My marathon double filmfest weekend (or: Why must scheduling for “my issues” always clash?)

Sunday was a very intense day for many reasons.

I woke up to fierce sunshine–was seriously tempted to hit the pool for some laps, but I knew I was already late for the Tokyo Peace Film Festival and so I forced myself to hold back. 😉

Morning coffee and a train ride later, I had arrived to the very spaceship-looking National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, where the festival has been held for the past five years. I arrived late (my signature trademark!) and so the showing was already well underway for Rokkasho Report No. 4, which is the latest of several films on anti-nuclear issues directed by Hitomi Kamanaka, who is a total powerhouse. This woman is EVERYWHERE campaigning for the cause–it is seriously impressive!

The next film was made by a freelance Japanese journalist in Iraq who put together footage of the real life human suffering caused by depleted uranium, cluster bombs, and other horrific weaponry being used by the U.S. military. Watching innocent children screaming in agony with such painful wounds was absolutely heartbreaking–not to mention anger-inducing toward those that made this happen. The film was done in collaboration with a Iraqi journalist who filmed many of these images–he is actually a good friend of mine, because I attended a presentation he gave a few years ago in Tokyo and we have been in constant e-mail contact since then. He is a true ally, and our friendship is a testimony to the power of ordinary citizens in the face of so much government foolery and criminality.

Anyway, I am planning to write an article on the festival later (well, hopefully sooner!) and so I will not go into too much more detail here, except to say that it was good to connect with the movement and get info on the latest happenings. It was also awesome to watch the documentary “Peace Bed: The U.S. vs. John Lennon”, including interviews with John, Yoko and their supporters. Super inspiring!!

As much as I wanted to stay for the remaining films, however, back over to Spiral Hall my people were calling me for the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and so I sneaked (snuck?) away. Back at the ever funky Spiral, I first watched a rather mediocre documentary about the Dinah Shore lesbian party weekend in Palm Springs, which was followed by another doc, Freeheld–this time about the struggle for a lesbian couple in New Jersey to win pension rights since one of them (a cop) was dying of lung cancer.

Freeheld was well-put together and quite moving. Pondering its deeper meaning afterward, I also realized that it is reflective of the sick mentality that lies at the core of so many (if not all) of the tragedies existing in the world today. To be specific: At one point, one of the so-called “Freeholders” (the name given to the county board members responsible for deciding the pension policy affecting same-sex couples) made a statement to the effect of: “We were always taught that when deciding public policy, we are not supposed to take people’s personal stories into account.”

WOW. Let’s just let that sink in now for a minute. If “people’s personal stories” are not the basis for deciding public policy…then *what is?!* I found that statement to be extremely disturbing–and yet, not surprising. When I worked for the city government as a fresh college graduate taking phone calls from citizens about city services, this is *exactly* what I was taught. Policy is policy, and I was not to be swayed by individual situations. To this day, I still carry with me an extreme amount of guilt about the time when a young father called and said that his water had been turned off because they had not paid their water bill. He said that they had a baby at home, and needed the water to be turned back on immediately. I could hear the desperation in his voice, and yet–because I had been told by my superiors that it was completely legitimate to leave the water off until the bill had been paid–I simply repeated the official line to him. At the time, I don’t think I lost much sleep over it at all–but now, as an adult who is wiser to the ways of the world, I am sad and ashamed that I did not react differently.

Back to the documentary: the Freehelder who made this comment eventually gave in and reversed his decision, allowing the dying cop (Laurel Hester) to receive her pension and leave it to her partner after her death. Which is wonderful…but it still leaves that fundamental problem intact: as a rule, peoples’ individual stories are not considered. And it works both ways: Laurel was commended for being a superior cop who was extremely skilled at her job. She could outshoot many of the male cops with her weapon, it was declared, and she was extremely swift at taking criminals down. One story that was recounted was the time she tackled a heroin dealer to the ground when he realized that he was dealing with undercover cops.

