[Update: Barack Obama endorses the rally and its cause with a nicely written letter. Read it here. Of course, it would be great to think that Obama will be as persistent and passionate on this issue as Sam Brownback, who introduced this resolution in the Senate. That’s two presidential candidates, one from each party. In a particularly bipartisan gesture, one prominent Republican staffer even sent me a copy of Obama’s letter(!). If the KCC turns out a good crowd tomorrow, their debut will have been an unqualified success. Finally, at the bottom of this post, I’m appending the text of a speech by Rep. Frank Wolf (thanks to his staff for sending). Though not directly on point to this rally in all of its many particulars, it’s a long series of reasons not to buy Chinese, the majority of which I agree with. The point here is that for these and other reasons, one gets the clear sense that the mood in Congress is turning against China.]
This move could — I repeat, could — infuse significant new momentum into this movement, which I don’t mind saying it sorely needs at a time when we don’t have the rapt attention of either political party. The KCC claims to represent 3,000 pastors and their churches, which is a lot of people.
The KCC’s contribution will face its first test on July 17th in Washington. At 9:45 a.m., it will hold a press conference at the National Press Club, followed by a noon rally on the Capitol’s West Lawn. They’ll conclude the day’s events with a prayer vigil at Pilgrim Church, Burke, Virginia at 7:00 p.m. There will be other rallies in Tokyo on August 13th, and in Seoul on August 15th. Here are some excepts from two press releases that were sent to me:
KCC announces formation of Jericho Institute, which will launch the “LET MY PEOPLE GO” Banner and 50 States Resolution project.
Irvine, CA ““Korean Church Coalition (KCC) for North Korea Freedom announces formation of Jericho Institute, which will launch the “LET MY PEOPLE GO Before 2008 Beijing Olympics” Banner and 50 States Resolution campaigns. These campaigns are intended to bring awareness to all 50 states and the world, the inhumane treatment of the North Korean refugees within China’s borders by the Government of China, and demand that China adopt a policy to allow the North Koreans within its borders be granted Refugee Status and be allowed to leave to a third country before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. [….]
The Noon rally will be attended by KCC representative from every state in the United States. The Korean American Community will not stop praying nor rest until freedom for all North Koreans is finally won.
You may be tempted, especially if you’re not religious, to dimiss the significance of this. That would be a mistake. On the opening night of Yoduk Story, the Korean churches played a large part in filling Strathmore Hall. In retrospect, that event was one of the movement’s greatest moments — the others being North Korea Freedom Day 2004 and the 2005 Freedom House conference. On each of those occasions, the politically powerful attended mostly to lend token support to the cause, but along the way, they saw its power, too. Although that power proved insufficient to keep the Bush Adminstration from selling the North Korean people down the river, the KCC enters the fight just in time to help set the agenda for the 2008 election. With its strong old-country connections, it might also wedge some of the South Korean churches into the fight, too.
‘For Years, the Korean Americans have sat in the sidelines and watched as the Government of China sat and watched the many Chinese criminals kidnap and sell the North Korean girls as sex slaves and others as slave laborers and treat the North Koreans in China as Criminals.’
‘On behalf of the millions of Korean Americans who reside in this great country, let me clearly and firmly state that We Will Stand By and Watch no More.’
‘Since the formation of KCC, one message came through with a consistent and moral clarity, from the prayers of millions of Koreans in the United States and around the world: “Let the North Koreans go Free”’. Statement by Peter I. Sohn, President, KCC
The KCC will be highlighting the role of states with early presidential contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Let’s hope they’re judicious enough to know which politicians mean what they say.
Another Christian organization that has been an important part of the movement is the Voice of the Martyrs. With a large, motivated network that’s mainly dispersed in The Real America (like, say, where I come from), VOM’s main impact has been to organize such grassroots activism as letter-writing campaigns. Today, they’re asking for letters and prayers on behalf of a condemned man:
Son Jong Nam, an underground Christian in North Korea, has spent more than a year in prison, awaiting public execution. He risked his life returning to North Korea to preach the gospel and VOM contacts believe he is still alive, although contact is limited. [Voice of the Martyrs]
More here. Other organizations are also appealing to North Korea to save Son Jong Nam, including this religious broadcasting site, which has much more biographical information and information about Son’s activities. NK Missions and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the latter having impressive diplomatic connections (including some access to Ban Ki Moon), are also appealing for Son to be spared. CSW tells us that it was one of those regular rations of brutality that turned Son against the regime:
Mr Son Jong Nam was born in Sadong, Soryongdong, Pyongyang and served his full military term as a non-commissioned officer at the Security Protection Headquarters from October 1975 – May 1983. On 20th January 1998 Mr Son’s sister-in-law was investigated by the secret police while pregnant. During the interrogation she was kicked in the stomach and she miscarried. Mr Son brought the matter before the Central People’s Committee, but he was put under pressure for his actions and told to leave. This led to his disillusionment with the regime and his decision to leave North Korea followed shortly afterwards. [NK Missions]
Men like these are dissidents whose courage vastly exceeds those with far more coffee-house appeal. Let’s be very clear: Son is as good as dead, and the best we can probably do for him is to honor his courage with our remembrance. The life we still might save is two or three arrests away, and only if enough of us show our rage this time and the next. The underground Christian network is the only resistance movement North Korea has, and by all accounts, it’s spreading its revolutionary roots faster than the regime can dig them out. You can’t resist a system as brutal at that one unless you believe in life after a very miserable death.
I wonder how much irreparable harm it would do to our great breakthrough in relations with Kim Jong Il if one of our diplomats — or maybe even that great Korean humanitarian, Ban Ki Moon — would politely ask him to spare this man’s life. The odds of that are lower than Son Jong Nam’s odds of attending his son’s wedding.