February 2005 Report
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Okinawa Ocean View
The view off Okinawa Island today. Now imagine a giant airbase filling the horizon.

Action Alerts: Militarism, Tsunami, Supreme Court
... and More

Monday, 14 February 2005
Happy Valentine's Day

In this message:

  1. Act Now: Stop U.S. Military Base Expansion

  2. Shirt Sale for Tsunami Relief: Final Days

  3. Changing the Rules: Extreme Court Judges and Other Outrages

  4. Computer Crisis: A Machine Dies, and We're in Trouble

  5. 3 Millionth Letter Sent by Progressive Portal user

Dear ProgressivePortal.org user:

With all the headlines coming out of Washington D.C. lately (vote certification, inauguration, approval of Cabinet nominations, passage of extreme legislation), it's easy to lose track of other causes that still need our support. One of our roles at ProgressivePortal.org is to focus on issues that may not be getting headlines and the full attention of other progressive organizations. I'm writing to let you know about several issues that are at critical stages right now, but are not at the center of the U.S. public's attention.

1. Stop Military Base Expansion

If you think you know what it means to be a dedicated anti-militarism activist, wait until you hear about the grandmothers of Henoko.

Okinawa Island in the south of Japan is the reluctant host to one of the biggest concentrations of U.S. military force outside of North America. Twenty percent of the island is military bases. Not content with occupying much of Okinawa's landmass, the military now wants to build an offshore airbase in the pristine waters off Henoko. (The military is claiming this is a tradeoff for the mid-1990s promise to close the massive Futenma military base, but Japanese activists have discovered planning documents for the offshore airbase dating to 1965.)

Outline of Proposed Air Base  The offshore base would be built atop fragile coral reefs and sea-grass beds, destroying the habitat of several endangered species, including the gentle dugong, a sea mammal that is a close cousin to the manatee and is a symbol of peace to the Japanese people. Because of this, the Japanese government is required to conduct an environmental assessment - an assessment that itself will damage the environment, including by drilling dozens of holes in the ocean floor.

The project is at a crucial stage. The first five drilling platforms were recently built offshore. That's when the grandmothers of Henoko swung into action.

Before the drilling platforms arrived, anti-military and pro-environment activists, some as old as 90, sat in at government offices for 10 days, occupied the beachfront for more than 250 days, and held a 20-day hunger strike. When the action moved offshore, so did the opposition. The scrupulously nonviolent activists, some of whom had not previously learned to swim, became skilled rowers and divers. Former Naha City Council member Suzuyo Takazato tells of 70-year-olds in wet suits diving into the waters to disrupt the attempts to bore holes in the sea floor. At the World Social Forum in Brazil and on a subsequent visit to the U.S. this month, Ms. Takazato displayed pictures of women and elders blocking drilling workers in rowboats and occupying the drilling platforms.

Protest at Henoko Drilling Platform

Okinawan protesters occupy a platform, preventing installation of seabed-drilling equipment.
Rowing out to the platforms at 6:30 every morning, day after day, week after week, the resisters have managed to prevent all drilling to date. Workers have not yet been able to install a single drilling engine on any of the platforms.

Other avenues are also being pursued. Citizens voted against the offshore base in a referendum; the mayor, who opposed the airbase, was then called to Tokyo, and after a four-hour closed-door meeting in the prime minister's office, he declared the people's wishes null and void - and then resigned, to be replaced by a pro-base mayor. A lawsuit against the base is proceeding in U.S. federal court. (U.S. groups participating in the lawsuit were introduced to the issue by ProgressivePortal.org.) But as yet, the U.S. and Japanese governments have not budged.

The Japanese subspecies of dugong is highly endangered. Scientists believe there may be as few as 25-50 animals remaining in the wild. While dugongs have no natural enemies, they are at risk because of human activity - including the attempts to conduct the drilling survey prior to building the airbase. If the survey continues, and particularly if the base is built, they will almost surely be wiped out forever.

Activists in Okinawa and Tokyo are asking our help now to prevent further base-construction activity and save the endangered creature of the Henoko coral reef.

