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Fighting for Okinawa’s Future

by Alice Kurima Newberry

March 21, 2018

The practice of actively unlearning systematic oppression is where Okinawa's survival begins.

Participants at the Greenpeace 2018 Action Camp practice blocking an entrance using lockboxes and cement-filled barrels, utilizing skills they’ve learned at camp or in their own communities.

Last week, I participated in Greenpeace’s 2018 Action Camp, a weeklong direct action training and skillshare. I met with activists from across turtle island and beyond who are fighting injustice, oppression, white supremacy, and coloniality in their communities. Throughout the week, I learned new ways to resist and fight against oppressive state tactics through mock actions, activist medic practices, learning to Prusik climb and more. I was preparing for fights I will face in the future but more importantly, I was preparing to pass on my knowledge of what I learned to others, more specifically my hope is to share knowledge with my community in Okinawa. 

While on-the-ground tactics are critical to fighting state repression, it is just as significant if not more for activists to reclaim their roots and learn resistance through collective liberation approaches and other movements. Okinawa will not be free from U.S. or Japanese imperialism until we work to eliminate the U.S. military empire and its ongoing colonialist practices everywhere.

Recognizing that all struggles are intrinsically connected and that we must work together to create the world we know is possible, will help bring justice for Okinawa. Connecting with my identity is key in knowing how I stand in solidarity with others and how I navigate my everyday life. I strongly believe that the knowledge of solidarity is something we need to pass down to young people so that they may understand the importance of their voices as they enter into organizing and begin to navigate their own lives.

People of Okinawa being removed by the police as they were protesting against the planned expansion of a U.S. military base at Camp Schwab, Nago, Okinawa, Japan.

For over 70 years, the U.S. military occupation has caused immense trauma and resistance in Okinawa. Now, there is a diaspora of Okinawans living around the world. For folks living in the diaspora, reclaiming our roots in itself is necessary for our connections to the Ryukyu Islands. Keeping the connections to our ancestors and culture allows our movement to sustain and grow. I am proud to be Uchinanchu and my hope is for children in Okinawa to feel the same way when they use Ryukyuan languages, play the Sanshin, or practice Eisa. When we connect to our roots, it is an act of resistance as we are actively deciding that our existence, liberation, and survival is necessary. As I learn more about Okinawa and Miyako, I realize that my calling to activism is understanding myself and discovering my self-worth.

Every day, Okinawans protest the construction of the U.S. military bases on their island. They sing, chant, and are forcibly dragged away by Japanese riot police on the days when construction trucks arrive. Neither Japan nor the U.S. has the right to claim Okinawa’s land and seas. Okinawans have survived the bloodiest battle in the Pacific, colonization, and cultural assimilation. Almost One-third of Okinawans lost their lives during the Battle of Okinawa — a battle they never wanted. We must end the normalization of military violence against indigenous peoples around the world. The US military was created in response to indigenous resistance and as that spreads globally we have seen how those systems actively work to diminish indigenous existence.

Around the 2000 G8 Summit, grandparents and grandchildren built a human chain around Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. ©Pete Doktor

The strength of Okinawa lies within future generations who deserve to live without fear of the U.S. military all across the globe. It is our connection to identity and culture that will be their greatest defensive tool when facing the military bases, war, and institutionalized racism. We must keep the knowledge, traditions, culture, and history of Okinawa alive.

All around the world, indigenous youth are rising up — from fighting oil pipelines to state oppression, they are not backing down. And as we see direct action integral to our movements we are also recognizing how building up our resistance through cross-movement building and connection to our roots as key for international solidarity.

By Alice Kurima Newberry

Alice Kurima Newberry is the Community Manager Associate at Greenpeace USA. She works to engage and activate supporters across the nation to take further action in protecting the environment and its people.

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