Editors’ note: This article, first published in print during May/June 2017, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.
Progress on the Legislative Front Meanwhile, in February 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) released its unanimous findings in a 467-page report entitled Personal Justice Denied. It concluded that the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans was not justified by “military necessity,” as the government at the time claimed, but instead resulted from race prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. According to a CWRIC estimate, the total income and property losses suffered by Japanese Americans was between $810 million and $2 billion (in 1983 dollars).
The CWRIC’s recommendations included a formal government apology, presidential pardons for the three men convicted of defying the exclusion orders, funding for an educational and humanitarian foundation to sponsor research and public educational activities, and payments of $20,000 to each surviving prisoner. Using the CWRIC’s recommendations as a guide, Japanese American members of Congress, Spark Matsunaga, Daniel Inouye, Norman Mineta, Robert Matsui, and their allies introduced redress bills from 1983 through 1987. During that period,
VOLUNTEER PEOPLE POWER WAS AT THE HEART OF THE MOVEMENT, WHICH KEPT COSTS LOW AND COMMUNITY ACCOUNTABILITY HIGH.
Japanese Americans across the country strategically framed redress not as a parochial Japanese American issue but as a larger constitutional question; they did the painstaking work of creating a broad-based coalition of civil rights, labor and religious groups supporting redress.
The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) took the lead in professional lobbying on Capitol Hill, hiring a professional advocate charged with devising legislative and communications strategies to secure redress. National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (NCRR) led grassroots letter-writing, public education, and lobbying campaigns.
Between 1982 and 1988, the JACL also fundraised a substantial amount of money to support the movement. As a chapter- and membership-based national organization, the JACL at the time had more than 32,000 members and 100 chapters across the country, many of which were local groups that predated the national organization, such as Nikkei women’s clubs.
Some JACL members and chapters were able to contribute more financially. “Nisei were at age when they were established,” explained Ron Wakabayashi, executive director of the national JACL in the 1980s. “[JACL] chapters had access to money.” Historically, the JACL membership tended to be more middle-class and from professional backgrounds, which differentiated them from the more working class NCRR supporters.
The Nikkei community was concentrated in several major metropolitan areas, such as Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The JACK had strongholds in these cities. Chapters in these regions provided the community leadership, active volunteers, local relationships and infrastructure needed to organize successful fundraising dinners for the redress movement “Some place where there’s a larger [Nikkei] population did a dinner, and more than one [for redress]… In a couple of years, you would raise $500,000,” said Wakabayashi. Organizers of a Los Angeles-area dinner set a fundraising goal of $100,000 and met it, mostly through donations from Japanese American community members. This would be equivalent to nearly $250,000 today.
While big fundraising dinners like these often generate the bulk of their income from corporate sponsorships, the JACL was careful not to go too far down that road.
“There was a fairly conscious avoidance of Japanese corporate sponsorship,” explained Wakabayashi. “During World War II, the country got us [Japanese Americans] mixed up with the Japanese. We didn’t want to reinforce that,” he added. Even though the redress movement was gaining momentum, one of the issues that plagued Japanese Americans during World War II—being perceived as Japanese and therefore not American—had not disappeared.
Bringing the Community to Washington While the JACL had a professional lobbying presence in Washington, D.C., NCRR led grassroots efforts to write letters to members of Congress, to educate the community about the status of redress legislation, and to organize Congressional visits by former incarcerees.
NCRR passed the hat at its events and presentations. Members also collected names and addresses through sign-in sheets at these events. NCRR asked people sending lobbying letters to their Congressional representatives to give NCRR copies. Through these letter-writing campaigns, NCRR collected names and addresses of potential donors. NCRR volunteers sent fundraising mailings to their growing base of political supporters. The organization eventually built a mailing list of 1,600 people.
In 1987, NCRR organized grassroots activists from across the country to meet in the Capitol to lobby for redress legislation. NCRR leaders developed a creative fundraising campaign to support the effort and to symbolically involve people who could not make the trip. Many Issei in particular were elderly and sometimes infirm, but their presence in and importance to the redress movement was profound.
“We wanted them to be there in some way,” said NCRR’s Masaoka about the community members who could not travel to the nation’s capital. “So, we had them sponsor a ribbon with their name on it. We put these ribbons on a long string or rope and carried it with us to D.C…. When we had a gathering with the delegates and a couple of congresspeople spoke, we hung those [ribbons] in the room so that we felt the sponsors were in the room with us.”
Ribbon sponsorships cost $20, making them accessible for many donors. NCRR received approximately 200 ribbon sponsorships, raising several thousand dollars. Ultimately, the organization fundraised or secured other resources to send a delegation of 141 people (many of them paying their own way) from all over the country to Washington, D.C.—an incredible feat of people power.
The steady work on the legislative front by grassroots activists and policy advocates, along with the media and public education work done by groups like NCRR and the legal teams representing Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui ultimately paid off Th House of Representatives passed redress legislation in September 1987, and the Senate followed seven months later.