With elections last year, both the U.S. and Japan have several new public officials involved in this matter. We've devised a letter that goes just to those new officials, so if you have already sent our Save the Dugong letter (before 21 Jan 2005), please go to this special page to write to officials who weren't in office when you sent the previous message. (If you sent the letter on 21 Jan or later, it has already gone to all the recipients.)

If you have not previously sent a Save the Dugong letter, please go to this page to send the letter to all of the officials on our list. And for more about the issue, including rare video of a dugong swimming and feeding on sea grasses, visit our links page.

2. Tsunami Relief: Special Sale through Feb. 20

As the waters receded from the tsunami-ravaged shores of East Asia, so did the West's attention to the disaster. Now there is a danger that some of the government aid pledged so generously in the first days of the crisis will not materialize. (The U.S. is but one country known for announcing generous aid commitments and then failing to follow through.)

S. Poddar
Shrikumar Poddar
According to relief workers in the field, victims of the disaster are right now facing a critical need that has gotten far too little attention: grief counseling. There are survivors who lost parents, children, entire extended families, along with homes and livelihoods. They need physical support (food, water, medicine, housing) for certain; but for many, putting their lives together will be impossible without psychological assistance as well. And most mainstream aid groups won't touch a concern key to progressives: Helping poor communities become self-sufficient rather than keeping them dependent for their survival on support from the West or from dictatorial regimes, at the price of their freedom and dignity.

Fortunately, the aid organization we've been supporting has focused from the beginning on providing both physical and psychological assistance, with emphasis on self-reliance and sustainability for its beneficiaries. International Service Society (ISS) follows Gandhian principles of self-sufficiency, equality, and respect for the environment. Donations to ISS go 100% toward its aid projects: All fundraising and management costs are covered by its trustees and endowment funds. I've followed the work of ISS and its founder, Shrikumar Poddar, for more than 20 years. It's one of the more trustworthy, effective, and progressive agencies around.
Tie-dye tee  Jaguar tee  In December, we planned to conduct a January stock-reduction sale on our line of environmental and peace shirts. After the tsunami hit, we decided to give all of our net proceeds from that sale to ISS for tsunami relief. After promoting the sale to our existing customers and donors, we've decided to extend it through Sunday, 20 Feb, and to invite everyone on our contact list to take part. Please visit the sale page here.

At the bottom of that page, you can make a further donation for tsunami relief, if you wish.

In addition, right now we're giving a portion of all other sales (flags, posters, buttons, stickers, patches, magnets, etc.) to ISS for tsunami relief.

3. Changing the Rules for Court Appointments
-- and Other Attacks on the Structure of Democracy

Social Security Cartoon  The unabashed power grab by the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party continues. Several legislators have just met to plot the complete destruction of Social Security, a longstanding conservative goal. We're working on a new action campaign to help head them off.

Meanwhile, the Congress and the Administration are working to undermine the rules, procedures, and processes that protect us from tyranny. By attacking the structural underpinnings of our government, they hope to avoid attention as they dismantle democracy. For example:
  • The Senate Majority Leader is threatening to change the rules so Democrats will be powerless to prevent the appointment of far-right, anti-choice, anti-liberty judges, including Supreme Court justices.
  • The House has just passed a law giving the Director of Homeland Security dictatorial powers to waive any legal impediments in installing security at the U.S. borders - including environmental-protection laws, labor laws, even criminal laws - at his sole discretion. Worse, the law prohibits all courts from reviewing those actions! It's truly a police-state measure - but as an obscure section of a larger bill, it passed without public notice. (Now we must stop it in the Senate.)
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics wants to stop collecting data on the status of women in the workplace. The goal: Make it difficult to gauge the amount of discrimination in the workplace.
By using such obscure "back-door" strategies, the right wing hopes to escape notice as it sabotages democracy. Sorry fellas - not a chance. We're onto you. See our Action Alerts dated 26 Jan, 9 Feb, and 13 Feb 2005.

Ever feel overwhelmed sorting through the myriad action requests from many different progressive organizations? Well, at ProgressivePortal.org we offer an easy solution. Our Alerts Editor, Henry Norr, scours the Internet and other resources for the most important action campaigns. Several days a week, we publish a selected alert. Our Alerts Page is a one-stop resource for the most vital actions on a range of progressive causes.

