Upon arrival, I was met with concern. Those who had attended the May Day rally had a pretty mixed experience. The description of what was supposed to happen during the rally was not what was expected and, as a result, the physical demands couldn’t be met by everyone. Some needed to take breaks that others in the group didn’t think would be politically advantageous or logistically realistic, the disconnections between them causing a lot of friction after a harrowing 48 hours where most did not sleep. Folks didn’t seem to want to pull a meeting together after they’d had some food and a chance to rest, so I settled in with staff and my connections to KCTU and KPTU, Wol-san and Mikyung.
Wol-san you probably know from my previous visit. She acted as liaison previously and, has time has gone on, we’ve become friendly. I really appreciate her fighting spirit, her connection and appreciation of family, and her quickness when it comes to assessing situations on the ground. She knows so much about her movement and, as a bonus, is an incredible person. With each visit, I get to know her just a little more and each time I’m excited about what I discover.
Mikyung Ryu was newer to me but as she is good friends with Wol-san I quickly grew to trust her as an asset to us. She was made International Director for KCTU in a previous administration and, having traveled the globe for her organization in a representational role she knows a lot about many labor movements all over the world and brings a sensibility that comes from experience. Mikyung was feeling her newness, however, because she was dealing with a brand-new administration. This matter was the first that arose in our conversation.
The previous year had seen a change in KCTU leadership. A brand new slate had been elected into power in Fall of 2017 over the union and they were a group of people I’d never met before. Wol-san and Mikyung were both very worried about this and in the beginning of our process I didn’t fully understand why. But as the vote was farther in my rear view – Winter turning to Spring – I noticed that my relationship with the KCTU leadership was essentially starting over from zero and that wasn’t a good thing for us. Both of my liaisons became fierce advocates for our visit and the importance of them knowing as much as they could about who, what and why became vitally important in a way I hadn’t anticipated.
I had real concerns by the time I got off the plane that our lateness would define who we were. I was assured that it was understood and that our presence at the May Day parade was appreciated, so it felt comfortable for us to talk more about logistics and what to expect.
Last year’s trip had the glittering light of international stardom on it and truth be told, I didn’t have that power with me this time. The people that I brought with me were the right people to have in the room as they were the leaders that are being looked to for the future of the labor movement, but they were more infamous than famous. Appreciating that was easy for me… I recruited and loved these people. But the new leadership didn’t really know the people I was traveling with at all. They were younger and not attached to title, bringing with them a base that KCTU hadn’t known in this way. Their presence was hard to explain and we talked about that, the three of us.
Half of the people in the group were from Mississippi? Why?
This group is almost completely people of color. Why?
This group is pretty young. Why?
We talked about the importance of their presence, the conditions that brought them, and how to prepare the delegates for these conversations. We also went over the next day, quite possibly the most important day. On May 2, we’d meet the villagers of Seongju and I was holding onto my seat in anticipation of it. I’d promised them that I’d return with workers who could see for themselves what had been wrought by American military presence. To be able to come through on that promise meant more than every other day.
I slept hard that night, likely from exhaustion (and a full rack of ribs from the Outback upstairs) but also from the deep anticipation I felt that evening of the magic that I knew would be present the following day.
Next day? Seongju!