Women activists join struggle for peace in Okinawa
“Hey Okinawa! Some of us on this boat are from Hawai‘i. Our hearts are so sad to see this construction because we are island people too. We love our fish, we love our seaweed and we love our ocean, and we know our life comes from the ocean. We have places in Hawai'i that are poisoned by the military. We don't know if they are going to be OK. We don't know if we can heal those places. It makes us so sad to see it happening here too. We thank the ocean for taking care of us because we know in Hawai'i it's the same ocean. We thank the Okinawan people for protecting this place because it is our same ocean. In Hawai‘i we say, 'Aloha ʻĀina,' that means we love the land and we love the ocean, because we know and we are connected and we need it. And when we say 'Aloha Aina,' it means we will put our lives down to protect it because we are all the same. Aloha ʻāina! Aloha ʻāina! Aloha ʻāina!”
This was the message of solidarity that a delegation of women activists from Hawai‘i brought to Okinawa for the 9th convening of the International Women's Network Against Militarism (IWNAM) which took place on Okinawa, near and at the sites of ongoing U.S. military build-ups on the colonized and militarized Pacific island. The words were delivered by Aiko Yamashiro, a poet, editor and Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, encapsulating the solidarity movement between island peoples who share a history of colonization and military occupation.
Twenty years ago, IWNAM was founded in Okinawa to organize the women from these colonized places into a peaceful, determined movement against the militarization of island spaces. Now encompassing delegations from South Korea, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guåhan (Guam), Hawaiʻi, Japan and the United States, the 9th convening of the network took place from June 22 through the 26 as protests in Okinawa continue over the construction of naval facilities at Henoko and helipads for the controversial Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft near the village of Takae. The theme this year was “Challenging Militarism and Creating a Sustainable Future.”
The U.S. military has promised to “reduce its footprint” in Okinawa but is, instead, expanding its bases in Okinawa and the East China Sea as part of what it calls “the Indo-Asia-Pacific Rebalance.”
“It is devastating to see these beautiful, fragile ecosystems in Henoko and Takae under attack, and yet so inspiring to see the vibrant movement to protect them,” says delegate Dr. Kim Compoc. “Okinawans have already suffered so much. The U.S. should be apologizing to the Okinawan people, not inflicting more harm.”
During the meeting they discussed military infrastructural development in South Korea, Okinawa, Guåhan and Hawaiʻi, as well as the increase of joint military activities with the Philippines and Japan in support of U.S. military hegemony in the region. The group also discussed sexual violence and the military, decolonization and economic autonomy, resistance against militarization, environmental destruction, protection of sacred sites and creating sustainable futures grounded in peace and justice.
“Going to Okinawa helped me better understand the pain and trauma my grandparents went through. That knowledge renews my commitment to peace in Hawaiʻi and to building healing relationships between all our islands," says Yamashiro.
The U.S. spends more on its military than the next seven largest military budgets combined. The Trump administration has promised to further increase military spending by 10 percent.
The delegation from Hawaiʻi included seven members from Women’s Voices, Women Speak, a multiethnic collective of women in Hawai‘i who address local and international issues relating to demilitarization, peace and non-violence. They work to foster women’s political leadership to educate the public on the gendered and environmental harms of militarization, as well as uplift examples of alternatives to military dependence.
Participants were taken on exposure trips to Henoko and Oura Bay where activist-protectors use kayaks to challenge the U.S. military’s fencing off of their fishing grounds and stage daily sit-ins at the gate in Camp Schwab. This new base is said to put in danger over 5,300 marine species including 260 endangered species including the Dugong, an endangered marine animal that is Okinawa’s cultural icon.
The peace movement in Okinawa is renowned for its leadership of women, both in the role of activist-protectors and as government officials. Participants were given extensive information on the long and painful legacy of U.S. occupation in Okinawa, especially as it impacts women.
The meeting coincided with the June 23 Okinawan Day of Remembrance (“Irei No Hi”) marking the devastation of the Battle of Okinawa that claimed the lives of 240,000. The vigil site in Mabuni honors all those who died, military and civilian, regardless of nationality.
