July 16, 2008
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.
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 email@example.com, or call 81-06-6374-2233.
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