You can receive these alerts by e-mail, too. To sign up, simply send a blank message to this address: alerts-all[AT]progressiveportal.org (change "[AT]" to "@") .

4. Help! A Computer Dies, and We're In Trouble

ProgressivePortal.org is operated on the most threadbare of shoestrings, so the death of our laptop computer a few days ago poses a serious problem. I must travel soon to help a relative with a serious illness, and need to bring a portable computer in order to keep things going at ProgressivePortal.org.

If you can donate a laptop computer, or even lend one, it will be a tremendous help. Our first choice is a Macintosh, but we can also use a PC with the right software. We need something in hand by Feb. 21.

If you can donate legal copies of the following software (for Mac OS X or Windows), that will also be a great help: Microsoft Word and Excel, or similar programs that produce compatible files; and Dreamweaver or other site-management/ftp software.

Please contact me at webweaver[AT]progressiveportal.org (change "[AT]" to "@") or (510) 595-4626 if you can help out. Thanks.

5. Our Users Have Sent Three Million Letters
-- and Are Winning Progressive Victories!

Beth Enson  User Beth Enson sent our 3 millionth message on 22 Jan 2005. Beth describes herself as "a poet, mother of one fab seven-year-old daughter who we home-school, and Dean of Students at the National College of Midwifery." Beth is also involved in co-counseling (also known as Reevaluation Counseling), which takes a progressive approach to personal and social issues.
On the morning of 22 January 2005, Beth Enson of New Mexico participated in our Save the Dugong campaign. Hers was the three millionth message sent in our letter-writing campaigns since our launch on 15 May 2001.

When we started ProgressivePortal.org, I had no idea activists around the world would make our efforts so successful.

Our first large campaign was to return the progressive Pacifica Radio network to grassroots control after a Washington, DC clique managed to take over. Our users sent more than a million messages in that campaign, including thousands pressing Ken Ford to quit the Pacifica board. The day he resigned, which returned majority control to community members, he first telephoned us.

When the Charles Krug Winery in Napa Valley, CA tried to divide and conquer its unionized production workers, hiring a union-busting law firm, locking out the workers, and demanding salary cuts from most of them, we were asked to step in. A person who works in the Krug office said management was "freaked out" by the seven-foot stack of faxes sent by ProgressivePortal.org users. A Krug Winery official telephoned us just a few days before the winery rescinded the salary cuts and ended the lockout.

Earlier this year, when ploughshares activist Mary Kelly was facing a ten-year prison term for damaging a U.S. warplane stopping over in Ireland before possibly heading to Iraq, our users were asked to write to the judge calling for leniency. Within days, more than 1,600 letters were sent. Although observers believed "the fix was in" and a long prison term had already been decided upon, when the sentencing date arrived, Ms. Kelly received a suspended sentence - not jail.

Now peace- and environment-loving citizens throughout Japan are seeking our support to prevent construction of a U.S.-Japanese military base off the Okinawa shore. With the dedication of Henoko's grandmothers and others keeping watch over the site, the lawsuit in U.S. courts, and a nudge from thousands of ProgressivePortal.org users throughout the world, we believe another success story is now being written. Thank you so much for being part of it.

We have no big donors. Foundations won't support us because our work is too political (and not tax-exempt). These successes and our ongoing campaigns are made possible by people like you, who donate to keep us going, buy merchandise from our Peace Store, and participate in our action campaigns. Please allow me once again to express my deep gratitude for your participation in our work, and for all you do on behalf of a better world.


Steve Freedkin

P.S. Key actions to take:

  1. The campaign to stop the offshore airbase is at a critical point. If you sent a Save the Dugong message through our site before 21 Jan 2005, please visit this page to write just to newly installed Japanese and U.S. officials (including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice).

    If you've never sent our dugong letter, use the this page to send it to all the officials on our list.

  2. Through 20 Feb 2005, net proceeds from our special Shirt Sale Page will go to the progressive tsunami-relief work of International Service Society. You can also make a donation to tsunami relief at the bottom of that page.

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