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Finding points of commonality even with communists

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Behind the smalltown look of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding region is a cornucopia of worthwhile political and other gatherings that take place weekly -— mixed in with the less worthwhile events —- and I miss most of them, as work and family engage most of my time.

Recent listserv emails alerted me to two back-to-back gatherings last Friday at the end of the day that I decided to make time for. The first one was a discussion by a Japanese legislator concerning Japan-U.S. affairs in relation to the U.S.-imposed peace constitution. The second gathering was a debriefing by American trade unionists after their visit with trade unionists in Cuba, their call to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and a talk by a representative from Cuba’s interests section in Washington — seen in this video that I taped — whom apparently is hemmed into the D.C. Beltway, if not to a narrower circumference.  

Tying these two events together was not only that they dealt with United States foreign relations, but that communists figured prominently at both events, with Japan’s Communist party president and lower legislative body member Shii Kazuo talking at the first event, and with Cuban interests section first secretary Patricia Pego Guerra at the second gathering.

Particularly emphasized through my several years of human rights activism with Amnesty International starting in college, I knew that human rights violations can be rampant from the center, left, and right, and from their extremes. I remain opposed to communism, although I became less obsessed over communism after the Berlin Wall fell. I have had communist clients for civil liberties matters; became friendly in 1990 with an East Berlin resident who remained out of his native Indonesia upon learning that his liberty and life were at risk if he returned after Sukarno was deposed; and, even before the Berlin Wall’s fall, I spent a few moments keeping watch over a Maoist Revolution Books store as the staffer went to the restroom.

Shii Kazuo focused on getting U.S. troops out of Okinawa. A peacenik audience member asserted that it is not good enough to get U.S. troops out of Okinawa if they will merely relocate to Guam.

Kazuo also talked of Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln being contemporaries. Marxists.org reproduces a letter from Marx to Lincoln congratulating him on his electoral victory.

As in several industrialized nations, Japan’s legislature includes communists, which is something that is doubtful to happen for a very long time, if ever, in the United States. As Kazuo spoke, I flipped through his book on the information table, which included an introduction by another writer, whose name I forget, who mentioned that a manga version of Das Kapital is selling well.

When the floor was opened to questions, I decided that instead of challenging Kazuo about communism —- which will probably get more mileage over an in-depth talk —- that I would ask him which Congressional members he had met with and what they had discussed. I was curious about whether some or most Congressmembers would avoid speaking with communists from non-communist countries. During my initial question, captured in the above-posted video, and my follow-up questions, he gave the names of three Congresspeople with whom he met, and pointed out that he also visited Vermont’s legislature, saying he was well-received there, and went on a tangent about Vermont apples.

The thirty or so audience members included what seemed to be at least five to seven reporters and three camerapeople, apparently all Japanese including one with a videocamera saying Asahi. None of them asked any questions. One of the Japan Communist Party members in the audience told me this is common. One of the reporters said there would be an opportunity to ask questions at that evening’s next news conference with the JCP; however, that did not explain that absence of questions at this particular question-and-answer session.

I have a particular interest in Japan, having travelled there on business before law school and for vacation several years ago, being into Zen in Japan and beyond, and being closely connected with several Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhists. The several JCP members that I spoke with at the gathering seemed genuinely interested in my own interest in Japan and limited knowledge of some Japanese words and phrases, beyond mere politicking.

After the JCP presentation, I went across town to the Cuba event at the Postal Workers hall in northeast Washington, DC, which is in one of those bureaucratic-looking buildings inside and out that makes one wonder what type of sinister, faceless plan the buildings architect had; or maybe the building project was dictated by budget constraints. Judging from the unanimous applause from the audience of twenty or so (minus mine) as each of the three speakers I heard finished and were introduced, I figured that the speakers were talking to the choir. In the video shown above, you hear local trade union leader Bill Preston’s implication that counterrevolutionaries against Castro suffered what they "justly deserved." Though I very much disagree with his comment, I appreciate his candor.

The Cuba event was like a recipe book in which one finds one or two useful recipes and the rest of the book just so much hot air. Bill Preston made a good point that I had not considered that the U.S embargo on Cuba not only prevents Cubans from receiving American goods, but that the reverse it true, as well, including what Preston described as a particular diabetes relief medicine that originated in Cuba.

The first event was geared to include journalists. The second event seemed geared towards the choir, which heavily populated the room, judging from the various instances of applause; but I am not a member of that choir.