Marina Sitrin, David Solnit, Asha Colazione, Sarah Lazare: G8 Dispatches: Organizing for Justice - Inside the Anti-G8

Perhaps some of the most important organizing will come as movements seize opportunities that arise in the wake of this mobilization.

July 16
(See below for previous dispatches.)

The G8 delegates may have boarded their planes and flown home, another year’s summit having come to a close. But for many, this is just the beginning. Three anti-G8 organizers spent almost two weeks in jail facing the possibility of years-long sentences, mounting legal fees, and families left to deal with the consequences. Another 23 people were detained as a part of government repression of an Osaka-based homeless and precarious workers’ rights group that has been focusing on anti-G8 organizing. Solidarity actions are taking place around the world. Perhaps some of the most important organizing happens now when we, as a movement, seize opportunities that arise in the wake of this mobilization to build sustainable international movements for justice. It’s not yet time to turn the spotlight away from Japan. There is work to be done, and international support is needed.

Pic: Sapporo 080705

The Kamagasaki Patrol

Ten years ago, a homeless man in Osaka, Japan, was collecting recycling by the river when he was assaulted and thrown in the water, where he drowned. The homeless community was outraged and called meetings to decide what could be done to ensure the safety of their community. They decided to address the issue collectively and autonomously, since the police were not supporting them. This was the beginning of the Kamagasaki Patrol.

Since that incident, the Kamagasaki Patrol, composed primarily of precarious workers – day laborers and others with low-wage temporary employment – and homeless community members themselves, has patrolled the encampments and neighborhood in five to seven hour shifts each day.

“The policy is squatters and the homeless organizing themselves,” said Koske Nakagiri, homeless rights activist and Kamagasaki Patrol member. “This is about autonomy and self-governance.” Nakagiri, 32, lived in the Ogimachi encampment for six years before moving into his own apartment several months ago, and remains very active in the community.

In 2006, ten parks were evicted by the city, according to local activist Hex, 26, who has been active in squatters’ rights issues for several years. “The important thing is that we are not here to sympathize with their plight, but to be in solidarity with them. The people here want a decent life in the middle of the metropolis. They are refusing to pay rent, refusing to give up their autonomy, refusing to be corralled into night shelters and workers’ hotels, where they have no space or privacy, early curfews, they have to line up every afternoon to get an admission ticket for the night, and get woken up at 4:30 every morning. Those places look like refugee camps inside. At the parks they have some stability despite the systematic irregularities in the labor market. They don’t have to worry about being kicked out if they can’t get work, and they have a community behind them. They can plant a garden. I’ve learned so much from their strength.”

It has been a difficult few weeks in Osaka for the Kamagasaki Patrol. They had been focused in three main areas of work: 1) patrolling the neighborhoods for safety and coordinating weekly communal meals; 2) organizing with the precarious workers’ unions for workers’ rights, and helping community members find jobs; and 3) supporting the anti-G8 organizing. But several weeks ago their efforts were derailed.

It started on July 12 – the afternoon before the G8 Finance Ministers and IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn would meet over a lavish dinner on the other side of the city – with the simple act of a homeless man trying to buy a pancake. With the disrespect that is too often directed toward the homeless, the saleswoman ignored him and helped other customers first. He left his money for her and went away, figuring she would have his pancake ready when he returned. But she took the money and continued to ignore him when he returned, and he got angry. She responded by calling the police, who arrested the man and beat him viciously in jail, going so far as to hang him upside down and punch him in the face and stomach. When he emerged from jail with rope burns and bruises, the homeless community rose up to fight.

Although tensions rise to the surface in clashes with the police every few years, the riots last month were the most violent in this area in sixteen years, according to Nakagiri. Outraged community members faced off in front of the police station with stones and fists against police batons, water cannons, and riot shields. No one was arrested at the time, but police monitored homeless rights activists and organizers before and during the riots, and used the event as reason to arrest 23 people in the following weeks. Japanese police are known for targeting people involved in political organizing, and many of those detained were held on frivolous charges such as failure to register a change of address, jaywalking, and “fraud” – registering a cell phone for a homeless friend who couldn’t register his own due to his lack of address. Thirteen are still being held.