I’d like to ask: what about the personal situation of the heroin dealer? Who cares enough to inquire into his situation and the reason why he might be dealing drugs? This very system that was ready to discriminate against Laurel Hester because it did not consider her personal situation continues to criminalize and ruin the lives of so many others. Not that I think that drug dealing is unproblematic; that is not my point. My point is that this consideration of peoples’ humanity and their lives as individuals is not built into the system. It is an afterthought; and it does not apply across the board. Presumably if Laurel Hester had not been a skilled marksman and a swift tackler, her colleagues may not have seen fit to lay aside their homophobic tendencies and come to her defense.

I am also not trying to belittle Laurel’s struggle: it was a beautiful portrayal, and I was in tears at the point in the film where she finally obtained justice. But it pains me that her final statement in the film–“We are just two ordinary people, with a couple of dogs, living our lives like anyone else” (or something to that effect)–does not apply to the heroin dealer, who may just as well be an ordinary guy who has come upon hardship in his life. He, and so many other men and women whom he symbolizes, is the criminal–worthy only of contempt.

Maybe I am being too pessimistic or negative…after all, this type of documentary is the first step in raising peoples’ awareness about these issues, and it ended in the right thing being done. But the double standard is still in existence, and I feel like it is my lifework to do whatever I can to make sure that ALL humans are treated with full respect and compassion.

I was turning these ideas around in my head last night on my way home, having decided to enjoy a leisurely evening walk to Shibuya station rather than take the subway there. Walking is one of my greatest pleasures, epecially around dusk when the sky turns from light to deep blue and then to charcoal before fading into blackness (and sometimes, with any luck, shades of orange, red or purple appearing in between). As I was lost in my thoughts, I crossed the street and passed by a police station where a cop was standing outside on the corner holding his baton (please see my earlier posting regarding baton-wielding police officers). As my gaze fell on his weapon, suddenly I saw it raise upward toward his body as he turned and spoke to me: “Do you speak Japanese?”

“Hai” I answered (which means “yes” in case anyone does not know), and he proceeded to ask for my identification card. “Why?” I asked him. “Because all foreigners are required to carry a registration card, and I would like to see yours,” he answered. “Why?” I asked again. “Because all foreigners are required to carry a registration card, and I would like to see yours,” he repeated. Oh great–here we were, going in circles. “I know a bit about Japanese law,” I said next, “And I am not required to show you my ID card unless you see me doing something wrong. I am simply walking down the street, so I have no reason to show you the card.”

“Uh well, lately there have been a lot of cases of people with fake cards, so I want to double-check yours,” he continued. “And I am simply walking down the street and am doing absolutely nothing wrong,” I repeated, “so being stopped by you as if I were some criminal really does not make me feel very good.” I was trying to engage his human response, and luckily it worked: he backed off and actually said, “I’m really sorry–I didn’t mean to make you feel badly–actually I think I’d feel the same if I were in your position. I wasn’t trying to treat you like a criminal; I was simply checking to make sure you had your card. You can go on your way, but just be sure not to forget to carry your card with you.”

I thanked him for understanding my feelings, and repeated that people should be able to feel free to walk down the street without being stopped by a cop for no reason. We parted with a friendly greeting, but I have to ask myself: if I were a black or brown man (or even likely a woman), would he have backed off so easily? What if I had a Russian accent? He was a young and friendly guy, but what if he were the other half of the “good cop, bad cop” equation and he yanked me away for obstructing his line of work? Once the paranoid wheels start turning…

Luckily, Debito Arudou (the guy who made headlines for challenging his being thrown out of an onsen in Hokkaido for being non-ethnically Japanese) has tons of info on his site for what to do in situations like this…it was running through my mind last night as I was talking to the cop, even though my mouth was getting all dry and my voice was shaking as I was talking. Know your rights folks!!!

Whew…I’m beat. I think I will make my next posting a nice, light and fluffy one. 😉


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