The seventh exchange between Berkeley and Japanese progressives culminated earlier this month in an invitation for Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates to attend a mayoral conference in Hiroshima.
“We want Mayors representing a billion people to issue a Peace Declaration,” said Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, in extending an invitation to Bates.
When a resolution asking the U.S. to stop the bombing of Afghanistan was adopted the Wall Street Journal labeled the Berkeley City Council “headless idiots.” But Japanese citizens opposing their national governments’ support for U.S. military operations saw it as a new tactic to enforce Japan’s constitutional provision that renounces war and states that no land, sea, air forces or war potential may be maintained.
They invited Berkeley City Council member Dona Spring, who sponsored the resolution, to Japan. Unable to accept the invitation she sent two Berkeley Commissioners. Following that visit a Japanese delegation came to study and make a video about Berkeley’s system of citizen participation. Already some Japanese cities have started permitting public comment and rescheduled City Council meetings for evening session.
For the last two years members of the Peace and Justice Commission have nurtured the citizen diplomacy, sending Commissioners to Japan and helping schedule events for visiting Japanese delegations. These visits cost Berkeley taxpayers nothing, as the Japanese have paid expenses for visiting Commissioners and have contributed to Berkeley’s economy by paying their own expenses during visits to Berkeley. At a time when creating peace solidarity is so important, the Peace and Justice Commission has managed to fulfill its mandate to promote foreign educational and cultural exchange at no cost to tax payers.
This seventh exchange began with an invitation for Berkeley to send a representative to attend the 33rd National Assembly for Peace and Democracy. About 70 people attended a workshop on creating “Undefended Localities” laws based on the Geneva Convention, and heard about how provisions of Berkeley’s Nuclear Free Zone law could be used to campaign against nuclear weapons.
About 600 people attended the Assembly, which pledged to involve Japanese activists in a series of international actions beginning with the Aug. 15 anti-war Festival in Seoul, South Korea. September will bring national actions across Japan opposing the Iraqi occupation and demanding a halt to environmentally damaging seabed boring for construction of a new U.S. military base. In Mexico anti-globalization protests will target a World Trade Organization conference, and in Manila, Philippine activists will hold an International Criminal Tribunal to gather information on Bush’s war crimes against Afghan civilians.
October will see the another Japanese exchange visit to Berkeley, an international protest targeting the Pentagon, a conference in Cairo, the creation in Tokyo of an International Criminal Tribunal to investigate war crimes against Iraqi civilians, and the setting up of an international occupation watch center in Iraq. In November people will seek to convince the International Union for Conservation of Nature to protect habitat for the endangered Dugong, and December will bring the International Criminal Tribunal on Afghanistan to Tokyo.
Following the conference, we made stops in Kyoto, where Amnesty International arranged a dinner with environmentalist and peace activists, and then Osaka, where a dozen activists working on a campaign to declare the City an Undefended Locality, a protocol of the Geneva Convention, watched the video on Berkeley and asked questions about the strengths and weaknesses of using Berkeley’s Nuclear Free law to campaign against nuclear weapons.
The final stop was Hiroshima, where there were workshops on the war on Iraq, the use of depleted uranium, a moving display of pictures painted by survivors of the atomic bombing, a brief address to other international guest, and the presentation of a letter from Mayor Bates to Mayor Akiba of Hiroshima advising him of the Berkeley City Council’s endorsement of the second annual Peace Lantern ceremony. Mayor Akiba then requested an invitation be delivered inviting Mayor Bates to attend a Japanese-American Mayor’s conference. Before leaving Hiroshima I was able to witness the annual Paper Lantern Ceremony in which the park and the river are filled with candle-lit paper lanterns bearing messages of peace.
Upon returning to Berkeley the invitation was delivered to Mayor Bates and I had the opportunity to see the cultural exchange continue by participating in a Peace Lantern Ceremony organized by Peace and Justice Commissioner Steve Freedkin. This fall the Peace and Justice Commission will consider further proposals to nurture citizen diplomacy, as Commissioners arrange scheduling for a Japanese delegation coming to Berkeley this October.
Elliot Cohen is a member of Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission.