COMMENTARY: Omission of Hirono Statement Puts Democracy in Jeopardy

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Banners representing the WWII confinement sites were displayed during the Day of Remembrance program on Feb. 15 at the Japanese American National Museum. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

The theme for this year’s Day of Remembrance in Los Angeles was “Democracy in Crisis: 1942 & 2020.”

I felt this was an appropriate theme since I witnessed our democracy in crisis at the DOR program and felt we, as a community, haven’t learned our lessons.

Why do I say this?

Listed in the LA DOR program was Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) as one of the guest speakers. Since she couldn’t be present, she had sent a short video message to be shown at the program.

The LA DOR was held at the Japanese American National Museum, and the JANM Board of Trustees, at the last minute, voted to pull the video message from the program.

Trustee Chair Norm Mineta, who was attending the San Jose DOR, sent a message that was read at the program. The gist of the message was that the JANM Board of Trustees voted to pull the video because they wanted to be inclusive “regardless of partisan position or political affiliation.”

Social media lit up with angry comments shortly after the program ended, and community members started posting and re-posting Sen. Hirono’s videos on the Internet.

As a result, JANM was forced to come out with a more detailed explanation three days later. It read in part:

“We are also committed to protecting civil rights, especially those that defend against discrimination and prejudice. However, as a nonprofit museum, we cannot take a partisan position, and we believe that we can be most effective when we do not. We were also made aware that the inclusion of the video might have resulted in one of our sister organizations that participated in the organizing committee having to withdraw, which was not an outcome that we wanted to see.”

I watched the short video message. What Sen. Hirono says is factual and truthful, unlike the fantasy falsehoods coming out of the White House.

The museum talks of protecting civil rights but the words ring hollow, especially since our civil rights are being slowly chipped away under the guise of national security by this administration.

Earlier this year, Vladimir Putin made changes to the Russian constitution, allowing him to extend his tenure as president beyond 2024. Can this happen in the U.S.?

Possibly. We currently have an administration that favors expanding the powers of the presidency, and these supporters includes Attorney General William Barr and Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller, to name just two.

As a result, when this president talks of doing away with parts of the Constitution he dislikes, it is no laughing matter.

For example, this president has been talking about issuing an executive order to overturn the birthright citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment.

While the president cannot change the Constitution, the Constitution is interpreted by the Supreme Court. And currently, we have a 5-4 conservative majority that may possibly uphold an executive order regarding changes to birthright citizenship.

In addition, this president has been quietly installing more than 180 federal judges throughout the nation that will affect our lives for the next two or three generations. These can range from overturning abortion rights to banning same-sex marriages to maybe even changing term limits for the U.S. president like Putin.

It was only seven years ago that, in a surprising move, the Supreme Court voted along ideological lines to nullify the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing states to create their own election laws without the approval of the Justice Department. The four liberal justices argued that racial discrimination still existed against minorities wanting to vote in states that had a history of discrimination but the chief justice disagreed, saying that this country has changed.

But has the U.S. really changed? We now have white nationalists touring college campuses, spewing hate speech under the mantel of First Amendment rights, and a president who decries immigrants coming to this country from what he described as “sh*thole countries.”

This is why we, as Japanese Americans, who should understand that discrimination led to our unconstitutional mass incarceration, should take a stand that is not considered “popular” or politically expedient but speak up for what is right and just. Most times that means upsetting the white power structure.

As the theme of the LA DOR stated – Our democracy is, indeed, in a state of crisis and the JANM board, by pulling the video, took a certain stand and sent a clear message to the community.

I, on the other hand, commend Sen. Mazie Hirono for having the courage to speak the truth. Mahalo, Senator, for fighting the good fight.

And to the others, I say please vote and vote righteously!

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Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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