Over Grief into Rage and into Action

It has been a month since the Sewol Ferry tragedy occured on April 16, 2014.  Koreans all over the world have spent time hoping for possible survivors and in commemoration for the victims.  When the inadequate and irresponsible responses of the government came to light and slow rescue efforts resulted in not a single survivors, the grief and despair rapidly turned into rage.  Twitter, facebook, internet bulletin boards are covered with opinions and replies demanding President Park Geun-hye directly be responsible and immediately step down.  Teachers, religious leaders, and professors are releasing situational statements.  In addition, citizens are coming out to the streets every night to march and rally demanding the same.

On last May 10, 2014, 20,000 citizens participated in Ansan, Gyeonggi province holding candle.  In this candlelight protest, citizens commemorated the victims from the Danwon High School, who were in their school field trip.  The candlelight vigil was led mostly by approximately 3,000 middle and high school students in Ansan city.  Participants in this candlelight vigil called on responsibility of the government, demanding full disclosure of the disaster and resignation of President Park Geun-hye.  In addition to Ansan, candlelight vigils/protests were held in 140 cities around the country.

On May 17, 2014, a 100,000 people’s commemoration candlelight rally denouncing the Park Geun-hye administration is being planned in Seoul Plaza and other cities all around the country.  It is expected that more candlelight actions will happen as time passes.

Actions of Overseas Koreans

While the public opinions focusing on governmental responsibility and resignation of Park Geun-hye are spreading like a wildfire, overseas Koreans, including those in the U.S. are acting in unity and solidarity.

Koreans in the U.S. listed a full-page ad entitled, “Bring the Truth to Light: Why are Koreans outraged by President Park Geun-hye?” on the New York Times of May 11, 2014.  On May 13, 2014, over 1,000 scholars in academia released a joint statement.  In addition, Koreans in over 30 cities of the U.S. are going to hold a protest/rally commemorating the victims of the Sewol Ferry tragedy and denouncing Park Geun-hye administration.

Over 4,000 Koreans in the U.S. participated in the New York Times full-page ad campagin, which was led by an internet community site for Korean women, “Missy USA”.  The goal of the campaign was $58,000, but it reached its goal in 10 days by receiving $160,439 from 4,129 people.  The main title of the ad is “Bring the Truth to Light: Why are Koreans outraged by President Park Geun-hye?” and its subtitle states, “More than 300 lives were trapped in the ferry.  No one was rescued.”




The ad further explains,  “the South Korean government lacked adequate emergency protocols and proper communication between agencies.” In addition, the ad stated, “they rejected outside help — from expert civilian divers and the U.S. Navy”, and “the bungled rescue efforts demonstrated the lack of leadership, incompetence, and negligence of the Park Administration.”  The ad further claimed, “criticism of President Park’s handling of the ferry disaster is being silenced by government censorship of South Korea’s mainstream media,” and “the mainstream media has served as the government’s mouthpiece by releasing disingenuous news stories that have misled public opinion.”

On the other hand, a press conference by “Scholars Concerned about the Sewol Tragedy” was held in National Conference Center in Washington DC on May 13, 2014.  Five scholars including Nam Tae-hyun (Political Studies, Salisbury University) and Kim Seon-mi (Social Work, Ramapo College of New Jersey) released a statement entitled, “The Sewol Ferry Tragedy as a Warning: Neoliberal Deregulation and Lack of Democratic Accountability in South Korea” on behalf of 1,074 Korean and non-Korean scholars in the world.




Scholars clarified in the statement that the Sewol tragedy has occurred not just from immoral actions of the captain and his crew, but also because of inept rescue effort in the combination of deregulation, privatization, corruption, ineptitude, and irresponsibility pervasive in today’s Korea,  and further set forth five demands:

1. The survivors, the victims, and their families must be provided with medical care, adequate healing, and proper compensation.

2. The government must own up to its responsibility for the Sewol tragedy, mindful that it is the most fundamental responsibility of the government, including the president, that it protect the life and safety of the people.

3. An independent special prosecutor must be appointed and a special act must be adopted to investigate the causes of the tragedy and prosecute those who are responsible.

4. Neoliberal deregulation must be repealed, and regulations on safety and public interest must be strengthened.

5. The government must stop its media control and censorship, and guarantee the freedom of press.

The 1,074 endorsing scholars are 577 professors working in academic institutions outside Korea,163 postdoctoral fellows & researchers, 334 independent scholars and others in the academic community.  These 1,074 signatures were collected by six Korean scholars in the U.S. during 6 days.  The scholars are from various countries, such as the U.S., Canada, England, Ethiopia, Austrailia, Japan, Norway, Singapore, Taiwan, Belgium. 

Lay people are also standing in solidarity with street actions.  In Los Angeles, on May 10, 2014, 300 people gathered in front of Consulate General of Republic of Korea building, demanding resignation of President Park Geun-hye.  In this commemorative rally, people wore a face mask which “OUT” was written on, and marched streets with banners, such as “Corrupted and Incapable, Out Park Geun-hye”, “Silence is death”, or “Impeach Park Keun Hye”.


Rally schedules in U.S.

The rally schedules of other cities are as follows:

(1) New York
When: May 16, 2014 (Friday) 7pm in front of Woori Bank, 32nd Street, NYC.
Content: Commemoration of Sewol victims and Resignation of Irresponsible Administration.
What to bring: yellow ribbon, personal picket and candle (battery-operated)
(2) Los Angeles
When: May 18, 2014 (Sunday) 6pm in front of Consulate General of Republic of Korea
What to bring: black clothes (top & bottom)
(3) Brandon, Florida (Tampa, Olando area)
When: May 11, 2014 (Sunday) 2pm in front of Target (Brandon & Grand Rrgency)
What to bring: black clothes (top & bottom), yellow ribbon and face mask
Contact: floridasewol2014@gmail.com
(4) Georgia, Atlanta
When: May 11, 2014 (Sunday) 2pm in front of CNN (across the Olympic Park), One CNN Center Atlanta, GA 30303
What to bring: black clothes (top & bottom),
(5) Indianapolis, Indiana
When: May 18, 2014, 2pm, in front of downtown Monument Circle
Contact: Indysewol@gmail.com
(6) Midwest New Jersey
When: May 18, 2014, 2pm in front of Edison HanAhReum Supermarket
What to bring: black clothes (top & bottom), walking shoes, Chrysanthemum flower, personal picket in yellow color
(7) New York
When: May 18, 2014 (Sunday) 2pm in front of New York Times building (bet.40 & 41st, 8th Ave)
What to bring: black clothes (top & bottom)
Contact: qnsewol@gmail.com
(8) Seattle, Washington
When: May 18, 2014 (Sunday) 2pm in front of Westlake Center (400 Pine Street, Seattle, Washington 98101)
What to bring: black clothes (top & bottom)
Contact: juniormints78@hotmail.com
(9) Boston, Massachussets
When: May 25, 2014 (Sunday) 2pm in front of Harvard University main gate
Content: Commemoration of the Sewol victims & NIS Gate, Out Park Geun-hye
Contact: cforsj@gmail.com
(10) Ellicott City, Maryland
When: May 18, 2014 (Sunday) 7:30pm in front of Lotte Plaza
What to bring: Banner, candle, yellow ribbon                                                                                                                                                            (11) Santa Clara, California                                                                                                                                                                                               When: May 18, 2014 (Sunday) 2pm in front of Lawrence Plaza (3561 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95051)


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