Monday, May 24, 2010

We Are With You Kyoto: Personal Statement from a Postmodern Independent (Arigato gozaimasu!)

It's been quite a couple of weeks for personal statements on The Hankster. Last night was Utah League of Independents'  Randy Miller's BBQ, NYC Independence Party's Bryan Puertas has a few things to say about why he's an independent, and independent attorney Harry Kresky started a blog.

So, I want to dive in too!

I just got home from the 12th annual Otto Awards and I have to say, this event blew me away! I am a child of the sixties. I grew up in the 1950's under segregation in the South (Arkansas to be exact) in a (fairly proud and unrepentant) southern Kennedy Democrat family. I'm a slightly more recent (1983) but long time builder and supporter of the All Stars Project, and I think the Castillo Theatre, Diane Stiles, Dan Friedman, and Fred Newman are the cat's meow. Yes yes yes, I think radical cultural and intellectual work by smart independent people is important for the continued existence of the species... AND I think this Sunday's event was a real knock-out no matter where you come from or where you're at or where you're going!

In particular I was very very moved by the Black Tent Theatre, which I just learned today, started in 1968 in Tokyo Japan.

As it happens, I lived on a US Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo Japan in 1969/70 -- Fujisan in sight. My stepfather, a guy from a poor working-class family in North Carolina, who met and married my mother around 1964/65, was in the US Air Force. We (one of my many weird transitional "we" units) ended up -- after my stepfather's one year tour of duty in Vietnam, and the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis -- at Yakota Air Base, Japan, a short 30 minute train ride to Shinjuku in Tokyo, Japan.

As I shared with Makiko Ota of Black Tent Theatre today, one piece of political theater that I will never forget, and that had a big impact on me at that time, was a huge Japanese student demonstration (and there were many) that surrounded Tachikawa Air Base.

I was 15 or 16 at the time.As it turns out, Johnson High School (a former so-called Kami Kazi training school during WWII) was now a Department of Defense radical outpost for anti-war protest and educational innovation. My schoolmate and friend Dan Brown was showing up to school in a white lab coat with the word "MORATORIUM"  painted in large black letters. Another classmate and friend Ray Castro ran the student bookstore that included revolutionary works by Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung.

During that year we were often warned not to go off base, or not to travel to Tokyo because of the massive student demonstrations. Japanese police do not carry fire arms because of US requirements after WWII, but they wore and still wear very scary armor-like gear. In the demonstration that I witnessed, the Japanese student protesters wore similar gear. The Japanese students of the sixties were very militant and there were many communist and other sectarian left groupings. As an American "dependent" of US military service personnel, raised as a Southern liberal with a hatred of racial prejudice and injustice, I was very sympathetic and perhaps somewhat of a young optimistic operative.

My friend Beth and I often made the trip to Ueno Park. Invariably high school students wanting to practice English would ask us what our position was on US involvement in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was as offensive to our Japanese contemporaries as it was to us, and we proudly and invariably represented ourselves as emissaries of the American people with a simple statement: We oppose the war in Vietnam. Yes, we are opposed. We all smiled together and took pictures, no doubt as proud of our connection through language as we were of the however faint recognition of our historical moment.

My friend Debbie and I played Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band's anti-war statement "Don't Worry Kyoto" on the juke box in the BX (Base Exchange, not Bronx!) Cafeteria at Tachikawa over and over and over just to irritate people (Fond memories!! This would have been early 1970. The B-side of this record, produced by John Lennon was "Cold Turkey".)

I'm just now re-discovering this history myself.

Black Tent -- Thanks for being there - and everywhere! Nice to see you here now!

Arigato gozaimasu!!
-NH

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