| Notes from the Peace March from the Blue House to Pyeongtaek|
I didn't get to join the march until Saturday morning, but I hear that all went smoothly and according to plan the first several days.
I got to meet up with the marchers just after they had passed Jinwi subway station. Everyone was all smiles and high spirits, despite having been on the road since Wednesday.
We had a police car in front and back of us and a couple motorcycle police directing traffic.
Together we marched through Songtan, along highway 1, past the city offices and through the Songtan industrial zone. We passed the road that leads to Godeok-myeon where another farming community is facing eviction for a related development project, variously called an "International Business City", a "Peace City" and an "International Free Industrial Zone" - exactly what it will be is still foggy. We ate at Jijae station and then marched on to the Pyeongtaek detention center where Kim Jitae, Daechuri village headman, is still being held while awaiting trial on charges of allegedly organizing illegal demonstrations (which is nonsense, by the way. It is the opinion of this author that the government simply believes that average people are too stupid to know right from wrong and too lazy to organize themselves, and so they need a leader - which we know is preposterous. But that aside - ).
At the detention center we were joined by a number of Daechuri and Doduri residents. A peaceful sit-down demonstration was held, at the end of which the front wall of the detention center was blissfully and peacefully entirely covered with stickers which read "Choose Peace" (it's a pun, actually, in Korean, Pyong-hwa-rur / Teak-ha-ra!, with the Pyeongtaek being in large circles).
After the detention center, we marched on past the main Pyeongtaek Police station which was heavily guarded with riot police and then on to Pyeongtaek train station where a peaceful candlelight vigil was held by about 1,000 or 1,500 participants.
At the vigil, several friends and I saw an elderly man videotaping the crowd, face by face. We thought it odd, and my friends suggested that he was possibly a right-wing individual. But we thought no more of him as we began to chant "Daechuri, Doduri, Hwangsaeool, Chikimi Imnida" (We're the guardians of Daechuri, Doduri and the field - yes, it sounds silly in English, perfectly natural in Korean). Perhaps we should have given the man more thought.
After the candlelight rally, about 100 or 150 people marched on towards Daechuri. It was not expected that we would be allowed into the village, but it was rather a symbolic action. We made it to the Hyundae Oil Bank (gas station) at the corner where you can turn off the main road and head directly into Daechuri. There, we stopped and gathered in the empty parking lot to listen to some songs and watch some performances.
Then we received word that some villagers had been beaten and at least one had been sent to the hospital emergency room. We had no more word for maybe 10 or 15 minutes and then heard that some business owners from Anjung-ri, the village that is adjacent to the main gate of Camp Humphreys were drunken and enraged because their businesses have been suffering due to the protests - and that they were headed our way.
(Soldiers are not routinely allowed off base if there is a protest against the U.S. military in the vicinity. I seriously doubt there would ever be any random acts of violence against non-Korean passers-by, but I suppose it's fair for them to be on the safe-side.)(I would also like to add on a personal note that while I am sure that there are many, many legitimate businesses outside the gate of Humphreys, I am perfectly aware as well that there are plenty of brothels and "juicy bars" where women are trafficked in from all over the world to "service" the soldiers. I am terribly sorry that the legitimate business owners are suffering. I am not in the least sorry that the pimps and human traffickers are suffering monetary loss.)
So, there we were, like a bunch of perfect peacenik hippies (honestly some folks were dressed up in what looked to me like faerie costumes) listening to some folk music and shuddering at the thought of some really pissed-off, drunk and stick-wielding business owners (legitimate or not!) coming our way. Should we stay or should we go back to the train station? What would be safest? What would provoke them the least (we did NOT want to provoke them, we want them to understand that the farmers are losing their homes, their communities and their land and their whole lives, whereas the business owners are losing some profit...)? And then, what if the group we were facing was some kind of crazy group of pimps who had hired gangsters... oh my!
I have rarely heard so many people say "don't panic" - and you know that's when panic really sets in.
