John Ota, Staff writer
Bills are currently in Congress which would provide for payments to individuals and take other steps towards compensating the 120,000 Nikkei (Japanese Americans) who were thrown into concentration camps in the U.S. during World War II. This fact represents a major achievement for the Nikkei redress movement.
The Congressional sponsors and redress activists expect little action on these bills this year, except for possible hearings in March or April. However, it would be wrong to conclude from this that 1984 will be a lull period for the redress movement. The elections this year may make 1984 a decisive year for the redress movement. The elections are shaping up as a major battle between progressive and conservative reactionary forces, and redress forces must not stand on the sidelines.
Although Reagan has made little or no comment on the issue of redress, only the most naive would believe that he would be inclined to support redress. There is the possibility that he might be pressured into supporting it, the way he was forced to sign the bill making Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. But Reagan’s entire philosophy stands opposed to redress, as seen by his firing of Arthur Flemming as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Flemming was one of the more sympathetic members of the commission that held hearings on the camps.
Furthermore, as some redress forces have pointed out, there is a real chance of removing the Senate from the control of the Republicans. Republican reactionaries such as Strom Thurmond, who chair key committees in the Senate, are big stumbling blocks to any redress legislation.
It is critical to defeat not just Reagan, but also Reaganism, the accelerated drive to the right that Reagan has come to embody. All progressive social forces — civil rights, women’s, labor, nuclear freeze, anti-interventionist, environmental and other groups — are lining up for a showdown with Reagan and what he symbolizes. Most of these groups are either present or potential allies of the redress movement. If Reagan is elected after all these forces’ best efforts to defeat him, it will be interpreted as a triumph for the right. As a final term President with no re-election to worry about, we will have not just four more years of Reagan, but four far worse years.
If Reagan tried to give tax breaks to segregated schools, tried to fire most of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, busted the PATCO union and fired all striking air controllers, and invaded Grenada, what can we expect of him if he gets re-elected?
One of the aims of the redress movement has been to ensure that what happened to Nikkei in 1942 never happens again to any group. But in the last years of Carter’s presidency and since Reagan’s election in 1980, we have witnessed the growth of conditions alarmingly similar to 1941 and 1942: calls to incarcerate all Iranians in the U.S., the actual roundup and detention of Haitian immigrants in concentration camps without due process, and growing anti-Japanese and anti-Asian racism and violence.
Obviously, Reagan is not solely to blame for all this, but he has been at the forefront in creating an increasingly racist and tense climate.Right-wing extremists would be greatly encouraged by Reagan’s re-election and would most likely step up their activities even further. This includes groups that have constituted the staunchest opposition to redress, like Lillian Baker (who disrupted the hearings on the camps in 1981) and the John Birch Society, which has actively distributed anti-redress literature.
The defeat of Reagan and Reaganism would not only remove huge obstacles to redress, but, in addition, the process of defeating Reagan can strengthen the redress movement in a significant way. If redress forces work with other forces to build a mass movement against Reagan, this can help the redress movement to strengthen and raise the political level of its base. It can also help to build close working relationships with forces of many different nationalities and sectors that may be key allies when redress legislation comes up for a vote in Congress.
Especially important is building greater unity between Nikkei and other oppressed nationalities — Blacks, Chicanos, Latinos, other Asians and Native Americans — who themselves have histories of racist injustice in the U.S.
As far as presidential candidates go, I support Jesse Jackson. I believe Jackson, as a Black candidate, would give higher priority to issues of racial justice, like redress. (Officials in Jackson’s campaign have stated that he supports redress.) Black people know what it’s like to suffer racism and national oppression, and some have themselves raised just demands for reparations for the centuries of slavery and oppression they have endured. I also think that as Japanese, or Asians, we should see that so long as 30 million Black people are denied democratic rights in America, the Asian minorities don’t have a chance for equality.
In addition, Jackson’s campaign approach, which emphasizes more of a grassroots orientation, is like a breath of fresh air compared to other candidates’. Furthermore, Jackson’s call for a “rainbow coalition” sets a tone in which Nikkei and other Asians can feel like they can participate in the campaign as welcome equals. All in all, Jackson is no revolutionary, but I think his overall liberal stands are the best of the serious candidates.
On the other hand, I realize that the redress movement is broad and includes supporters of other candidates, mainly Mondale and Cranston, who have also taken formal stands in support of redress. Despite differences in opinions about which candidate to support, we should apply one of the lessons from our past work for redress and see the seriousness of joining together on the common goal we share: defeating Reagan and Reaganism in 1984 as part of advancing the redress movement.