Gwangju Uprising

5.18.2014

By Ana Traynin

On this May morning at the 34th People’s Commemoration
We are full of color
Red spilled blood
Black death and cherished memory
Yellow ribbons of hope
Green spring explosion of life
Sitting between the graves
Fists raised to the fallen martyrs
Feeling their blood, tears and spirits seep from below
We weren’t there then, but we remember now
Singing, shouting, crying
Marching forward with the beloved

On this May morning in Mangwol Cemetery
We carry on the legacy
Rulers are not benign, but corrupted by power
Freedom is not given, but born of struggle
People are not weak, but invincible together
Lifeless bodies give us all life
So onward we march


Locating Resistance, Commemorating Struggle

In any political movement, the act of raising political consciousness among new members is a crucial aspect of spreading awareness and building the movement. “Work classrooms” held for young female workers served this purpose for Korea’s labor movement in the ‘70s, as does the ISC’s own “Korean History, Economics, and Politics Program” for the international solidarity movement today. My first such experience occurred during college with the Asian American Student Union, through which I learned about the historical context and political meaning to the term “Asian American” [1]. Although small, the moment I became exposed to the term’s original radical aims was the beginning of understanding my life and experiences as political and part of a greater story of struggle – in other words, a tipping point.


May 18: Truth from within Solidarity

The atrocities that ravage countries are pushed into the shadows of history by those who are threatened by the weight of its truth. In the late 1970s Korea was very different. The country was still under military dictatorship. Citizens fought tirelessly for their basic rights. The assassination of President Park Chung Hee on October 26th 1979 sparked unrest across the country. Army general Chun Doo Hwan quickly replaced Park. In an attempt to divide and weaken the unified voices of the people he executed martial law. In response, students and citizens rose up in protest.


The Stories that Feed Us

by Kellyn Gross

On May 18, 1980, at 8:32 A.M., an earthquake struck Mount St. Helens in Washington State, resulting in a debris avalanche and subsequent volcanic eruption that decimated the surrounding earth for 16 square kilometers, killed 57 people and destroyed more than 200 homes. The blast was heard from as far away as British Columbia, and winds carried volcanic ash 2,000 kilometers across the United States in just three days. Then-President Jimmy Carter surveyed the damage on May 22 and said that it made the moon look like a golf course.


A sign of struggle: the Gwangju uprising and the politics of symbolism

By Taryn Assaf

Since the tragic incident that befell the citizens of Gwangju, South Korea, in May of 1980, events commemorating this time have stood as a symbol of strength, unity and power among citizens throughout the country. Subsequent revolutions, such as the democracy movement of 1987 and various workers movements have drawn upon the Gwangju uprising as a symbol of the fight for democracy. Although the uprising did not directly lead to democracy in Korea, it is still heralded as a leading example of the fight against oppression in the name of human rights.


March for the Beloved

By Dae-Han Song

Leaving behind neither love, glory, nor one’s name,

We vow to march together in our lifetimes.

Comrades can’t be found, but our banner still flutters.

Let us not falter ‘till the new day comes.

 Time passes, but the mountains and streams remember

The ardent cry of those awakened

‘I will march ahead, so follow me, you that live’

‘I will march ahead, so follow me, you that live’”


Photo Essay- Gwangju 2013

On May 17th and 18th, the ISCs Media Team joined in the commemoration ceremonies at Gwangju in the southern province of Jeonnam. After the assassination of dictator Park Chung Hee and a brief period of political liberalization, citizens in Gwangju and around South Korea rose up against General Chun Doo Hwan’s attempts at a coup d’etat. Troops were sent in to squash the rebellion, yet a civilian-formed army held back the troops for nine days. During this time, civilians took over the city and peacefully co-managed it without any traces of crime. The uprising was finally put down on May 27th. While unsuccessful at the time, the May Uprising became a rallying call for democratization during the 1980s, culminating in the June 11th Democratic Uprising of 1987 that brought direct presidential elections.


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