COMMENTARY: Democracy Trumped by the JANM Board of Trustees!

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Display by Tsuru for Solidarity at the 2020 Day of Remembrance program, held Feb. 15 at the Japanese American National Museum. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

What Happened at the Day of Remembrance, 2020

On Saturday, Feb. 15, the 41st annual Day of Remembrance, “Democracy in Crisis: 1942 & 2020,” appeared to be presented without a hitch. There was, however, one significant change in the scheduled program: Sen. Mazie Hirono’s DOR video message was banned from the program by the Japanese American National Museum Board of Trustees.

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, the DOR Committee was told that the JANM Board would not allow the video to be shown because it was too partisan. Go for Broke expressed that it was also uncomfortable with the video.

Committee members, representing the Japanese American Citizens League–Pacific Southwest District, Kizuna, Manzanar Committee, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, Nikkei Progressives, Organization of Chinese Americans–Greater Los Angeles and Progressive Asian Network for Action, were stunned. Some questioned the decision and suggested that JANM could issue a disclaimer (of non-support of Hirono’s video comments) — to no avail. There was no compromise from JANM.

This act of censorship comes after five months of planning for the DOR by the nine community organizations. Because of the invited performers, speakers, and participants, the DOR Committee agreed to continue with the program (without the Hirono video) and take action as decided by their respective groups afterwards.

Statement by Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR), long-time organizers of the DOR programs since 1980, and Nikkei Progressives (NP) 

We believe that the Japanese American National Museum Board of Trustees’ censorship of Sen. Mazie Hirono’s video message at the 2020 Day of Remembrance was not just wrong, it was a violation of the democratic process in so many ways. Let us count the ways:

1)  A democratic process means that we, as members of a group or society, educate ourselves on the issues so that we can fully and responsibly participate as informed members. The museum should have known about the video message from Sen. Hirono since they had the postcard in their lobby two weeks before the Day of Remembrance and even advertised it on their website.

2)  The democratic process also means that when decisions are made and agreed upon by a majority, those decisions need to be respected. The JANM Board put themselves above the other community groups and disregarded this long-standing and important community partnership — this is tyranny of the minority.

3)  In a democratic process, individuals take responsibility for their actions. When Ann Burroughs, the CEO of JANM, presented the board’s ultimatum to the DOR Planning Committee (three days before the event), she left it up to the committee to deal with the aftermath. In fact, the JANM Board refused to offer an explanation, taking no responsibility for their disruption of the DOR program.

4) In a democratic process, we hope for transparency and honesty. When Ann presented the statement from Norm Mineta on behalf of the JANM Board, it euphemistically said that the video had been “moved online,” covering up the fact that it was the JANM board that had decided to ban the video from the program. Many in the audience did not understand what had happened, nor why. And to be truthful, the video was “moved online” because the DOR Committee — not the JANM Board — made that decision so that Hirono’s message could be viewed.

5) In a democratic process, there is room for disagreement and, in fact, divergent views should be welcomed. We have faith that most people come together with respect and a desire for greater understanding. When the JANM Board issued their ultimatum, they had neither faith nor respect for the DOR Committee and the attendees at the DOR. It was contrary to their assertion that “We are … deeply committed to encouraging dialogue and inclusion of all voices and opinions regardless of partisan position or political affiliation.”

JANM’s Board’s action represents a troubling silencing of a voice speaking out in opposition to racist policies and growing authoritarianism by the Trump Administration and a silencing of dissent and discussion in the Japanese American community. They missed an opportunity to put democracy into action by giving space to honest dialogue in the Japanese American community.

What do we expect from the JANM Board?

• We ask that the JANM Board apologize to Sen. Hirono for the disgraceful way they pulled her prepared video statement from the DOR program.

• We ask that the JANM Board apologize to the DOR Committee for their disrespectful treatment of community organizations who have worked on the Day of Remembrance.

• We ask that the JANM Board apologize to all those who attended the DOR for preventing us from hearing a relevant message from our Japanese American representative, Sen. Mazie Hirono.

Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress

Coordinating Committee: Richard Katsuda, Suzy Katsuda, Kathy Masaoka, Kay Ochi and Janice Yen

Nikkei Progressives Coordinating Committee

NCRR and NP are two community organizations who share similar values and work in support and solidarity with others. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo..

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