Report on NYC REPORTBACK
A long while since I've posted. 미안해 to those who come here looking for info and stories. My mind/heart is still filled, sometimes tortured with the colors, noises, connections and misconnections that was hk to me. But my days are filled with - I'm not even sure what eats up my time - proposals, agendas, the office's broken toilet crunching away at my moments, chewing up my language. The extreme is much easier, I've noticed. I guess I need to make every day extreme.
Anyway - enough of my probably sappy internal musings. An event to report on.
Last fri. we did a wto protest reportback with our ally org CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, which also sent a delegation. Very good to finally match our stories with theirs, to hear more voices speak of different struggles, that are all really the same.
We tried to build a little victoria park for people. There is still a huge yellow and red DOWN! DOWN! WTO !! made of paper ribbions echoing itself across the huge mirror in our big (once was a dance studio) room. Our banners are still hanging (KEEP and Naju Nongmin Hwe) along side CAAAV's Solidarity banner and artfully drawn protest posters. We wore hats and t-shirts and vest and made all our guests put on red bandanas. We made everyone sing. As much as the info, it's about transmitting the brillant tastes of it all. Is this too naive and idealistic? I hope not. Trying release experiences and memories into open space for those who didn't go ... what can I say? It made miss folks, who sometimes seem so far away now.
Anyway - here's the narrative to the slideshow we did.
NYC WTO REPORTBACK
NDD Slide Show Narrative
1) Intro: While Nodutdol folks and comrades were in Korea last summer on an evaluation trip for the Korea Exposure and Education Program, we visited the Naju farmers with whom we have a long standing relationship. While there, we learned about their struggle against the neo-liberal policies of the Roh Mu Hyun government and US economic imperialism. At that time they asked us to send a delegation to join them and provide translations during the WTO M6 protest. In the fall we made the somewhat last minute decision and hurried to prepare to go. Given the unique opportunity provided to us by the Naju farmers, our main goals were:
1. To support the Korea Peasants League (KPL) by providing translation
2. To gain knowledge, experience and energy to bring back to the movement here.
This is us. The following are some stories and some lessons we bring back to organizations and the NYC poc movement.
2) Before we went we made these hats that say “US rice tastes bad.” At Nodutdol we order food from all these restaurants and gobble it up without thinking. Most of us have very little idea of how the rice we eat, as well as the other products we consume, are produced or where they comes from, nor do we understand the story behind it. In the case of south Korean agriculture: The neo-liberal policies of the Roh Mu Hyun government and the US economic imperialist agenda supported by institutions like the WTO are forcing the rice market to open to foreign powers They are destroying south Koreas food sovereignty and self-sufficiency and Korean farmers right to life. Who’s rice are you eating? What does it mean? Opening up the rice market has drastically reduced the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate which has gone from 93.9% in 1965 to 25% in 2005 and will drop to 5% if things keep going the way they are. For the farmers stopping this progression is about fighting for agricultural self-determination and for their lives. No wonder they spent the last year planning for the M6. Here’s a story about our experience fighting along side them.
3) Swimming: Day 1. We marched to the approved protest area, fists in the air, singing and shouting. Once we arrived at our rally location in front of Causeway Bay several hundred of us jumped into the water and continued the protest afloat. When I think about it these days walking around in my huge coat and shivering, I can’t believe I jumped without hesitation. But there it was so easy. And if I hadn’t been grasping for air and spitting out polluted sea water, I would have been grinning the whole way. What this taught me, in a very visceral way was that when you understand the urgency of the struggle, the anger, compassion and desperation that fuels the movement it makes you long to contribute, even knowing how limited that contribution will be. For me, it made it possible to do stuff we might otherwise think crazy – Like jumping in the water and swimming across Causeway Bay in the wake of Korean farmers, all the way to the convention center where the WTO ministerial was taking place.
