|San Francisco LaborFest, July 15, 2011
Akiko Hoshino's Speech
Good evening, everyone.
This is my first visit to the United States, and I am very happy to have this opportunity to meet with you who are on the front lines in the movements for workers' rights. As part of the battles by workers worldwide, I sincerely thank you for arranging this meeting to help free the innocent political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal (in the U.S.) and Fumiaki Hoshino (in Japan). I was deeply impressed by ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) having begun several port shutdown strikes in 1999, with cooperation from other unions, in resistance to the state attempting to carry out Mumia's death sentence. In addition, I was struck by the fact that, by their members fighting in unity on Mumia's behalf, without allowing discrimination or division, the labor unions were themselves strengthened. Mumia continues to fight against prejudice towards blacks, whereas Hoshino fights against both prejudice towards Okinawa (the southern islands of Japan) and the political separation of Okinawa from the Japanese mainland.
The U.S. and Japanese governments are well aware that both men are innocent; however, they keep them in custody to make examples of them vis-a-vis those who are resisting the rulers. Nevertheless, I think that the day is not far off when, during our struggle, Mumia and Fumiaki will be released. This would be similar to how political prisoners were the first to be freed when Egypt's revolution began from Tahrir ("Liberation") Square this spring. During my visit to his prison in June, Fumiaki told me, "I plan to be out of prison in 2-3 years". I hope we can together win the men's release through the power of our worker movements.
Regarding another important event this year, anger about the Fukushima nuclear accident (and the response afterward) is intensifying by the day in Japan and elsewhere. Concerning another nuclear catastrophe, I have written a poem, which I entitled "My Hiroshima"; it is written from the standpoint of a young boy named Atsushi. Please allow me to read it to you:
Mom, please forgive me.
I have to leave.
Being trapped under the wreckage,
you closed your eyes, and whispered to me,
"You must leave here".
You were still breathing,
keeping the warmth
as you have always embraced me with it.
Mom, on that tragic day,
I left you behind, under the wreckage,
and I began to walk.
The city was contaminated with "ashes of death."
Bodies, charred black, were lying here and there.
Yet I continued walking along.
I exhausted my tears, and
just kept on walking around the dead city.
That tragic day,
such a terrible day in August.
Why am I the only survivor?
I feel the radiation that penetrated my body is alive.
I still hear your cry from deep inside my contaminated body:
Go..., Hurry up..."
I' ll go on walking.
I' ll go on living.
I' ll go on walking.
I' ll go on living.
After 60 years,
I' m still going on walking and living in Hiroshima.
This poem is based upon a composition I read at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The composition was written by children, and described the suffering they experienced after surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (on August 6, 1945). I have heard that in 1946, ILWU carried out a demonstration protesting the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Atomic weapons are ruinous for both enemies and friends, and I wish to express my respect for ILWU's having acted so courageously - amidst many voices in America declaring that such bombs had been necessary in order to end the war against Japan, which had carried out a mistaken war of aggression.
Japan, a nation hit by atomic bombs, now has 54 nuclear power plants within its borders. And due to the Fukushima nuclear accident, even now the plants there are spreading radiation, with no definite end to the situation in sight.
On behalf of the affected areas in Japan, thank you very much for your collections taken up among workers here in the U.S., as well as in other nations. I am originally from the Tohoku (northeast) region of Japan, so Miyagi and Fukushima are like second hometowns for me. I was among those who visited the affected areas in order to help encourage residents. As far as the eye could see were mountains of rubble. The scene left us speechless. But even in the midst of all that, there are the beginnings of mutual assistance efforts. On June 11th, the so-called "1 million against nuclear power" action took place.
In Shinjuku (in western Tokyo), some 20,000 young workers carried out a demonstration which I participated in. Then on June 19th, 1,610 people gathered in Fukushima for a demonstration, which I was able to get to from Tokyo. The anger felt by the residents of Fukushima and by those in the national train motormen movement, including 'Doro-Chiba' (the Chiba Prefecture Union of Train Motormen), tied in together and has helped spark a national movement to end nuclear power production and eradicate nuclear weapons.
