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Hi Blog. One particular topic Debito.org has not touched upon enough is activism in general by liberal-minded students, in particular the group attracting much attention called Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs). I have only mentioned them here and in my year-end round up of the Top Ten Human Rights Issues for 2015 for the Japan Times (I placed them at #6), where I wrote:
“On the other hand, the most high-profile youth group against the Abe Cabinet’s right-wing push (and darling of the international media), the Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs), decided to flame out with flair. At an news conference in October at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, SEALDs leaders announced that with their impending graduation from college, they wouldn’t just be stepping down in 2016 as organizers — they would disband the group without a transition to a younger generation.
“Coming off as more concerned with their own short-term individual interests than the larger movements within Japanese society, SEALDs seemed to show that even Japan’s most vibrant, cosmopolitan and appealing young activists (which matters, as this year the voting age will drop from 20 to 18) are nonetheless intimidated by power, and treat human rights advocacy as a temporary hobby.”
While I am not changing my position regarding the cravenness of SEALDs organizers, let’s be fair. They have been overtly threatened by authority. Check out this article from last August. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Should SEALDs student activists worry about not getting hired?
BY HIFUMI OKUNUKI
THE JAPAN TIMES, AUG 30, 2015
Summer 2015 — 70 years since Japan’s defeat in World War II. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling coalition have rammed two security bills through the Lower House that overturn decades of interpretation of the Constitution by enabling Japan to engage in collective self-defense. Now he hopes to do the same in the Upper House.
Opposition to the government’s aggressive push to loosen restrictions on the use of military force is being heard from many corners. The beacon for students opposing the bills has been the Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy, or SEALDs. Under the slogan of protecting “freedom, peace and democracy,” these students have loudly voiced their opposition to the government’s push for militarization at protests around the country.
SEALDs have put paid to two tired tropes that have been regularly trotted out over the years about Japan’s students: first, that they have no interest in politics, and second, that student social movements here are a thing of the past. Inspired by SEALDs, even high schoolers and mothers who had never before engaged in social activism have taken to the streets to demand that our country commit to never again waging war, and that our youths are never asked to kill those of other countries. Jumping on the bandwagon have been the elderly, under the collective banner of OLDs, and even the middle-aged, or MIDDLEs.
This resolute, relentless movement has already begun to have a clear impact on our society. The recent drop in support for the Abe government is at least in part a result of grass-roots movements such as SEALDs. One Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House tweeted: “SEALDs members just don’t want to go off to war, i.e., their actions are based on extreme selfishness.”
But if these youths were only thinking of themselves, would they really be engaged in a collective social movement like SEALDs? Also, the idea that not wanting to go off to war is “selfish” is itself a serious attack on individual thought and freedom of conscience. It reminds me of the totalitarianism that prevailed before the war, and I was shocked to hear a modern-day politician utter such a comment. I assumed he must be some old fogey, so when I discovered it was 36-year-old Takaya Muto, I was flabbergasted.
The fact that a lawmaker would use such extremist language perhaps offers some insight into the extent of panic within the LDP at SEALDs’ growing strength. The comment caused quite a stir. That and some alleged financial shenanigans led to Muto’s resignation from the LDP on Aug. 19.
For politicians chomping at the bit to deploy Japan’s forces overseas, SEALDs are apparently quite an irritant. An independent member of the Yukuhashi city assembly in Fukuoka Prefecture also stuck his foot firmly in his mouth when he riffed on a comment by one SEALDs member that “we tremble at the thought of going to war.” Shinya Kotsubo parodied it on his blog on July 26, titling his article “SEALDs members should tremble at the thought that they’ll never get a job.” He explained further, writing, “You are demonstrating now while you’re students, so don’t come crying when no one will hire you later on.”
“When companies scout for students,” he elaborated, “they look at the name of the university. They don’t look at the students themselves. All the power lies in the side that selects. … Since the corporation is the one that selects, everything must follow the company’s rules and interests. This is reality.
“To give a specific example, say a sports club becomes involved in a rape scandal. The university’s reputation is damaged and it affects all students. The rapists’ reputations are of course damaged, but the university is also seen as ‘that kind of university.’ The fellow students who were unable to prevent such a scandal become tainted as people who would be likewise unable or unwilling to protect the reputation of the company. So there would be no reason to hire such a student.
“The university’s reputation was not built by the current student body. Since it was not acquired by current students, they have no right to protest. … This reputation was a gift given to current students from their seniors who have already graduated and gone out into the world, making a name for the university. If they damage the reputation of the university to which they belong, it’s obvious how things are going to play out. We should do everything possible to eliminate the risk of this. A corporation should not be asked to shoulder such a risk to its reputation.
“Careers begin with an offer from a corporation, but it’s already too late for that. The result is that they will all be shot down. Some students are at prestigious schools such as Waseda or Keio University. These students are probably OK since many famous politicians, police and bureaucrats are from there. Selection takes precedence in all cases, so the impact on these students will only be slight. However, students at universities with little power, history or tradition won’t be so lucky. They will not be selected and as a result, all will be eliminated. I have even heard of cases where the professors join the demos and egg on their students.”
To sum up, Kotsubo says: 1) Corporations have all the power over whether to hire; 2) when hiring, corporations place great weight on the reputation of an applicant’s university and don’t really look at the students themselves; 3) if the university’s brand name is hurt, all students attending that university lose credibility; 4) students engaged in social movements are damaging the brand value of their universities; 5) the risk for students at prestigious colleges like Waseda and Keio is slight, but students at less prestigious schools are a write-off (i.e., They will never get a job); and 6) I am saying all this for the benefit of students, but the most guilty are the professors who encourage students to protest without warning them of the risks.
Let’s examine Kotsubo’s rant from the perspective of labor law…