As we begin to take stock of the political moment in the United States and strategize ways to build a movement strong enough to resist the policies of the Trump administration and confident enough to project a new social vision, it is important to learn from the efforts of people in other countries facing similar challenges. South Korea for example.
Park Geun-hye, the current president of South Korea, took office in February 2013. The daughter of Park Chung-Hee, the brutal military dictator who ruled the country from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, Park Geun-hye presented herself as a “soft” conservative during the presidential campaign. But once elected she moved quickly and decisively, with the support of the country’s security forces, to expand the neoliberal and anti-democratic policies of her conservative predecessor and crush any opposition.
The consequences of her rule have been devastating for the great majority of Koreans. Some highlights: her deregulation of health and safety standards led directly to the sinking of a ferry carrying over 400 students; more than 300 of whom drowned. Her labor initiatives include laws to increase the precariousness of work and difficulty of unionization, and lower the wages of regular workers. Her education policies require that public school teachers use only state written history books. Her militarist policies include the construction of a new naval base for US warships on Jeju island, over the objections of the residents; an intensification of war games directed against North Korea; the closure of the Kaesong industrial zone; and the welcoming of a US THAAD anti-missile battery aimed at China and Russia on South Korean soil. And she has advanced her policies by outlawing demonstrations, arresting hundreds of union leaders, and dissolving a political party.
Korean social movements, led by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, have responded to this rightward movement with ever larger demonstrations, despite the jailing of many labor leaders. Now, the balance of forces appears to be decisively shifting against the government. The reason: new revelations point to the fact that many of Park’s policies were made either in consultation with or in response to the dictates of an unelected confidant, the daughter of a now deceased cult leader.
As the website Zoom in Korea explains:
Since late October, when news broke of the government corruption scandal involving South Korean president Park Geun-hye, South Korean citizens have demanded the removal of Park and her administration from office. Last week on November 5, close to 200,000 people took to the streets of Seoul to demand her resignation. A diverse range of people from different social enclaves of South Korean society joined together to send a common message to their government – “Park Geun-hye, step down.”
Throughout the streets of Seoul, one could see recently politicized high school students marching side by side with elderly folks who had experienced past revolutionary moments in South Korean history.
Here is a short clip which shows what it looks like when 200,000 people crowd the streets of Seoul to demand change.
For more on the growing movement in South Korea, its demands and its challenges, read the rest of the Zoom in Korea article here.
We are not alone in facing powerful dictatorial rightwing political forces. As we develop our own response here in the United States we need to keep solidarity in mind, which means both supporting and learning from struggles elsewhere.
November 12 update
Zoom in Korea reports:
1 Million in Historic Protest to Oust Park Geun-hye
As of 8:30 pm (Seoul time) on Saturday, November 12, 2016–
South Korean media report 1 million gathered at Gwanghwamun Plaza to demand Park Geun-hye’s resignation. This is the largest protest South Korea has seen since the democratic uprising of June 1987. People from across the country, including conservative strongholds Busan and Daegu have traveled to Seoul to join the protest. Youth in school uniforms and mothers with children are among the protest.
Protesters on the way to the Blue House are blocked by a barricade of police buses near Gyeongbok Palace. The police have also blocked off entrances to subway stations between the police barricade and the presidential residence. Protesters are intent on reaching the Blue House but so far remain peaceful.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon refused to supply water from the city’s fire hydrants to the police, which had threatened to use water cannons to block protesters. Referring to the death of farmer Baek Nam-gi, hit by a high-pressure water cannon at a mass demonstration in November 2015, Mayor Park said in a radio interview, “No more.” He added, “Water from fire hydrants is intended for putting out fires, not peaceful protests.” A reporter outside the Blue House says protesters can be heard from the Blue House, which has been in a state of emergency since Saturday morning but has not issued an official response to the calls for the president’s resignation.
The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions has vowed a general strike if Park Geun-hye refuses to resign.