My husband, Fumiaki Hoshino, who has been imprisoned for 37 years, sent me a message meant for all workers in the United States. I will take the liberty of reading it here:
Fumiaki Hoshino's Message to Workers in the U.S.
Along with all the working people in the world who are struggling against war, (in 1971) I played a leadership role in the fight in Japan against the maintenance of American military bases in Okinawa as a condition for Okinawa's reversion to Japanese sovereignty from U.S. occupation. In retribution for my actions, the authorities have imprisoned me under a de facto life imprisonment sentence, despite my being innocent of the charges they brought. I have now been in prison for 37 years. To reverse this unjust situation, to the best of my ability, I am fighting for my own freedom and for that of all working people.
Now, people around the world are facing the reality that nuclear power generation is integrated with atomic bombs and nuclear war. Because these threaten to destroy the human race, they are irreconcilable with the survival of our species.
It is impossible to totally control the atom. Due to the high levels of radioactivity, high temperatures and high pressure involved, nuclear power generation is tenuous and complex. Such plants cannot operate for one day without some form of breakdown, accident and/or radiation exposure; also, because of human error and/or natural disasters, major accidents can occur which ruin local regions or even, eventually, the entire planet.
Capitalism and imperialism make war unavoidable, and cause nuclear weapons to be viewed as indispensable. In order to break this fatal impasse, prior to the Fukushima accident, the plan was to promote nuclear power in a big way, under the label of "a nuclear power renaissance", with the claim made of carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction.
Capitalist leaders increase their holdings of capital, obtained through exploitation of workers. However, if their rate of profit should fall, then in order to increase their profit ratio, they destroy labor unions which counter their objectives, and also eliminate workers' rights, which those workers had fought to obtain. Such leaders dirty their hands with neoliberalism, due to it allowing them to dismiss workers, cut wages, force laborers to speed up production, and remove workplace safeguards/safety measures. Eventually, we see conditions like the economic depression of today, with its accompanying high unemployment levels and inter-imperialist rivalries. As a consequence, working citizens have to face life-threatening dangers (such as the great earthquakes and the nuclear accident fallout in Japan) with an insufficient safety net - such that workers may be forced by economic necessity to remain in dangerous locations. At the same time, as in the case of Fukushima, the wealthy have the financial means to evacuate with their families so as to get out of harm's way.
It is the capitalists and their power production facilities which, even now, continue to operate nuclear power plants, attempt to build new ones, and aim to export them. They claim that, "Without nuclear power, the economies of industrialized nations will be negatively affected." It's as if the capitalist leaders cannot (economically) survive without nuclear power. However, their greed is threatening not only human lives, but actually endangering all life on our planet!
Not only are nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation irreconcilable with working people, but also the capitalist leaders themselves are becoming incompatible with the rest of humanity.
Despite the fact that you workers are society's producers, and its true 'movers', you have been made to serve as wage slaves to capital, and are being forced to make all forms of sacrifices. Especially now, you can make a stand, united as one, and overthrow those who consider money to be more important than human beings. Then with your own hands, you can actualize and manage a new society. This is the only way to create a bright future. The working people of the world do have this power.
You and your friends in solidarity absolutely cannot allow the neoliberalism-based attacks on working people everywhere to succeed. Such attacks are aimed at robbing you of your future, as well as usurping the future of our entire world. By fighting for the future and for our liberty, you will be able to mutually assist one another as a unified force, and create a deep, strong cohesion which will help you open up a hopeful future. Thereby, you will be able to overthrow corrupt leaders, then realize and administer a new society.
In this way, all workers of the world can unite in solidarity, and topple the financiers and their authority. By establishing yourselves as leading actors and actresses in U.S. society, and freeing up your normal community-oriented spirit and cooperativity, you can accomplish this great task, in concert with others everywhere. In so doing, you will be able to win total emancipation for all peoples.
Stalinism distorted these concepts when it: claimed that the workers of just one nation could achieve these goals (Stalin de-emphasized the role of workers in advanced capitalist countries); veered off the path to emancipation and world revolution brought about through unity among workers worldwide; and carried out widespread suppression. Those failures need to be remedied in a profound way, such that the world's workers will be able to struggle in a united manner in order to free themselves. Let's create societies without exploitation, discrimination, or war, such that anyone can live in a manner befitting human beings.
