When Okinawa is Under Attack: Youth Stand Up, Fight Back

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.

Emma Cassidy/Greenpeace

Last week, I participated in Greenpeace’s 2018 Action Camp, a weeklong non-violent direct action training and skill share. I met with activists from across the country and beyond who are fighting injustice, oppression, white supremacy, and coloniality in their communities. Throughout the week, I learned ways to resist and fight against oppressive state tactics by using mock actions to blockade trucks and police, practicing how to wash pepper spray out of eyes, 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. My biggest takeaway from Action Camp: We need to fight back collectively, prioritizing the most-impacted voices, and share the knowledge we have with each other.

While on-the-ground tactics are critical to fighting state repression, it is just as significant for activists to reclaim their roots and learn resistance through collective liberation. Okinawa will not be free from U.S. or Japanese imperialism until we work to eliminate the U.S. military empire, war, and 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 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 roles in life.

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 traumatized Okinawa, creating a diaspora of  Okinawans living around the world. For folks living in the diaspora, reclaiming your roots in itself is an act of resistance. Keeping the connections to our ancestors and culture alive allows the movement to sustain and grow. I am proud to have Uchinanchu blood 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. Colonizers and oppressors never want us to figure this out. As I learn more about Okinawa and Miyako, I realize that my calling to resist is a function of my self-respect.

Every day, Okinawans protest the construction of the U.S. military bases on their island. Every day, they sing, chant, and are forcibly dragged away by Japanese riot police. The irony is that neither Japan nor the U.S. has the right to claim Okinawa. The land never belonged to either nation in the first place. War and military should not be normalized in any region, and as a community is taught to normalize their oppression, it becomes easier to accept it as reality. The practice of actively unlearning systematic oppression is where survival begins. Okinawans have survived the bloodiest battle in the Pacific, systematic colonization, and cultural assimilation. One-quarter of Okinawans lost their lives during the battle of Okinawa— a battle they never wanted. The world must recognize the struggles Okinawa faces, and more importantly, oppose the normalization of violence in Okinawa in order to stop being complicit in discrimination. A collective liberation approach is critical to end this normalization make citizens aware of the systems in place that actively work to diminish their 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 with its children who deserve to live without fear of the U.S. military. Common’s lyrics in the song “Glory” — “No one can win the war individually, It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy” — must ring true in Okinawa. The youth need to learn the impacts of the war on Okinawa, they need to know that they deserve to be safe, and that they deserve to reclaim their culture and be proud of it. It is their 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. Collective memory and the recognition of the ongoing struggle that will shape Okinawa’s future with resilience. All around the world, indigenous youth are rising up — from fighting oil pipelines to state oppression, they are not backing down.Their resistance is growing and they are beginning to know that their life is a treasure. ぬちどぅ宝 = Nuchi Du Takara (Life is a Treasure in Uchinaaguchi). And as young Uchinanchu begin to learn about treasuring their lives, we must all work to foster their leadership and self-determination in Okinawa and beyond.

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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