Up until recently, protests against the presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa have been comprised mainly of retired pensioners, but now leaders of the movement have found a key to raising awareness and getting more people on their side — celebrities.
Last week lead guitarist of Queen Dr. Brian May retweeted a petition against the construction of a military base in Okinawa’s Henoko and Oura Bay that threatens to completely devastate an area of coral reefs and rich biodiversity.
URGENT !!! URGENT !!! PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION to save a beautiful coral reef and irreplaceable eco-system, threatened by USA extending an airbase. Bri https://t.co/CyXjTbObeu
— Dr. Brian May (@DrBrianMay) January 6, 2019
The petition he retweeted to his 850,000 followers was created by Okinawa cultural ambassador Rob Kajiwara on the White House petition website “We The People” — a project created by President Obama where any petition reaching more than 100,000 signatures in 30 days must be addressed by the federal government.
Japanese model and celebrity Rola also posted an Instagram story to her 5.3 million followers where she asked them to help save Okinawa and sign the White House petition. She was joined by pop star Ryuchell who shared the petition with his 1.29 million followers on Twitter.
Created on Dec. 8, Kajiwara’s petition currently has 208,181 signatures and is the 5th most signed petition on the website. While the petition was due to close after having obtained the necessary 100,000 signatures for federal response, Kajiwara decided to keep the petition open until the Trump administration responds.
“Let’s get as many signatures as possible in order to protect Henoko!” he urged his followers.
Despite the widespread support of Kajiwara’s petition, offshore reclamation work on the new facility began on Dec. 14. The Asia Times reports that the construction plan includes pouring 21 million metric tons of sand and soil into Oura Bay, not only destroying the coral reefs surrounding Henko but also eliminating the feeding grounds for dugong, an endangered marine animal.
Local protestors were reported to be doubling down on their efforts. According to an article posted by the Okinawa Times on Dec. 19, what appeared to be glue was found in the ignition of at least four construction vehicles on site.
Protests against U.S. military presence in Okinawa are nothing new. Construction of military bases since World War Two has damaged biological habitats, and reports of crimes committed by military personnel have only added more fuel to the fire.
The history of U.S. bases in Okinawa
The first U.S. military base was built in Okinawa in April 1945 after Japan’s defeat by the Allied forces in the Second World War. Currently, there are 32 U.S. military facilities in Okinawa, representing 70.6 percent of U.S. military presence in Japan despite Okinawa accounting for just 0.6 percent of Japan’s total land area.
These bases have played vital roles in attacks on Vietnam and North Korea in the past, but have come at a cost more than Japanese tax dollars.
Between 1972 to 2015, there were 676 aircraft-related accidents resulting in the devastation of roughly 3,796 hectares of land due to forest fires. In 2014 an investigative journalist discovered 100 barrels of Vietnam War-era Agent Orange secretly buried in the island, while in 2017 military helicopter parts fell onto an elementary school playground.
While the protestors are doing everything they can to stop the expansion from continuing, a local referendum has been called into session on Feb. 24 this year. However, as this referendum is purely symbolic and non-binding, the White House petition may prove to be the protesters’ best chance of halting the project.
According to the guidelines set by “We The People,” the White House must respond to the petition within 60 days.
You can sign the petition here.