I made my stand in this struggle, whereupon the authorities (despite their knowing I was innocent of the charges they brought) imprisoned me under a de facto life sentence which has now reached 37 years. To reverse this unjust situation, I am fighting for my own freedom and for that of all working people. With assistance from working people of the world, I wish to get my sentence overturned, and then work with you for the emancipation of workers and all the world's people. Let us realize this together!"
Fumiaki Hoshino turned 65 this year. He stated, "With this appeal, I will go to America - together with Akiko." Fumiaki has said that he first became interested in anti-war activities as an elementary school student, when he saw pictures of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He has mentioned that afterward he was strongly influenced by both the movement to gain greater freedoms for inhabitants of Japanese "buraku' communities, as well as the civil rights movement for African Americans, which he learned about when he was a junior high school student.
In 1971, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations were flaring up throughout Japan. At the time, U.S. B-52s were taking off from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, bound for Vietnam. On November 14 of that year, Fumiaki and others held demonstrations in the Shibuya area of Tokyo, due to the fact that they'd learned the content of the "Okinawa Henkan Kyotei' (Agreement between Japan and the United States of America concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands) consisted of an expansion of U.S. military bases in Japan, as well as the U.S. military bringing even nuclear weapons into Japan (in violation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution). 75% of the American bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa, such that it almost appears as if the entire prefecture of Okinawa is located within those bases. The bases were established by force, utilizing money and violence to confiscate farmland. The current suffering of Okinawa was determined by this return agreement, starting with the construction of the new Henoko base in Okinawa.
Amidst the clashes between the demonstrators and the riot police, one of the riot policemen died (as did one of the female demonstrators). Fumiaki was one of the leaders of the demonstration, and was falsely accused of: 1) having directed the throwing of firebombs; and 2) having hit patrolman Nakamura (the man who died). The prosecution called for the death penalty. At the first trial, a sentence of 20 years' imprisonment was handed down; later, when the sentence was appealed, this was changed to a sentence of "imprisonment for an indefinite period" (de facto life imprisonment). In 1987, his final appeal to the Japanese Supreme Court was dismissed, and the lifetime imprisonment sentence upheld. In connection with this case, six students - including 3 minors - had been arrested, and false statements taken from them. Later, five of the students revoked their original statements, saying, "We did not see Mr. Hoshino commit those crimes". The 6th student refused to testify. Nevertheless, the later true statements were not introduced in court - rather, the earlier statements (which had been obtained behind closed doors) were used by the prosecution.
For some background about my relationship with Fumiaki, I first saw Fumiaki in person when I observed one of his court cases, in 1984. At the time, he was recovering from an imprisonment-related nervous breakdown. Even though he was injured and isolated, he chose to fight on, and stood tall. I felt strong empathy with his outlook on life. In addition, Fumiaki was always considerate of others, and even though we lived apart, he understood me well. I had lost my older brother when he'd committed suicide during a student demonstration. Moreover, many people around me had not even tried to struggle for anything bigger than themselves. Fumiaki was different, and I chose him. For two years, Fumiaki and I got to know one another through correspondence, and after I was finally able to convince my parents (who had been fiercely resisting my choice of partner), Fumiaki and I got married in his prison. I wanted to live with him. In Japanese prisons, even when husbands and wives visit each other, they are separated by acrylic boards and a guard is present. Furthermore, there is a time limit on visits, which at that time was 15 minutes. The limit is now half an hour. We experienced both frustration and loneliness many times, but by our valuing our conversations together, we were able to overcome the Supreme Court's life imprisonment sentence. This actually strengthened our emotional bonds. We have tried to value our 30-minute visits, 2-3 times per month, as if they were tens of times longer than they were. We also prized our once-weekly letters, would enclose pictures in the letters, would write postcards daily, and valued our lives together. In addition, I helped establish "The Society Seeking the Right for Imprisoned Persons and Their Families to Bear and Raise Children", and worked to advance this movement.