Participants also traveled to the vigil site where the body of Rina Shimabukuro was found. Shimabukuro was a 20-year old Okinawan woman raped and murdered by a former U.S. Marine. Shimabukuro’s murder has galvanized the movement to remove the U.S. bases in Okinawa.
Each delegation reported on the impacts of the U.S. military on their respective countries. Although the U.S. government does not recognize the sovereignty of Okinawa, Hawaiʻi, Guåhan or Puerto Rico, at this international gathering, each of these nations was recognized as such.
The conference delegates made the following list of demands:
● Scrap the Indo-Asia-Pacific Rebalance Policy that proposes U.S. military expansion in Asia and Oceania by 2020.
● Slash the obscenely bloated U.S. military budget, both domestic and international, and re-allocate those monies to the welfare of women, children and the environment.
● End all U.S. wars, military bases, installations, joint operations and U.S. military expansion.
● End U.S. political denial of anti-base movements throughout the world; end complicity by local elites who cooperate with U.S. imperial agendas.
● End male-centered diplomatic relations that foster imperialist-militaristic “national security” agendas and transition to cooperative models based on genuine security for women, children and the environment.
● Honor all treaties with indigenous people, particularly as it applies to water rights and sacred sites.
● Stop the military build-up in Henoko (Oura Bay) and Takae in Okinawa immediately.
● Stop live-fire training of Pōhakuloa on Hawaiʻi island immediately and return sovereignty to the Hawaiian nation.
● Cancel the plan to build Live Fire Training Range Complex (LFTRC) in Litekyan immediately and cease Mariana Islands Training and Testing (MITT) in Guåhan.
● End the military occupation of Jeju Island (Korea) immediately.
● End Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in the Philippines.
● Cancel Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile deployment in South Korea immediately.
● End the U.S. militarization of the Southern border and the criminalization of undocumented people.
● End U.S. military recruitment of public school children.
● Provide immediate, proper cleanup of Kahoʻolawe (Hawaiʻi), Vieques (Puerto Rico), Subic Bay and Clark (Philippines).
● Honor the dignity of so-called “comfort women,” held in servitude by the U.S. military, by offering an unequivocal apology.
● End the Korean War and resume peace talks to ensure security for all parties.
● Assure implementation of the Article 9 of the Japanese constitution that renounces war.
● End “RIMPAC” and all war games that use our homelands as training grounds for the projection of global violence and war profiteering.
For interested community members who would like to learn more, the delegates are planning multiple community events to report on their findings. For more information, like them on Facebook: “Women’s Voices, Women Speak,” or visit their website.
The Hawaiʻi delegation included:
Dr. Ellen-Rae Cachola, a founding member of Women’s Voices, Women Speak who has worked on demilitarization issues since 2004. She works at the W.S. Richardson School of Law Library and teaches Ethnic Studies at UH Mānoa;
Dr. Kim Compoc, a theater artist and instructor of English and Ethnic Studies at UH Mānoa. Her work centers on diasporic Filipin@s and decolonial alliances with indigenous movements;
Joy Enomoto, a photographer, mixed media artist, writer and archivist. Her work addresses issues of climate justice, deep sea mining, Hawaiian sovereignty and Black liberation;
Lisa Grandinetti, a youth and labor organizer with Aikea/UNITE HERE Local 5 in Honolulu. She recently graduated from UH Mānoa with a Bachelor's in Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies;
Tina Grandinetti, a Hawai‘i-born journalist and academic currently living in Melbourne, Australia. Her research focuses on the politics of settler colonialism and urban development in Hawai‘i and Palestine;
Kasha Ho, a blogger and community organizer on issues of food justice. She is the Community Food Systems Strategist at Kokua Kalihi Valley and cofounder of Emergent Island Economies Collective; and
Aiko Yamashiro, a poet, editor and a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at UH Mānoa. She organizes events with the Hawai‘i-Okinawa Alliance (HOA) and blogs on Ke Kaupu Hehi Ale.