Sunday, March 1, 2009

Security Without Empire: Part I of a Brief Sojourn in the US Capitol

I came to DC to meet a woman named Lisa Natividad. She teaches social work at the University of Guam, and is one of the key people right now working for Chamorro self-determination. 

I met up with her at American University, where AFSC and the Institute for Policy Studies has put on a conference called Security Without Empire. The conference is intended to coordinate the efforts of various groups that are trying to reduce (or eliminate) the number of US overseas military bases. There are delegates here from as far away as Hawaii and Okinawa, Puerto Rico and the Middle East, representing people from all corners of the globe. They share a common vision of peace, and of freedom from US military presence in their lands.

Lisa turns out to be lovely, articulate, and smart. It was worth the trip just to meet her. After some less-than-ideal scheduling snafus, we managed to screen the film twice, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Several people (Lisa included) were even moved to tears. (Definitely an odd feeling, as a filmmaker: satisfaction in making people cry.) The delegation from Okinawa descended on me afterwards to ask how they could bring the film to Okinawa this summer. I’ve also met a lot of people interested in showing the film to their various constituencies – from Puerto Rico to New Orleans to Honolulu – and made contacts that I hope will help with the film’s outreach once it’s done.

At the end of the conference, American University host professor David Vine led us all to a closing ceremony at the far edge of the AU campus, at a small clearing next to an ugly construction site. I was beginning to question his sense of spatial aesthetics (why were we having a closing ceremony between a construction site and the bus depot?) when he began explaining that the clearing was actually a toxic military clean-up site. 

Evidently, AU stored chemical weapons for the US military back in World War I – and during the mid-90s, construction crews unearthed unexploded chemical ordnance. A clean-up was conducted – but ten years later, more unexploded ordnance were again discovered. The site next to us was the latest effort at removing the toxins, left there almost 100 years before.

The ceremony ended with Lisa pouring a bowl filled with water brought by participants from the many different oceans of the world, at the base of a tree in the clearing. We all placed roses on the tree, and a Kanaka Maoli delegate from Hawaii said a Hawaiian prayer for peace. I felt badly for the tiny bulb shoots around the tree that the group was inadvertently trampling underfoot (you had to be a gardener from northern climes, I guess, to recognize the tiny budding life in the wintry landscape), but the ceremony did leave us all with a sense of peace and common purpose.

And now – time to visit the Department of the Interior, and to see some of the city.

No comments: