No More U.S. Bases! Min-Iren work in solidarity with local people’s struggle in Takae, Okinawa

 In December 2012, national Min-Iren started the solidarity and support actions with the people in protest against the construction work of U.S. helipads now going on at Takae of Higashimura Village of Okinawa. The helipads, when built, would accommodate Ospreys, known as the “defect aircraft.”

On February 8, Min-Iren’s third solidarity and support action was held, where 7 Min-Iren members from different prefectures joined in the sit-in in the rain before dawn. On that day, altogether 24 people, including the members of the “Citizens Association against Helipads” of Takae took part in the protest action.
Min-Iren members sat in front of the main gate of the U.S. army Northern Training Area (Jungle Warfare Training Center). They checked the vehicles passing by or going into the training area, noting down the characteristics of each and identify if it was the vehicle of a contractor for the helipad construction. If it was, they were supposed to lay their life on the line to stop it, so they looked tense.

Non-violent struggle going on over 5 years

By this construction work, which started in July 2007, six new helipads are planned to be built in the forest of Take.
As the settlement of Takae is surrounded by the Northern Training Area, village people are assaulted by the big noise of helicopters, and they sometimes come across with men-at-arms in their own backyard.
In the same year, some people in the community who wanted to “live in Takae with peace of mind” got together and started a nonviolent sit-in action in front of the construction site. In August 2007, they formed the “Citizens Association against Helipads” to launch intense actions day and night to block the construction. So far, not a single helipad has been completed.

Military bases would invite wars

Some members of the association continue the sit-in by sleeping in tents or cars. Ms. Shimabukuro Kazue (member of Okinawa Medical Co-op), who lost her father in WWII, joins the protest with her husband. She said angrily, “Just because we have U.S. bases and helipads, they would trigger accidents and wars. We must not allow the helipads, where dangerous Ospreys could take off and land, to be built here.”
Mr. Miyamoto Koji (pseudonym) from Saitama Prefecture started to join the sit-in at Henoko Beach to prevent the base relocation from Kadena, after he retired from work. But hearing from his colleagues at Henoko that a helipad was about to be built at Takae, he moved to join the sit-in here in 2007. He said shyly, “I just joined the people here as I had much time after retirement.” He has since rented an apartment in Okinawa to join the struggle, now that there are frequent moves of the constructors.

More support needed

In the meeting held that day, Mr. Miyagi Katsumi expressed his gratitude on behalf of the Citizens Association. “Every day we feel frustrated, seeing the construction work going on. Sometimes we cannot stop the constructors going into the site, as we have not enough people to stop them. We feel very heartened and happy today to have Min-Iren people joining us.”
It was the first time for Mr. Iwamoto Jun of Okayama Min-Iren to come to Okinawa. He was very surprised at the reality going on in Okinawa. “The fence around the base continues endlessly and I see U.S. soldiers everywhere. Though I have known of the problems in Okinawa from the TV or on newspaper, the reality was just beyond my imagination.”
Mr. Sunagawa Kazuyuki of Hyogo Min-Iren said, “I felt it difficult to conduct the sit-in in the rain even for one day, as it was freezing cold. Having continued to protest for more than 5 years in such a small number, the people in Takae have been exhausted. More and more supporters are needed.”
Out of the planned six helipads, the one located closest to Takae settlement is reported to be nearly completed. We must not allow the construction of any more new U.S. base or installation anywhere. We are now facing a crucial moment.

(Article by Yasui Keita)