Local activists contend that this wave of arrests was timed to squash dissent against the G8. The Kamagasaki Patrol had been planning to send delegations to the G8 protests as well as hold local solidarity demonstrations in Osaka. Instead, they were forced to spend much of their time supporting their friends in jail and trying to avoid further arrests.

So while the world’s media watched the G8 leaders’ photo opportunities and the anti-G8 protests in Hokkaido, Japan, some of the strongest G8 resistance – and repression – took place largely unseen, hundreds of kilometers to the south in the streets of Kamagasaki, Osaka, led by homeless, day laborers, and local youth – those most impacted by G8 policies.

As Kamagasaki community members resisted water cannons and shield-wielding riot police, the G8 Finance Ministers issued their Communiqué to the world from Osaka, strongly pushing to further the policies of corporate “free” trade, speculative capitalism, and neo-liberalism that are largely responsible for the poverty and homelessness of those in Kamagasaki and around the world.

Their Communiqué read in part:

“We, the Finance Ministers of the G8 countries, met today in Osaka, Japan, in preparation for the Summit of the G8 Heads of State and Government in Hokkaido-Tokyo. For a long time the world economy enjoyed a combination of robust growth and low inflation, but it now faces headwinds. We affirm our commitment to an open investment policy… We will resist protectionist sentiment at home and abroad. We also highlight the urgent need for a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round.”

The “Doha Round” was forced through by rich countries at the WTO Ministerial in 2001 in the wake of the collapse of the WTO meetings in Seattle in 1999, but has been stalled by impasse between the wealthier and the majority poorer countries, thanks in part to the influence of global movements. The rich countries and corporations, using the food riots and hunger crisis as the excuse, are now trying to revive the Doha Round, which would bolster corporate rights and profits while overriding social safety nets, environmental regulations, and the ability of national governments to protect people’s needs.

The cuts in social services and availability of resources that typically ensue from such policies are felt most strongly in poor communities such as Kamagasaki. Mr. Yoshitaka Mashima of Via Campesina, the global organization of small farmers, farm workers and peasants, said, “The G8 leaders pretend to solve the food crisis with more free trade while it is the liberalization of agriculture and food markets that continue to lead us to the current crisis.”

The work of Kamagasaki patrol and other groups such as the Toyuru Kitchen Collective from Tokyo make the connection between the G8, the policies it pushes onto the world, and their actual local impacts. One activist put it simply: “G8 policies make people poorer.”

Visiting the Camps

We wanted to better understand the day-to-day life of people living in the homeless camps as well as the work of the Kamagasaki Patrol, so in the blistering heat of July in Osaka, we had the honor of visiting the Ogimachi and Nishinari camps and interviewing several members of the Kamagasaki Patrol, with the help of a translator. We were struck by the well-built shelters and organization of the camps. Under towering shade trees, sturdy rooms were constructed of wood from the hardware store, lined with blue plastic tarps and occasionally decorated with wind chimes, stuffed animals, or other adornments. A common area in the Ogimachi camp held cooking utensils, a clock, couch, bulletin board, and storage room. Building materials had been purchased with the proceeds from collecting recycling.

Question: What has it been like for you here since the arrests?

Kamagasaki Patrol: Now we have to be careful about more police arrests. We have to hide documents like pictures, names, and records of activities. Sometimes police come to our office to take flyers and documents, so we have to hide those too. We had been planning to send more people to the G8 protests and to hold solidarity demonstrations here in Osaka, but now we are forced to spend much time supporting the people in jail.

Question: Now we understand why nobody wants to have their faces in photos. Can you tell us about more about the practicalities of day-to-day life?

Kamagasaki Patrol: Squatters organize themselves to make food. We believe in autonomy and self-governance. Once a week our encampment has communal meals with twenty to thirty people. We collect cans for money and from the money we buy ingredients for food and things we need for the camp. Two times a month we have a food project day, when we prepare food for other homeless camps and we all come together. This is not just charity. This is empowerment.

Question: What is your decision-making structure?

Kamagasaki Patrol: We have groups: Patrol groups, feeding groups. We have meetings to make decisions. We have meetings two times per month, first and third Sundays, to have discussions about problems, new homeless people arriving, etc.

Question: Does everyone contribute what they can?

