Japanese and American activists staged a rally Monday in front of the White House calling for a halt to landfill work for building a U.S. base off Japan's Okinawa Prefecture.
About 30 activists gathered after a petition urging U.S. President Donald Trump to halt the work has accumulated more than 195,000 signatures in 30 days — well over the 100,000 threshold which requires the White House to make a response.
"I'm asking that they at least temporarily halt this until the Okinawa people are allowed to express their democratic right to vote on this in a referendum February 24th," said Robert Kajiwara, a fourth-generation Okinawan-Hawaiian who organized the rally.
Kajiwara was referring to an Okinawa prefectural referendum on the Japan-U.S. plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less-populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago.
Kajiwara said he has sent such a message to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior administration officials, as well as all 100 senators and some House of Representatives members including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"We're definitely expecting some kind of response. Of course, they don't guarantee what type of response we'll get," Kajiwara said. "Even if we don't get a response that we're looking for, we're not going to give up and we're going to keep on trying."
The 32-year-old started a petition — titled "Stop the landfill of Henoko/Oura Bay until a referendum can be held in Okinawa" — on the White House's "We the People" website.
The White House is supposed to respond within 60 days to any petition that gathers 100,000 signatures within 30 days of its starting date.
Referring to the number of signatures he has collected, Kajiwara said, "This is a remarkable number, considering the total lack of U.S. media coverage, as well as the intense censorship we have experienced from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe."
"It shows you how many people want to protect the sea at Henoko and the democratic rights of the Okinawan people," he said.
Carrying banners and placards with messages like "Stop! U.S. War Base, Henoko, Okinawa," "President Trump: Please respond to us!" and "Respect Okinawa's Democracy," participants chanted the slogan, "Close the bases in Okinawa."
About 70 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan are located in Okinawa Prefecture, which accounts for only 0.6 percent of the total land area of the country.