When Fumiaki was transferred to Tokushima Prison around 1987, it became forbidden for him to enclose picture cutouts he had drawn in his letters to me. The authorities claimed that, "Pictures can become codes, so they are not allowed'. During our applying for this order to be rescinded, we learned that there was a picture club in the prison, and so Fumiaki began to draw pictures there one hour a month. From 1990, his pictures began to be entered in picture competitions in the Shikoku prison region. So a request was made for the right for him to have paint in prison. From the first request, it took ten years, until in 2000 he was finally able to use paints in prison. From that point forward, he has been able to paint complete works. We then were able to produce calendars which include his paintings and my poems. Fumiaki's paintings do not depict scenes of conflict; rather, as he says, "I paint to heal Akiko's heart". Many of his paintings are of flowers, fruits and vegetables, as well as scenery in Fumiaki's hometown in Hokkaido (Japan's northernmost island) and my hometown of Yonezawa. Fumiaki talks about his works as follows:
"My paintings are meant to help (spiritually) overturn my life imprisonment sentence and create a better future, and are also meant as gifts for my wife Akiko, who lives together with me. At the same time, I wonder if they can also at the same time be called hymns to all God's creatures, great and small?"
Recently Fumiaki's portraits of human beings have increased in number. On our visits, he presents his portraits to me, one by one. He draws pictures, and I write poems - this has become an important aspect of our shared communication.
In 1996, we made our first appeal for retrial. At the demonstration on Nov. 14, 1971, Fumiaki had been wearing a light-blue blazer and gray pants, a fact which is recorded in the police investigation report. However, in the Supreme Court decision in which the lower court's sentence was upheld, the "Kr" statement which had identified Fumiaki claimed, "The man who hit the police officer was wearing golden brown clothing, and since that could only be Mr. Hoshino, the culprit is Mr. Hoshino." This is a clear contradiction in clothing color, and the Supreme Court acknowledged the contradiction. Regardless of this, the authorities evaded the matter by stating that the color of the clothing was not important evidence, and claimed that Fumiaki was identified by his voice and his rear-profile.
The Japanese and American court systems are different. I have heard that in the U.S., evidence must be put forward in the initial stages of legal proceedings, but in Japan, prosecuting attorneys conceal evidence and will refuse to hand it over. Therefore, especially in appeals for retrial, it is a real battle to force the disclosure of evidence.
At our second appeal for retrial, among the evidence which had been disclosed upon our requests, we found a photo which had been taken by a police officer who was referred to as "Ichiro-Maru". It was a photo taken near the Tokyu Department Store main branch, after patrolman Nakamura was attacked, and Fumiaki appeared in the picture. The iron pipe which Fumiaki carried was still wrapped in paper, and it was clear from this picture that the pipe had not been used in any altercations that day. It was possible to show through expert testimony that the pipe held by Fumiaki - which also appeared in another picture taken of Fumiaki before the officer was hit - was the same pipe. In addition, 2 1/2 months later, we presented the court with a very detailed analysis of the "Kr" statement, extending to 27 points, in which we showed that the statement had been induced by the police, and had little credibility. We also filed the results of a related psychological experiment, which demonstrated that, especially because Fumiaki (as he has stated throughout) was a leader in the demonstration, he was not involved in beating a police officer, or such acts; he was instead focused on protecting his fellow demonstrators by moving them away from the riot police (who had been attacking demonstrators with tear-gas guns).
Treatment of prisoners in Tokushima Prison is deplorable. In 1996, four months after the first appeal for retrial, the prison authorities sentenced Fumiaki to 20 days' punishment for his having stepped on a cockroach in his cell and then washing his foot. He was put in the punishment chambers, and except for toilet time and meals, he was forced each day to sit in a 'seiza' position (i.e., sitting erect with one's feet tucked underneath one), facing a wall.
Five years ago, the "Law on Treatment of Prisoners" came into effect, and Fumiaki was allowed to have friends visit him. 94 friends went to visit. All of the visitors say that they are surprised because he welcomes them cheerfully, with a big smile - such that they are the ones who end up being encouraged!
