An estimated 60,000 people joined a rally held in Tokyo's Meiji Park on Sept. 19 to demand an end to Japan's reliance on nuclear power.
What was striking was not just the large number of participants, but their diversity.
Some people sang "Eejanaika" (Who cares?).
One line in the song goes, "It doesn't matter if we don't have nuclear power plants." Some danced to the tune while others chanted the slogan, "Abolish nuclear power plants. Discard them immediately."
Some children carried signs that read: "We want to go back to Fukushima (the way it was) before the nuclear accident."
In addition to labor unions and peace organizations, elderly people and students, as well as women and children, took to the streets. There was great diversity in the slogans on banners and tags of demonstrators. People who had something to say and wanted to get messages across gathered from all over the nation.
People joining hands and expressing their opinions are the starting point of democracy. This means ordinary citizens play a leading role in politics. In the case of governments, it must take the form of indirect democracy under a parliamentary system. But it is the power of individuals that moves politics and history at important junctures.
In the United States, the speech "I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) encouraged the civil rights movement. The citizens of East Germany tore down the Berlin Wall. Thus, acts of direct democracy have moved governments and made democracy richer.
In Japan, too, citizens surrounded the Diet during the 1960s struggle over the revision of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. Demonstrations opposing the Vietnam War were also strident. Before long, however, political demonstrations seemed to have run out of steam, except for those held in Okinawa. Could it be that people gave in to a sense of resignation that political appeals are powerless before reality?
But a little more than six months since the Great East Japan Earthquake, something is starting to change deep down in this country. In particular, the wave of "breaking with nuclear power" is spreading like never before.
Citizens are beginning to think that they can no longer rely on professional politicians. How can we protect our livelihoods and lives, as well as the futures of our children? Why not join hands with people who share the same and immediate anxieties and complaints, and make direct appeals to politics? Such thoughts are resonating and affecting each other.
"All we have are democratic rallies and citizen demonstrations. Let's stand firm," said writer Kenzaburo Oe, one of the organizers. His words are symbolic. "Breaking with nuclear power" seems to be a move to add a new page to our democracy.
The spread of the Internet through which people are joining hands in a new way is also energizing rallies.
A much larger number of hands is needed to make this tie thicker and lead to actual changes. The media, including newspapers and broadcasts, needs to focus on changes. At the same time, it is also indispensable for political parties and politicians to share awareness of the problems we face.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 21