Day 4A:  The Bear Woman

In the tale, a tiger and a bear (Ungnyeo) lived together in a cave and prayed to the divine king Hwanung to be made human. Hwanung heard their prayers and gave them 20 cloves of garlic, a bundle of mugwort and ordered them to stay out of the sunlight and eat only this food for 100 days. Due to hunger, the tiger left the cave after roughly 20 days, but the bear remained inside. After 21 days, she was transformed into a woman.

Ungnyeo was grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. Her lack of a husband drove her to depression, and she began to pray beneath a sacred betula tree (신단수 / 神檀樹) to be blessed with a child. Hwanung heard her prayers and was deeply moved. He took Ungnyeo as his wife and soon after, she gave birth to a son, Dangun, who would go on to found the nation of Korea.

This was our last full day. My body halfway recognized the time zone I was in, so that morning I was up with vigor.

The schedule was a big one for me. We had students in the morning who were on their way to being organizers (woooooow one of my favorite groups of people!) In the afternoon? Conversations with trade unionists! I spent some time the night before going through my notes and thinking about the questions I was going to ask in the afternoon. I was so excited to see what was to come, though a little sad that my days in Korea were coming to an end.
We gathered as usual and moved as usual to our space in the Franciscan building. Inside we were greeted by at least 40 students, all with curious looks on their faces. Now, because our organizers were incredible, we actually had a list of submitted questions from them. Check it out:

2. When and how were you involved in peace movement? You all have very interesting careers. 

3. What we know about peace movements in the U.S. is mostly about anti-Vietnam war in 1960s. So can you introduce the U.S. peace movement in recent times to us?

4. What is the main challenges for the US peace movement? In South Korea, it is the existence of North Korea itself. Especially the North Korea’s serial threats. It makes South Koreans accept the military build-ups and aggressive strategies in the Korean peninsula.

5. What’s the effect of Donald Trump’s election on the U.S. peace movement? What’s the main change made by the advent of the Trump administraiton?

6. Many people in Korea have much expectations on the new president, Moon Jae-in, hoping that he will make changes. This makes people believe in his polices rather than social movements, so it weakens the power of social movement now. We think that this situation might be similar with that of Obama in the U.S. How was it like making social/peace movements when Obama was in the White House?  

7. We are against the THAAD because we think it increases the possibility of nuclear war. Please tell us about the nuclear disarmament movement in the US and its results to us. 

8. “Pivot to Asia” strategy of the U.S. endangers the lives of people of East Asia. But most americans do not consider this as their businesses. How about the peace movement in the U.S? What do you think about the crisis of East Asia?

9. There are hundreds of millions of young people suffering from economical crises and unemployment around the world (also in the US) and the chances of war threatens their lives directly. Are there young people’s movements against social problems like these in the US? Please explain about them.

10. Reece, you are working to expand understanding and believe in the importance of peace in the labor movement. Why are you trying to expand anti-war peace work within the labor movement? What are the challenges and the successes?

We split them up and engaged them individually, though occasionally our answers overlapped. When it came to my turn, I dipped a little into my own story and told it on a kind of merged timeline. I have always found it interesting how my time as an organizer matches up with my current organization’s history, as I entered Union Summer in 2003 around the same time as USLAW came into being.  

After the story, I talked about how the anti-war movement has stagnated for many of the same reasons that USLAW struggled in recent years. Labor and the anti-war movement have not moved with the new currents and were unresponsive to calls for racial and climate justice.  Further, systems that had been built to further democracy within unions had created ossified institutions that couldn’t hold the weight of what was being built.  The anti-war movement had ossified as well, but that stagnation had figuratively frozen leadership in place.  The result was a movement that couldn’t even see past an internal deficit, let alone organizing universe, that was becoming dramatically different in the 21st Century.  My hiring then, imperfect and still unproven, would represent a change in the way USLAW saw the landscape in front of them. 

I also went into the same talking points I had touched on previously about workers who make weapons of war.  For more about that, you can look at previous days, but it was interesting how the students were so curious about we accomplished the task of talking to people that were so far outside of their personal experience.

We ended with a few fun pictures and some high fives.  I was practically vibrating with excitement as our next meeting was with KCTU leadership!  We took one last picture and headed out to the Union hall, minus Jill Stein as she had a meeting with the Korean Green Party.

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