Flooding inboxes at Glendale City Hall with emails didn’t work, neither did pleas from Japanese politicians, but now those who oppose a Glendale monument to women used as sex slaves by the Japanese Army during World War II are trying a different approach — petitioning the White House.
A petition asking for removal of the 1,100-pound statue on President Barack Obama’s website “We The People” has netted more than 100,000 signatures, the requisite threshold to receive a response from White House officials.
Hitting the 100,000-signature mark within 30 days means a petition is reviewed by policy officials and a response, with no deadline, is posted on the website, but no action is promised.
This isn’t the first We the People petition opposing a memorial for so-called “comfort women” and it’s also not the most unique appeal.
The website has been home to unusual requests in the past, such as one to build a workable replica of the Death Star from “Star Wars” and nationalizing the Twinkie industry. However, it’s also seen legitimate petitions, including ones asking the president to save the U.S. Postal Service.
The comfort women memorial in Glendale’s Central Park — the first one on public property on the West Coast — has been a point of contention in Japan as some conservatives there believe an estimated 80,000 to 200,000 women from Korea, China, Philippines and other countries acted willingly as prostitutes, rather than being coerced into sex slavery, as former comfort women claim.
Yet, a Japanese prime minister sent letters of apology to former comfort women in the 1990s and the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that women were indeed deprived of their freedom.
The petition was started by Tony Marano, a 64-year-old from Dallas County, Texas, who doesn’t expect the White House to take down the city statue, but he does hope the petition will have side effects.
“I know the petition actually won’t get that statue removed. However, it will hopefully serve to prevent future ones from being installed,” said Marano, who believes that an American city shouldn’t weigh in on what he considered an “international issue.”
That same sentiment was shared by the city council members in Buena Park, who decided against installing a replica of the Glendale statue in that Orange County city.
But Glendale council members have said it’s their duty to stand up for what’s right and they believe spreading awareness about sexual violence, even if it occurs in another country, is important.
The majority of the Glendale council continues to support the statue, despite repeated requests from a handful of Japanese politicians to remove it.
Marano, called “Texas Daddy” by Japanese fans of his YouTube channel called PropagandaBuster, is known for supporting Japanese nationalists and Japanese whalers targeted by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group that directly confronts Japanese whalers.
George Yoshi Ogasawara, a member of an anti-comfort women organization called the True Japan Network, said he believes most of the signees were Japanese nationals, but it’s unclear exactly how many.
Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, said participation is not limited to American citizens. However, she added in an email that, in general, “local governments, not the federal government, have jurisdiction over issues such as street names or the placement of memorials in local parks.”
Of the roughly 287,000 petitions submitted since the site’s launch in September 2011, 210 have received official replies, she said.
Phyllis Kim, spokeswoman for the Korean American Forum of California, which helped pay for the $30,000 bronze statue in Glendale, said her organization didn’t think much of the petition.
“I don’t believe the White House will issue any comments about the petition effort let alone to take any action against the statue,” she said.
Her group wants to spread awareness of the comfort women plight and encourage Japanese politicians to formally apologize through a federal parliamentary resolution.
“We will expand our efforts to build more memorials,” Kim said.
The city of Cupertino is set to review a proposed statue in February, according to the China Daily news agency.