4) Translation: Of course, the translation that most of us were able to provide was a far larger contribution. Unlike the media portrayal of the farmers leading up to and during the protest as violent and ruthless KPL’s strategy is multi-faciated. Each day the folks in our delegation spread ourselves out among the farmers’ many activities to provide translation – during the big marches, in hospitals, at the airport, in the KPL “command center”, during street outreach, with members of delegations from other countries, with the cops. By translating we helped to facilitate this work. In exchange we learned of the Hong Kong people’s feelings about the WTO protest and the farmers, we learned about KPL’s strategies and tactics, and perhaps most importantly we learn how important it is to use diverse and strategic tactics, always taking into consideration external and internal factors. This is lesson is one we must and have started to incorporate into our local work.
5) Protest #2: Samboilbae – Three steps one bow, lead by the Korean Women Farmers Association. Imagine what it is like to take three steps and bow for an entire march in unison, not just with other Koreans but with people from all over the globe. You can feel your body become part of an organism that encompasses so many other individual bodies. Even if your mind maintains a little commentary (are we in line, how much longer, my knees are starting to hurt, I can’t believe I’m doing this, I’m so lucky etc.) you have contributed your entire physical being to the life of the organism. And this is only one march, contributing the organism that is the global movement. This was an incredibly important action for winning the hearts of the Hong Kong citizens. Hong Kong citizens lined the sidewalk 3 deep to watch. They offered us water, food, they cried.
6) Victoria Park: The struggle is global – we say this and believe it intellectually, but rallying in Victoria Park where we began all our actions made us feel it. The park was a sea of color, flags from Thailand, the Philippines, Venezuela, Korea and more, all waving together. From all over; migrant workers, sex workers, farmers, fisher folks, textile workers came, each group calling for “agriculture, services, fishing, etc. out of the WTO.” Altogether, the members of this international protest pledged to destroy the WTO and together fight against the US-led neo-liberal agenda of the rich and powerful that is destroying their lives.
7) Solidarity: Building international solidarity was a primary goal of KPL which is increasingly seeing the need to connect to struggles in other countries. KPL is part of Via Campasina, an international farmers coalitions. On the night of the fifteenth KPL hosted a night of solidarity in the big field in the YMCA retreat center where we stayed. The program consisted of speeches, dancing, music and concluded with one of the most important strategies for building trust and solidarity – sharing food and of course drink and talking about lives and experiences. We were privileged enough to participate in and provide translation during this experience.
8) The Movement: Of course, drinking and singing and talking were a main ways in which we built with the farmers as well. Through many (often late night) conversations we learn about lots of things – conditions in south Korea, the recent Pyongtaek protests, farmers views on Korean reunification, the importance of solidarity and the taste of US rice. One of the most important lessons we bring back is that the movement is a way of life, and your way of life is the movement. To quote a blog post from one our coordinators.
“Between commodity and sentimental nostalgia, two gross simplifications of what rice is to Korea and most of Asia, lies the world of farmers and rural communities little understood, reduced to blurry green backdrops, and now painted as a threat to global trade conferences. But in what i glimpsed in Naju and in Hong Kong, farming, and the farmers' movement, is based on a sense of collectivity, creativity, strategic thinking, that we city bumpkins … have a lot to learn from.
I asked one farmer a general question about the farmers' movement (using the word 농민 운동). He responded: Don't use that phrase, farmers' movement. If we are going to keep talking, then first, we have to begin here: I am a farmer. Before anything, I am a farmer. Farming is what I do, everything comes out of the fact that I am a farmer. Can you understand that?
And it takes time to sink in, but yes, in fact, in South Korea and all over the world, being a farmer is resistance ….. For many of the farmers we met, being a farmer wasn't about being part of a landed class, about receiving an inheritance of land; it meant leaving the city and 'returning' to the country, a self-transformation of all the relationships one has, withdrawing from the consumerist lifestyle and easy convenience of city living, in order to mobilize a broad national base of politically conscious farmers, to strengthen the power of farmers against a ruthless industrialization and globalization drive.”