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Title: Mike Murase Interview II
Narrator: Mike Murase
Interviewer: Karen Umemoto
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: January 15, 2023
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-526-7

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KU: If you had to say, through that work, what were the insights that you carry forward about how to do coalition, effective coalition work that you carried forward into your coalition building work beyond the Jackson campaign? What personally did you, what personal lessons did you draw?

MM: I think one thing... well, first of all, I mean, I think every experience like that teaches you a lot. So you had to be open to learning new things, you had to listen and to take into consideration the ideas that other people have, because other people have other experiences. And so in a coalition, you can't go into a coalition with your own agenda, and just to promote that agenda, you had to look at what the needs of every group or individual is in that coalition. And so that means that, in terms of how you, in terms of your demeanor, how to function, you have to organize it in such a way where it's fair to people. On a one-to-one basis you have to be respectful of each other, and understanding differences and willingness to learn about other people's, not only their politics, but their culture, their history, their experience, personal experiences. So I would say that's important, to listen and learn. The other is that, I think, in the case of Jesse Jackson campaign, especially in '88, so many people were so enthused that they wanted to do all kinds of things. And like you said, it was chaotic. And so to be able to take the spontaneous sentiments of people who don't have organizational skills, but they still care about someone who represents their views, and they're considered leaders. So you have to really... I'm sorry, got lost in that. But what was I saying?

KU: The people who got involved more spontaneously, you could back up a little bit, too, how do you deal with all this support that kind of rushes in?

MM: So the Jackson campaign, one of the beauties of it was that it touched the hearts of many people who were sort of not considered in society, the marginalized people, and that's who he was targeting. So it brought a lot of people together, but it meant that there was so much spontaneous sentiment to want to do things. But most people, if they did anything, had grassroots experience or activist experience. But we learned that in elections, there are rules, there's the ethics rules, there are finance rules, there are organizational structures that so-called campaign experts think are the best. And so to harness and to organize that spontaneous sentiment, I think is a very important role that activists and political figures played in that movement. And so one of the lessons is not to say, "Hey, you don't know what you're doing, so back off." You have to take that sentiment and teach and find a place for them to be productive in the campaign, whether by going out to registered voters on the street or to help set up chairs when there's an assembly, and Jesse Jackson was coming to speak. All kinds of things that people could do, and I think through that experience, people of different communities were able to work together and learn about each other. And so strength and bonds that comes out of, like concrete work and ideas and things. So it's going beyond just relating at arm's length, superficial level, but really getting to know people, getting to know each other. And in many cases, we didn't just say Black people organized Black people, Asians knock on Asian doors and all of that, we did everything together. And I think Jesse Jackson's platform really helped us do that because he talked about so many different issues, and he's going around the country, while he's talking, he's learning about other groups, and then he would relay it to us. Jesse Jackson is the first presidential candidate to come to Little Tokyo, and he had a rally there in 1984. When he, like I was saying earlier, if he went to another community to talk, and he might bring up the subject of redress, or subject of Vincent Chin, or subject of something going on with the Asian community. I mean, progressive platform on immigration was part of this agenda, very different from even other mainstream Democrats.

KU: I mean, a lot of those lessons are movement building lessons in general.

MM: It is.

KU: But it gets sometimes more complicated, but a lot of people from different cultural backgrounds.

MM: Right. And I think, you know, speaking of that, when I first got involved and I was being recognized for my organizing skills and such, there were Black people who were in the campaign resented that. Because, like I said, it was strong in '84, but it existed in '88, too. Some Black people felt like, "Jesse Jackson belongs to us, so why don't we get to be the leadership people? Why don't we be the people that get invited to their banquets and whatever." And I don't want to make it sound petty because I think it's not petty. I think it's a rightful idea and feeling that Black people have about claiming Jesse as someone that came out of their community. I think the challenge for non-Black people is to really understand that, and also to be able to learn from their experiences. And in some cases, where it was appropriate, for us to teach the Black community about what the Asian experience is, experiences are. So I think having that environment where that kind of exchange could take place, I think that was a big, big contribution, too. But I remember some incidents where, like, as the representative of the California campaign, I had to go to places outside L.A. One time I had to go out to San Bernardino to meet with a group of Jackson supporters there, and when I got there, they were mostly Black, lots of people older than me, people who had been in Democratic clubs for many, many years, and who had organized in churches and things. And so naturally, they felt like an affinity to Jesse Jackson and wanted to claim him and be a little bit possessive about him.

