It’s Our Turn To Fight
On the afternoon of November 14, Baek (center), a farmer, staggers after being hit on the face and chest with the police water cannon. (source: The Kyunghyang Shinmun)
On November 14 last year, a People’s rally was held with workers, farmers, students, citizens, and the poor. I, too, was among the protesters braving the pepper laced water cannons. Immediately after it started, police barricaded the march with buses, an action ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Protesters reacted by dragging out the police buses. The police used water cannons laced with pepper against protesters’ attempts to move the buses out of the way. Later in the night, an ambulance made its way through the crowd; word circulated that a farmer had been knocked to the ground. [ref]The police continued to hit the unconscious Baek with water cannon, as well as the people who came to his aid.[/ref]
Baek Namgi, farmers demanding the government guarantee the price of rice at 210,000 won as promised by the president in her 2012 presidential campaign, had been directly struck by a water cannon. He was helping pull the bus barricade when the police shot him with a water cannon and he collapsed to the ground. Despite the emergency surgery, he has remained in a coma for over a hundred days. With half his cerebrum and brainstem damaged, doctors predict he will remain in a coma until he dies.
The Baek family and the Taskforce for Investigating State Violence are demanding: the National Police Agency commissioner step down, those responsible be punished, and the president apologize for authorizing such actions. Over a hundred days have passed, but no apology has been issued and the police in charge on November 14 have been promoted.
To raise public awareness around these demands, and pray for Baek's recovery, occupation tents were set up in front of his hospital, and people held a ceremony of 10,000 bows. Starting February 11 to the 27th, from Boseong [ref]Boseong is Baek’s hometown.[/ref] to Seoul, people marched to mobilize national support. I joined them on the 20th and 21st in Daejeon.
We started from Uneungjeongui Cultural Street behind a truck with loudspeakers explaining what had happened to Baek Nam Gi. Marchers distributed leaflets explaining the situation. Some bystanders watched, interested; others simply did their best to ignore us. After the march, there was a cultural event wishing for Baek’s recovery. Many singers, bands, dancers, and actors joined and shared their hope for Baek’s recovery.
The next day, I interviewed Choi Jongdae, an 80-year old participant, who’d been walking for 11 days. Despite his bad knees, he participated because he wanted to do his share in creating a just and peaceful society. He emphasized that “humans cannot live alone and we need to look around ourselves to see if there are things we can do for others to live together.” He added, “The food farmers produce is related to national security. The government thinks that they can just import the food but if we are not self sufficient in food, it will be disastrous when there is a food crisis.”
I also talked with Lim Bongjae, a farmer who worked with Baek since the 80s. I asked her what Baek was like, “Baek was the only person from his hometown that had gone to college, but he didn’t graduate because he got involved in the student movement. He hid out in a monastery as a fugitive for 3 years. Afterwards, he returned to his hometown and joined the farmer’s movement. He has strong sense of responsibility and does not avoid difficult work. On Nov. 14 even though he was 69, he was on the frontlines of the fight.” She also said “Under capitalism, fierce competition has prevailed among farmers as well. However farmers like Baek struggle to make better conditions not only for themselves but also for others.”
With every step taken through bad knees, aching backs, and blisters, people demanded justice and democracy and educated the public about what had happened. At one point, a curious young bystander approached me and asked me what the march was about. I told him Baek’s story. He walked with us for a bit. Since the mainstream media is not reporting what happened to Bake, I realized how important it was to inform people of the incident and our demands.
Baek Namgi was fighting not only for himself, but for other farmers and us; now he lies in a hospital bed. It is our turn to fight for him and achieve the “better society for all of us” he sought.
written by Jeongeun Hwang (General Secretary, ISC)