Hundreds Gathered in Washington, DC for Korea Peace Action

From July 26 to 28, hundreds of people from across the country gathered in Washington, DC, for Korea Peace Action: National Mobilization to End the Korean War, on the 70th anniversary of the Korean armistice.

Held over three days, Korea Peace Action fortified the Korea peace movement by fostering connection and collaboration between organizations, groups, and individuals — including Korean Americans from divided families, Gen M/Z activists, humanitarian aid workers, experts, scholars, and peace-loving people — reflecting the diverse ecosystem of changemakers who share the vision of peace on the Korean Peninsula in our lifetime. Several veterans of the movement said this historic convening made them feel hopeful about the possibility of achieving peace in our lifetime, for the first time in decades.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • We met with Congressional offices asking them to support — or thanking them for supporting — H.R.1369, the Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act.
  • We also met with State Department officials to urge them to lift the US travel ban to the DPRK to allow family reunions, humanitarian activities, the repatriation of US servicemember remains, and peacebuilding initiatives.
Grassroots members and 30 Under 30 Activists thanking Rep. Judy Chu for being a Korea Peace Champion.
Meeting with the State Department: (l-r): AFSC’s Jennifer Deibert, Zachary Barter of State Dept., Rick Downes, Dan Leaf, Zachary Murray of Mennonite Central Committee, Christine Ahn, Alison Kahn of AFSC, Joy Lee Gebhard, Women Cross DMZ’s Cathi Choi, and Joy Lee Gebhard’s daughter, MiRan Powell.
  • We held a press conference in front of the Capitol building with Korea Peace Champions Representatives Barbara Lee, Judy Chu, and Delia Ramirez; Joy Gebhard, a member of a divided family; Rick Downes of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs; Dan Leaf, a retired three-star general and former acting commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command; Joyce Ajlouny, Secretary General of AFSC; and 14-year-old Hana de Vitton, a fifth-generation member of a divided family. Members of the media — including from The Washington Post and PBS Newshour — were in attendance. Watch the video of our press conference below.

Rep. Barbara Lee speaks at our press conference.

“This legislation [H.R.1369] offers a transformative peace-first approach to ending the Korean War, finally. The Korean War is known as the forgotten war in the United States. Most people think the war officially has ended so this is unacceptable. It’s time that we wake up from our collective amnesia to remember the death and destruction that this war entailed and chart a new path forward, one based on global peace and security and rooted in human security.”
— Rep. Barbara Lee

  • We held an event called Unbind Your Heart: Korean Han / Grief Transmutation Ceremony, in which we wailed, wept, and danced through our Han (generational grief/rage). It included an interfaith prayer by Sulkiro, pastor of Han Church; a participatory writing prompt and construction of a community altar led by acclaimed author Joseph Han; and traditional Korean grief rituals led by renowned multidisciplinary artist and shaman Dohee Lee. It was an incredibly moving and cathartic experience that transformed our collective grief and rage into strength and resilience.
Dohee Lee, who is from Jeju, Korea, led a communal grief ritual.
  • We ended the day in the fierce DC sun in front of the White House for a rousing rally with Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, Nick Cho (@YourKoreanDad), and David Kim (CA-34 candidate), and a deeply moving performance of “Arirang” by Josephine Lee of the Chicago Children’s Choir.
Echo of Women Cross DMZ leads the rally in front of the White House on July 27, 2023.
  • From there, our 500-strong group marched through a gorgeous summer shower to the Lincoln Memorial, led by the rousing rhythms of Baltimore Han Pan youth percussion group. There, we held an interfaith vigil that included prayers, a powerful chant for peace by a Buddhist monk, and an unforgettable gang gang sullae circle dance on the national mall.

  • We wrapped up our three-day convening with an all-day conference at George Washington University to learn from experts and those with lived experience about the impact of the unresolved war and what’s at stake, and share strategies to move toward peace. Preeminent Korea historian Bruce Cumings gave the keynote address, followed by panel discussions: “The Human Costs of Unending War” and “Peace to Prevent Nuclear War.” Watch the conference below.
Korea historian Bruce Cumings
  • Speakers included divided family member Joy Lee Gebhard; Rick Downes of the Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs; Dr. Kee Park, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Harvard University Department of Global Health and Social Medicine; Prof. Siegfried Hecker, former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory; retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright; and Dan Leaf, retired Lieutenant General of the U.S. Air Force and former Acting Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

“The odds of North Korea’s denuclearization absent a peace treaty are zero. That’s why starting with denuclearization is such a nonstarter.” — Dan Leaf

“Sanctions kill. We know it and we should not excuse it. We have allowed our leaders and our morals to deteriorate. We have become barbarians because we have accepted deaths of women and children in the name of national security.” — Dr. Kee Park, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Harvard University Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, who has visited DPRK over 20 times  

Of all the events over those eventful three days, perhaps the most meaningful was the opportunity to connect with one another to weave an intergenerational tapestry of resistance to the ongoing Korean War. Our movement is powerful, and our voices are growing louder. Our calls are being heard. We know we’re making a difference because we even got attacked by right-wing, pro-war media!

Thank you to all our co-convenors — American Friends Service Committee, Korean American Peace Fund, Mennonite Central Committee, National Association of Korean Americans, The United Methodist Church, and Veterans for Peace — and 27 co-sponsors, our 30 Under 30 cohort, Rep. Barbara Lee who hosted our press conference, and everyone who contributed to help make this action so successful and meaningful.

Together, we can and will see an end to the Korean War!

Click here to read press coverage of Korea Peace Action.

See more photos by clicking through the slideshow below. Photos by Constance Faulk.