that the people in South Korea are witnessing their democracy being dismantled each day by the right-wing Park government.  They are seeing their country, already long a US military colony, become even more so as Washington rushes to prepare for war with China and Russia.

People here, like in Okinawa and Guam, know they are a prime target in a conflict because of the US bases on their islands.  They are doing all they can NOW while they still can.  They wonder why people in the US and in Europe are largely so silent and inactive when it comes to the massive expansion of the US-NATO war machine into the Asia-Pacific (including new NATO partnership agreements with South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand).

In my short talk last night I told the hundreds who were assembled at the final rally the story of our protest in Bath, Maine last June when 12 of us (Zumwalt 12) were arrested at the Bath Iron Works shipyard for blocking the road and gate into the 'christening' ceremony for a new warship.  I said that warship was likely to visit Gangjeong village at some point.  I told the people that they inspired us in Maine to act - in fact five of the 12 of us who were arrested have been to Gangjeong village over the past few years.  I said we'd continue to support them into the future.

The only way we can prevent WW III is to become bolder during this dangerous time of military expansion and the drowning of democracy.  The people of Korea who have come to Jeju Island in large numbers (union members, human rights activists, peaceniks, parents of the Sewol ferry students killed in that terrible accident, Korea Green Party members, priests & nuns, environmentalists, and community leaders) are showing that it is possible to build effective coalitions in order to protect democracy, peace and our Mother Earth.

We all have much to learn from the biggest little village on the planet called Gangjeong.

Sunday, August 7, 2016
Lessons from Jeju Grand March for Life & Peace

The east & west teams met at a busy intersection in Jeju City - a very exciting moment

The totem banners were symbolically joined at the center of the intersection

Auto union workers performed during the finale rally - the guy on the far right was very friendly to me and he was quite a singer.  Their songs were about their struggle against lay-offs and the companies attempts to force workers into part-time (temporary) work - the same kind of issues that French workers have lately been protesting about.

Joyakgol sings his new hit single 'drop the lawsuit', in reference to the recent $33 million lawsuit for damages filed by the Navy against the villagers of Gangjeong - just the latest in a brutal attempt to suppress the irrepressible resistance that characterizes the Gangjeong peace movement!

Some of the tired but happy crowd at the finale event.  We figured that at least 60% of the walkers were students.  Koreans do a great job of making their events inter-generational.

Throughout the peace march, back in Gangjeong village at the Navy base new front gate, activists kept the morning 100 bows ceremony going as well as the mid-day demonstration.

Fellow Veterans For Peace (VFP) members Will Griffin, Ken Jones and I flew back to the Korean mainland yesterday afternoon to Daegu (the hottest city in Korea we were told) where we will spend the next two days resting.  Our events here were surprisingly cancelled on us.

After some challenges we found a nice hotel and I was happy to see they had a washing machine available to us.  I've been washing some of my clothes in the shower and it has been a chore to get them clean.

We are all online trying to get caught up with email and social media.  Will is making reservations to fly to Okinawa at the end of the month to metjoin another group from VFP who are heading there on a similar solidarity trip.  (It's great to see VFP taking on the Obama-Clinton Asia-Pacific 'pivot'.)

Ken flies to California tomorrow to attend the VFP national convention in Berkeley.  He hopes to be able to share his experiences in Korea at the confab.  Will and I will head to Seoul for more protest and conference events.  We will miss Ken as we all have become close during this time together.

In the meantime the two Korean-American women Juyeun Rhee and Hyun Lee who were to be our guides and translators on this trip are daily in contact with us even though they were deported by the South Korean government when they arrived in Seoul.  They also been doing media work about their deportation and the latest interview with them can be seen here

We all firmly believe they were deported because of their recent work to oppose the THAAD 'missile defense' system that the US will soon deploy in South Korea.  (THAAD has already been deployed in Guam.) It is clear that the reactionary South Korean government is doing everything possible to disrupt protest movements against THAAD as they clearly have been ordered by Washington to push the deployment of the provocative system forward despite the will of the people.

In particular the corporate controlled government in Seoul is trying to paint any critics of THAAD as agents of North Korea - a standard strategy by the government here to suppress the opposition.  So far it ain't working.

The Seoul government is trying to isolate anyone opposing THAAD - especially those living in the melon farming community called Seongju which appears to be the Pentagon's preferred deployment site.  Currently the government is working feverishly to create a climate of fear and intimidation to keep activists from around South Korea from going to Seongju who wish to express their solidarity with the local residents.

This attempt to drown democracy is something we now see happening all over the world as the corporate globalists attempt to stomp out people's efforts to protect their economic and human rights as well as peace and the environment.  It's a full scale war against the people as the regional capitalist oligarchies arm themselves to the teeth in preparation for their final push for control and domination.

The spirit we witnessed during the Grand March for Life & Peace indicates that the people here will not easily surrender to the forces of darkness.  People understand what they are up against and are facing the challenge with steady determination and much joy.  They are a good model for all of us.

Monday, August 8, 2016
Walk Around Jeju Island

Video compilation of the Grand March for Life & Peace on Jeju Island, South Korea.

No Navy base on Jeju!
No THAAD in Korea!
No US bases in Korea!
We support peace and reunification of Korea!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Drop the Lawsuit Against Jeju Activists!

Joyakgol sings his new hit single 'drop the lawsuit', in reference to the recent $3 million lawsuit for damages filed by the Navy against 116 Gangjeong villagers/supporters - just the latest in a brutal attempt to suppress the irrepressible resistance that characterizes the Gangjeong peace movement!

This song was sung throughout the peace march - blared from the sound trucks and by the end of the six day event everyone was singing it - including the international guests who at least learned the chorus.

The Navy, and lead Navy base construction contractor Samsung, claim that the protests delayed the base construction.  The case is now pending in court.

In South Korea they have a law that can hold the families of the 116 named in the lawsuit liable as well.  The intent of this law is to actively suppress opposition to government policies.

Monday, August 12, 2016
Jeju Peace March (with English subtitles)

Film by Will Griffin, video produced by Zoom in Korea

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