From my point of view, this is what happened next: We heard they were coming, so we sat in rows and linked arms and put our heads down. I got hit in the leg with a rock, but at the moment, couldn't figure out what had happened. The next moment, the person to my left looked up because someone was crashing into us from above and he got smashed between the eyes with an egg. I saw lots of people and police crashing around and it seemed pretty clear that several of the (allegedly) Anjung-ri business owners had broken past the police lines and were pelting us with rocks and eggs. The police then pushed them outside their lines and we shifted around and resumed sitting cross-legged, heads down until things calmed a bit. A man who sounded extremely inebriated went into a long diatribe about how "if we loved North Korea so much, why didn't we move there". (I would like to state for the record that I have yet to speak to anyone who so much as likes North Korea. The demand of the residents is simply that the base does not EXPAND and destroy their villages. The demand of civil society is merely that the U.S. forces Korea does not use the peninsula to wage wars against other countries, particularly the Asian neighbors. Rumsfeld's and the Pentagon's reiteration, time and again that the Global Posture Review is all about "strategic flexibility" and being able to send "lethal force" anywhere, anytime is giving people legitimate jitters that Seoul will end up in the crossfire as a result of some idiotic decision from Washington. There are many who believe that the division of the peninsula is maintained unnecessarily by the U.S. and who wish that USFK would leave so the North wouldn't have the excuse of "foreign imperialism" to build up it's military... and then there are those who realize that North Korea doesn't have the capability to carry out any kind of aggressive action, and so U.S. forces here are simply silly and displacing farmers to accommodate an anachronism is ... stupid. I've encountered lots of differing views, but not one North Korea lover. Not a single one.) We then marched back to Pyeongtaek train station mostly under police guard.
- I understand from others that the people who attacked us were also wielding sharpened PVC pipes and were screaming that they were going to stab/impale us on them. I did not however see this myself. I also understand that several police intelligence officers were seen chatting friendly-like with some of the attackers. Again, this I did not see with my own eyes, I had my head down as I was getting pelted with rocks and eggs. -
At the station, we prepared to go to various area lodging facilities when we received word that the bus of Daechuri residents (mind, these people are in their eighties) had been stopped outside the village on it's way back from the candlelight vigil and was not going to be allowed into the village because there were three college students on board. The students were staying in the village for three days and had left their bags and whatnot inside the village. They'd only planned on attending the vigil and returning to the village. The residents refused to separate from the students and all of them had camped out in front of the police line for the night. (Now that's some hard-core grandparents!)
The group decided to sit in solidarity with them outside the gate of the main Pyeongtaek police station. As it turned out the station was unguarded and the front gate was unlocked. Someone had to use the pay phone and there was some kind of misunderstanding about protestors being inside where they shouldn't have been. Things settled down for about 30 seconds and then the riot police busses - I counted 7 - rolled in. I understand that 45 people of about 80 or 90 were arrested. Several have been released but at least 3 are going to be held in detention and tried - accused of "leadership". (Preposterous! There was no leadership. Not one leader in that whole group of people. Just a group of people who agreed together that they wanted to let the government - in this case the police - know that not letting the 3 college students into the village was silly and they should stop being unreasonable. Leaders! Bah! What a load of crap!) A number of people were injured during the arrests and it is alleged (I was down the street at the time) that the police basically came suddenly into the crowd, batons blazing and just arrested everyone they could catch.
As the crowd scattered, they could hear the police yelling "get those fuckers!" Everyone has a hair-raising story of how they narrowly escaped capture - some were harbored by kindly neighborhood residents, I hear, but those stories are not mine to tell...
My story resumes the next day at 1pm at Pyeongtaek train station when we began to gather for the (second) march to Daechuri. The march was peaceful and uneventful. At the intersection that the police had designated as our end-point, outside the village, we held a rally, listened to speakers, and danced. Then all peacefully returned home, tired, and worried about our friends who had been arrested, but overall, in good spirits.