From May of last year (2010), Fumiaki has been unable to receive visitors other than family members and a specified pair of people. Six friends had their requests to visit him rejected, and I myself was not allowed to visit him on our wedding anniversary. The prison said that visits from Fumiaki's lawyers count as general visits, and the two visits from his attorneys during our anniversary month used up Fumiaki's monthly "allowance', so I could not visit. As for our personal correspondence, portions of my letters to him have been blacked out (by censors), five consecutive times.
Last year, Fumiaki had his prisoner "rank' dropped to Rank #4, due to his being punished twice. At Rank #4, a prisoner has his/her allowed number of monthly visits cut, from three to two. Fumiaki was temporarily upgraded back to Rank #3, but due to two disciplinary actions, in May, 2010, he was again dropped to Rank #4, allowing him again just two visits per month. The reason given for the first disciplinary action was that Fumiaki, in trying to clean his musty cell, got on his desk to clean the walls. The second disciplinary action was administered because Fumiaki, while carrying out his prison job of making motorcycle boots, asked a fellow prisoner, "Do you have permission? ", because the other prisoner was approaching him with the seeming intention of talking to him. The prison claimed Fumiaki's question constituted an "illicit conversational exchange'.
Regarding the restrictions on the number of visits and the blacking-out of portions of personal letters, we filed a complaint with the Tokushima human-rights protection committee. It was decided that the committee will take up the issue, and an investigation will begin. We also plan to file a lawsuit against the national government for damages. We are now in conflict with the authorities, a struggle which we cannot lose if we are to protect those in prisons.
Concerning our movement, there are now 23 assistance groups affiliated with us, and we are all struggling together as the "Free Hoshino!" National Coordinating Conference for Retrial. In 2009, we came out with the policy of "Let's take back Hoshino-san, utilizing the power of the working classes! ", and our prospects are brightening considerably.
As workers and citizens struggle wholeheartedly for a better world, Fumiaki Hoshino is also fighting, amidst the situation described above. Every day is a battle for him, with no clear end in sight - but he is striving to emerge victorious. He keeps learning, maintaining his physical conditioning, and continues to push forward with a cheerful, positive outlook on the future. Since the March 11 earthquake/tsunami and nuclear reactor accidents, he has reevaluated all of his own views. He subsequently wrote a proposal to donate from his own small 'salary allowance', and arranged to have the donated money sent along with letters of encouragement to the affected areas. Fumiaki is doing all he can while in prison.
In November of last year, at the international solidarity meeting held in Japan, we were told by Mr. Steve Zeltzer and Mr. Alan Hollie that they would like us to "come to America, and make an appeal to American workers concerning Fumiaki Hoshino, in solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal." Taking their words to heart, with the full cooperation and backing of "Doro-Chiba' (the Chiba Prefecture Union of Train Motormen), we were able to bring about this San Francisco meeting and the exhibition of Fumiaki's pictures. Also, thanks to Carole Seligman's untiring assistance, we were able to meet with Kevin Cooper on July 16. We offer our sincere thanks to each of you.
My husband continues to be held in custody because he opposed the U.S. military bases in Okinawa and still opposes the U.S. and Japanese administrations. The state authorities also wish to suppress and divide others who are currently opposing them by making an example of him. Similarly, in the U.S., Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and a gifted journalist working to advance the liberation movement for his fellow African Americans, continues to raise crucial issues. In reaction to this, even now Mumia cannot get free of his death penalty sentence. In order to free these two men, I believe it is important to initiate an international struggle on their behalf. In Japan, I want to help with the efforts needed by us Japanese to do what we can for the release of Mr. Abu-Jamal. At the same time, I would ask that you try to do what you can to help enable Fumiaki Hoshino's release. The first thing is signatures - if many signatures in English arrive from America, that would become a force for Fumiaki's return. If you can write letters to him, please send them to our Coordinating Conference office. Then please establish support groups for him here in the U.S.
Fumiaki Hoshino<'s struggle and the struggle to support him are in unity with the struggle by Mumia, that of ILWU against neoliberalism, and that of "Doro-Chiba'. With the power of solidarity, let us bring back Mumia and Hoshino!
- Akiko Hoshino
- Poem translated by Eiko Sugiura
Letter text translated by Ray Hrycko (with apologies for the amount of time the translation took)