Kamagasaki Patrol: Well, no. I hope that each participant can talk freely, but working together is not always easy.

Question: How do you deal with conflict?

Kamagasaki Patrol: It depends on the case. There are sometimes clashes between people who have tents and people who don’t have tents. There are some who only have baggage, cardboard and a blanket. There are sort-of two classes. On certain days, people who have a tent serve to people who don’t. On other days, the people who don’t have tents prepare food for those who do.

Question: What can people internationally do to support those in jail?

Kamagasaki Patrol: Tell the truth. Give the facts about how we are living and what we are thinking. Please tell people in your country what is going on here.

What you can do

International pressure can help prevent more people being arrested and support those already detained. Please call, fax, and visit your local Japanese Consulate or Embassy. Ask to meet with or speak to the Consul General. Make a formal request that they report your human rights complaint with officials in Japan. Consulates are supposed to report all complaints regarding human rights to their home country offices when it is requested formally. To send donations or for information on how you can support those from the Kamagasaki Patrol who were detained, please email kamapat@infoseek.jp, or call 81-06-6374-2233.

July 9

The series of demonstrations against the G8 meetings in Lake Toya, Japan, continued this week with lively marches in Sapporo and Toyora. Thousands more showed their opposition to G8 policies by attending a nine-day Counter-Forum, networking and sharing experiences and ideas of how we might build a better world.

Organizers registered the Sapporo demonstration as a “March for Peace,” afraid that a “March Against the G8” would not be granted permits. It was a colorful demonstration, with a wide variety of groups and nationalities proceeding through the streets carrying signs, banners, and giant puppets. Many participants wore costumes or brought their own instruments to play as they marched.

The procession was led by a sound truck playing music for the crowd, immediately followed by the beautifully attired Kimono bloc. In another Japanese tradition, a group carried a bamboo tree decorated with words on black paper strips indicating what people wish for in the coming year.

Behind the Kimono block, ominous puppets with heads of G8 leaders and bodies of skeletons donned yellow and red labels such as hunger, global warming, poverty or privatization of resources. Swooping after them, a flock of shimmering yellow birds made of painted cardboard and satin-like fabric carried signs indicating what they’d like to see instead of the G8 – “democracy,” “healthy environment,” “peace.”

A clown in a green wig and pink boa approached the lines of riot police with a rainbow-colored duster and proceeded to dust off their shields. A few more members of the Clown Army loomed behind, sporting red noses and army camouflage, waving their rainbow dusters in the air. A roving band of drummers kept up a lively beat behind them.

Police divided the march into three segments, each surrounded on all sides by two rows of police in riot gear. A group of demonstrators led by radical workers’ movements, anarchist activists, and black bloc rebelled against the strict control of the demonstration by moving out beyond the one lane of traffic they were allocated in order to spread across the entire road.

At one point in the march, police surrounded the sound truck, smashing the side window and forcibly arresting its driver and DJ, as well as a Reuters journalist standing nearby.

“I saw the police smashing one of the windows of the sound truck,” said John Owens, a UK activist. “They pulled the driver out violently, even though he didn’t do anything.”

Photojournalist Brandan Jourdan, 29, who filmed the arrests, added, “They pulled the driver out in a headlock, but his foot got caught in the steering wheel. He was obviously in pain, but they didn’t stop pulling.” The owner of the sound truck, accompanied by a Japanese lawyer and a member of the National Lawyers Guild were able to see the truck in police custody yesterday where they found numerous areas of dried blood on the steering wheel and dash board.

The arrests were consistent with police repression tactics of targeting organizers. The arrestees are still in custody, and may be held for twenty-three days without formal charges. Once charged, they may face years-long prison sentences. Other organizers who were victims of preliminary arrests are still being held on charges as trivial as failing to register a change of address. It is common practice for police to arrest and jail Japanese organizers for anything that happens during a march they organized, even if the organizer was not present at the time of the incident, according to the Japanese legal team supporting the demonstrations. This creates a stifling atmosphere of collective punishment; even the slightest act of civil disobedience on the part of any protester could land local organizers in jail.

