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Peace commission member leaves for 11-day mission to Japan

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Thursday March 14, 2002

Steve Freedkin, a member of the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, leaves for an 11-day trip to Japan today in the latest exchange of Berkeley and Japanese activists. 

Freedkin, who hopes to help build an international “city-to-city network of peace and justice activists,” will speak at a peace conference in Osaka, meet with the mayor of Hiroshima and visit with “hibukasha,” survivors of America’s atomic bombing there at the end of World War II.  

Freedkin’s visit will mark the second time in a month that Berkeley peace activists have traveled to Japan. In February, Leuren Moret of the Community Environmental Advisory Commission and Robert Rose of the Peace and Justice Commission spoke at a peace conference in Tokyo and met with Japanese activists. 

Japanese politicians and activists have made three trips to Berkeley since November, and will arrive for a fourth visit later this month. 

Japanese activists initiated the exchange after Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, voted against the use of military force in Afghanistan in September, and the Berkeley City Council approved a resolution calling for a speedy end to U.S. bombing in October. 

“It’s been a very beautiful exchange,” said Councilmember Dona Spring, a key force behind the council’s October resolution. “We’re on two opposite ends of the world, but there is a strong alliance.” 

Freedkin, sponsored by a grassroots the Japanese peace group Linking Peace and Life, said he will discuss U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and Berkeley’s system of citizen commissions.  

Freedkin said Japanese activists are interested in the commission system because they want to learn more about how Berkeley politicians solicit public input before making decisions. 

“They really seem to view Berkeley as a model to be emulated, in many respects, and I can’t blame them,” he said. 

Freedkin said he also plans to collaborate with Japanese activists on a series of issues, including the proposed construction of a U.S. military installation in the Henoko section of Japan’s Okinawa island. 

In 1996, the United States, which houses thousands of troops on Okinawa, agreed to return the Futenma air base to Japan if the government provided an alternative location on the island. In 1999, local authorities settled on the Henoko site, but Japanese activists have raised a number of concerns, including the potential effect on a large sea mammal called the dugong. Freedkin said the dugong is considered a symbol of peace. 

Freedkin added that he will join Japanese activists to coordinate protests of the Hoya Corporation, a Japanese company with offices in Fremont that sells glass to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility.  

The facility is developing a 192-beam laser that will simulate nuclear weapons tests, according to Lab spokesperson Lynda Seaver. 

Julie Storms, spokesperson for Hoya Corporation, had no comment on Freedkin’s concerns. 

Steve Vogel, associate professor of political science at UC Berkeley said Freedkin’s trip comes at a critical moment for the Japanese peace movement. 

“I think it’s been going through a bit of a identity crisis the last five or 10 years,” Vogel said, arguing that the end of the Cold War has deprived a movement, which once focused on keeping Japan out of the U.S.-Russian struggle, of a central reason for existence. 

However, Vogel added, the peace and war debate has escalated in recent months as Japan has debated its proper role in the “war on terrorism.” Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, put in place after World War II, forbids the nation from participating in military conflict. But the government has provided transport, medical and other support services to the United States in its Afghan campaign.  

A week after Freedkin arrives in Japan, a delegation of 20 to 30 union activists, students and politicians, including two members of the Japanese Diet – the equivalent of the U.S. Congress – will arrive in Berkeley and participate in a March 23 peace conference in City Council chambers. 

During their visit, the Japanese activists will join with Berkeleyans in planning a larger, international peace conference, either in Berkeley or Japan. The conference should take place in the fall, according to Spring. 

Freedkin will return March 25, the day the Japanese delegation leaves. The two parties have arranged to meet at San Francisco International Airport.