Up to that point, President Ronald Reagan was poised to veto the bill. Redress supporters, however, reminded Reagan that as an army captain he participated in a 1945 medal ceremony for Kazuo Masuda, a Nisei soldier killed in Italy. When Masuda’s family tried to resettle in Santa Ana, Calif. after the war, vigilantes threatened them. City leaders refused to allow Masuda’s body to be buried in the local cemetery. Responding to this racism, the U.S. Army sent a delegation to Santa Ana to present the Distinguished Service Cross to Masuda’s family. Reagan was a member of this military group. Prompting him to recall this incident was key in swaying him to approve the legislation.
On Aug. 10, 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided a formal governmental apology, $20,000 payments to Japanese Americans who were incarcerated, and the creation of a Civil Liberties Public Education Fund to help the public understand the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.
Several years earlier, federal judges overturned the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui.
The National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR) filed a class action lawsuit on March 16, 1983, suing the U.S. government for $27 billion for injuries suffered as a result of the World War II exclusion and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. The lawsuit not only addressed property losses but also constitutional violations.
NCJAR’s legal challenge went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which remanded the case to an appellate court that upheld a lower court’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit. NCJAR once again appealed to the Supreme Court. Five days after filling that appeal, however, the Civil Liberties Act passed, and the Supreme Court denied review. Although the NCJAR lawsuit was unsuccessful, among its significant results was an admission by U.S. Solicitor General Charles Fried, that racism, not military necessity, motivated the government in 1942 to exclude and incarcerate Japanese Americans.
Edison Uno, the activist who first proposed redress nearly 20 years before the passage of the civil liberties act, died of a heart attack in 1976 and never witnessed the realization of what in 1970 seemed like an impossible vision. He, like many others who had been imprisoned during the war, did not live to see their dream of redress realized. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of Nikkei received a formal government apology and monetary redress. What in 1970 seemed like a pipe dream was, nearly 20 years later, a political reality thanks to the tireless work of individuals who were active members of organizations like NCRR, JACL, NCJAR, as well as the attorneys representing Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui. Fundraising Lessons from the Redress Movement
The deep relationships between fundraiser-activists and donors were key to the movement’s success. Trust, confidence and accountability enabled redress movement leaders to raise the money they needed to pursue their varied and legal and legislative strategies. Th JACL’s Ron Wakabayashi recounted the responsibility he felt to succeed with their fundraising and legislative efforts for the movement: “My mom lived in Little Tokyo. You couldn’t f—k up because mom wouldn’t be able to walk in J-town. This was holy grail.” Redress movement leaders and fundraisers knew that losing this fight would have a real impact on their families and communities.
Volunteer people power was at the heart of the movement, which kept costs low and community accountability high. NCRR’s Alan Nishio says, “The fundraising was never a major challenge because we would tailor what we were doing to how much money we had.” He added that volunteering created camaraderie and solidarity: “These people that are willing to do the unglamorous work of mail-outs, etc., are the core of who you want as your friends. I think some of that is lost today. Groups have a broader reach, but less experience.”
At the same time, all-volunteer efforts and groups that don’t have money-savvy people helping with fundraising may not be sustainable over a longer period of time.
“There’s a need for people who are particularly interested in doing this [fundraising] work, knowing that their efforts will be rewarded in creating social change,” says Don Tamaki of Fred Korematsu’s legal team. “That costs money. The more competent nonprofits have these folks in their infrastructure but the newer ones and the smaller ones don’t… When people’s energy runs out, they just retire or die, and no one else is there to carry the ball.”
Don’t underestimate the willingness or ability of the people who are most affected by an issue to donate. Donors to the redress movement came from all economic levels, generations and occupations. Nishio tells the story of one donor he encountered at a senior housing complex in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo:
We made our presentation [about the campaign] and passed is all I can afford, but please do all you can.’ And the social worker [from the housing complex] said that was probably 10 percent of the woman’s disposable income for the week… For me, that’s where it got more serious.
Fundraising was not seen as separate from the “real” work, but as an integral part of building a winning movement. The people who fundraised also organized politically and vice versa. Though some people were more numbers oriented and played a larger role in appeals and other fundraising efforts, everyone played a role in raising money for the movement. Wakabayashi says, “I don’t think of myself as a fundraiser.” This reflects the experiences of other people who were interviewed for this article as well, who though they fundraised for the movement, did not see themselves primarily as fundraisers.
Organizer-fundraisers kept donors updated on what was happening with the campaign(s), which helped them feel more connected. Kathy Masaoka notes, “[NCRR’s] treasurer would write a thank you and would create an update to report to people what had happened. And then they would donate again. We were all really conscious of how the money would be used.”
Multiple organizations raised money for the movement, funding different strategies that all had the broad goal of winning redress for Japanese Americans. Each of the groups profiled in this article had a specific political or legal strategy, and carried out their own fundraising to support their strategy, based on their capacity. NCRR focused on smaller donors and the grassroots base of Nikkei, while the JACL mobilized its large membership base to raise bigger gift for the movement; NCJAR tapped into its network for $1,000+ donors. This lesson is important especially now, when we may be tempted to try and put all our eggs in one basket as we struggle for unity during a time of division and fear. But in our diversity, there can be strength, as the Japanese American activists who won redress have shown.
Rona Fernandez has worked with social justice nonprofits for the past 20 years, always with fundraising as a part of her work. Stan Yogi has more than 26 years of experience with nonprofit organizations in fundraising and grantmaking. Both are senior consultants with Klein & Roth Consulting.