Demonstrations Move to Lake Toya

In keeping with its tradition of meeting as far away from public access as possible, the G8 is opening its 2008 Summit in the isolated mountains of northern Hokkaido. But not even the long journeys and heavy rain have deterred global justice activists, who set up three camps yesterday afternoon in the forested mountains thirty kilometers from the Forum, the closest camping areas to which they were allowed access.

Forty Japanese activists participated in a ten-kilometer permitted walk early this morning as an expression of their opposition to the G8. At midday, another group attempted an unpermitted two-kilometer march to the train station, but were turned away by police before reaching their destination.

“It says something about the police repression when we’re not even allowed to walk to the train station with ‘No G8’ signs,” one participant commented.

Police repression did not stop activists from brewing the coming day’s plans. Back at camp, activists spent the rest of they day painting multi-lingual banners, preparing food, and making art for tomorrow’s actions, knowing that as significant as the protest is the globalization from below – creating relationships, building networks, and linking organizations and movements, like a spider web with Japan momentarily at its center.


July 7

Note: This post is from No! G8 Legal Team.

Activists and organizers are asking local groups and individuals to call, e-mail, visit and protest at Japanese embassies over the unjust arrests, detentions, deportations, and repression occurring around counter-G8 mobilization in Japan.

Japanese police continue to escalate repression against protesters of the Group of 8 Summit. This is part of a growing trend of the suppression of human rights in Japan. Yesterday’s demonstration of approximately five thousand was lined with, and sometimes boxed in by, several thousand police in full riot gear. At least four people – including a Reuters reporter – were arrested. In one arrest, the police shattered the window of a sound truck and dragged out the driver. Hours after the demonstration ended the legal team had already received numerous reports of police misconduct.

This latest action comes after weeks of repressive activity on behalf of the police and government. Activists throughout Japan have been arrested at demonstrations and in their homes, often on “technical” charges, such as not registering a change of address. Overt surveillance of activists, academics and reporters has been taking place for months, and with some local activists for years. International conference participants and protesters have been interrogated for hours at the border and many have been denied entry into the country without warrant. The legal team sees this as a violation of people’s right to freely exchange ideas.

“What we have witnessed in the streets of Sapporo is part of an ongoing and escalating campaign to suppress the movement for real democracy in Japan,” said Marina Sitrin, professor and member of the National Lawyers Guild, a US based human rights organization that is a part of the No! G8 Legal Team.

“We were surprised by the excessive force used by police in today’s demonstration,” said Ko Watari, of WATCH, a Japanese legal network created to document police and government misconduct during the anti G8 protests. “This was a non-violent demonstration where no acts against property or people took place, or even appeared likely to take place.” The arrested Reuter’s cameraman was standing on a public sidewalk when seized by plainclothes police; his video camera was confiscated and has not been returned. The arrest of the sound truck driver followed immediately thereafter. Footage of the driver’s arrest shows him screaming in pain as the police pulled him out of the truck, his foot stuck in the steering wheel.

Protesters are organizing various events in the upcoming days of the G8 Summit, between the 7th and 9th of July. The No! G8 Legal Team will be paying close attention to the behavior of the police and government. “Labor and peace movement leaders are concerned that the police will arrest them for organizing these protests, search their homes and interrogate their family members,” said Dan Spalding, Legal Worker Vice President of the National Lawyers Guild.

Japanese law permits police to hold and interrogate suspects in the police station for 23 days without formal charges. They can interrogate suspects for up to 12 hours at a time. While detained arrestees can be forced to sit on their knees the entire time they are awake, not being able to move, even to use the bathroom without asking permission. This permission is not always granted.

“We take all arrests very seriously, and the specifics of the procedure, such as the 23 day detainment in the police station, the absence of lawyers to oversee the conditions of process, the physical violence involved in the interrogations, not being allowed medication, the fear of putting friends, family, and affiliations at risk are only a part of the damage. Its also about the anger and sense of shame which stays and creates more damage. It’s the humiliation of not being able to take care of your own.” Commented Gen, a participant in the counter G8 protests.

He continued: “I am personally grateful for the presence of activists from throughout the world. The spirit and experiences, levels of militancy they bring, for just being here in solidarity. Overall it has been a very energizing experience, and we are in high spirits. I am grateful for your continued presence and support. It is what authorities have tried to prevent through repressive measures. International solidarity and pressure at this moment will bring us to another level.”