Anyway, so when I went to the San Bernardino event to talk about the campaign and how it functions, how they have to raise money and all this other stuff, I met with a lot of hostility, and very openly saying, like, "You're an Asian guy, why do you lead this campaign?" I had gone out there with a few of my Black friends from L.A. And one of them was a guy named Brother James who was with the Nation of Islam. He had been in prison, he's an ex-felon, shaven head, dark skin, and he kind of looked intimidating, talked kind of loud and intimidating. But anyway, he was there with me. And so when the Black people in San Bernardino started questioning me and kind of being antagonistic, Brother James was the one that stood up and said, "Jesse Jackson is relying on this person (...) to move us forward, and so you need to get behind this," and that sort of calmed them down to have that backing. Because for many Black people, not only in San Bernardino and other places, too, because of the circumstances, they have been isolated, they were stuck in the Black community, they didn't have a lot of interactions with Asians. So I think it's understandable, but there were a lot of those kind of growing pains for everybody to be able... and I had to stand my ground about, okay, I was assigned to do this, and I'm going to do this, so you've got to learn what the campaign requirements are and all that. So there were things like that that happened. And in some cases, like some of those people that I had conflicts with, we became friends later. And sometimes, their situation, things were so intense that I thought we would go to blows. But even those lessons are very worthwhile, being able to continue and not just walk away from conflict like that.

And I think the lesson that I learned about that, too, is that whenever there's a conflict or, we used to use word "contradiction," there were contradictions in society between the capitalists, the one-percenters, the Wall Street corporate, whatever, versus the rest of us. But we don't interact with that one percent all the time, so a lot of the conflict, and the differences come out amongst the people, among the people that are working together. And so the lesson of how do we resolve contradictions among the people? Because in terms of dealing with the political power structure, we will be as antagonistic, as confrontational, as loud as we can, as we need to be, because we're not being heard otherwise. But with contradictions among the people, you have one idea, I have one idea, let's talk it out. You don't have to resort to name-calling, ad hominem attacks. You talk about ideas, talk about plans, talk about activities, talk about how to take the next step. And so we learned that way about... and I think that's a very important lesson in working with any group. I mean, even within my own family, there's conflicts. But I had to figure out ways to deal with it other than to talk bad about them behind their backs or to, you know, like get into physical confrontations, that sort of thing.

KU: Very valuable lessons for all things, really. Did you confront... because I know there's a lot of anti-Blackness in the Asian community, and did you confront that in the Jackson campaign, and what lessons did you draw?

MM: Yeah. You know, you're talking about among, within the Japanese American or Asian communities. I was in the, sort of the hub of the campaign, and one of the spontaneous things that happened was things like the Asian Americans for Jackson, Latinos for Jackson, Native Americans for Jackson, Labor for Jackson, Students for Jackson, these are all real names of things that developed. And so there were many, sort of, centers and organized groups, and I think to be able to harness that energy, harness that enthusiasm I think was, I don't know how we ever figured it out. But I think it's a really ongoing struggle. And within that I would say anti-Blackness, I didn't think of it as a major issue, a major problem, maybe because the Asians who were anti-Black maybe wouldn't be part of that campaign. I mean, when we went out to community groups to talk to people, we occasionally got questions about, "Well, do you really think a Black person can be President? That's a tough job for Black person," that kind of stuff. I mean, that's very offensive. But I think, by and large, we tried to do a lot of education, we wrote articles and things, and put forward the Jesse Jackson platform and how it benefits not only racial and ethnic minorities, but the multicultural majority of this country, because that's what we're fighting for, that's what Jesse stood for. So in the end, I think being able to build up forces that way is really for the masses, the majority of this country. And I would say, too, in terms of the Japanese American community, I think maybe because of the camp experience, and it's related to, but because of the further acculturation, Americanization of the, within the Asian community, I'd say Japanese Americans are most thought to be more assimilated, more acculturated, more American, and adopting those values and things. But we found that Asian Americans as a whole, mostly either the second or the third largest groups in terms of percentage of people who supported Jackson. Other than the Black community, we were neck and neck with the Arab Americans, Arab Americans and Asian Americans really came out in support of Jesse. And I think Asian American operatives who worked for other campaigns, who were part of the Democratic party structure, they were really surprised by how much support Jesse Jackson got among Asians. But I think, in the end, like, for example in California, we captured over thirty percent of the vote, which was very significant.

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