Activists hold a phone banking session in support of HR 40, The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act.

By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor

Japanese American activists gathered virtually last week in support of HR 40 – The Commission to Study and Develop Reparations Proposals for African Americans Act.

In April, the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, first introduced in 1989 by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), which would establish a 13-member commission to “examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present.”

In February, Kathy Masaoka testified before a House subcommittee in support of HR 40. She was among the activists on this month’s call, which was moderated by traci kato kiriyama.

“We’re a small engine that could get the word out in support of HR 40. This is literally a national moment for action,” kato kiriyama emphasized.

In a training session, members of Nikkei Progressives, Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, San Jose Nikkei Resisters and Tsuru for Solidarity discussed phone banking to urge members of Congress to support the bill. HR 40 currently has 185 co-sponsors.

Dreisen Heath of Human Rights Watch said that with a slim Democratic majority in the House, there is little time or margin for error.

Dreisen Heath, a Human Rights Watch researcher/advocate focusing on racial justice issues, spoke about the legislative campaign.

“We’re doing the work, we’re getting it done, but we have more work to do,” Heath said. “We have to get this to the House floor, have to inch towards 200 co-sponsors, that will make leadership feel more comfortable with the margin of error, which is very, very slim.”

Susan Hayase, co-founder of San Jose Nikkei Resisters, offered some tips to contact members of Congress. In the script, volunteers are encouraged to share their personal connections to the Japanese American redress campaign and the commission established in 1980 to study the wartime incarceration.

After a series of public hearings, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians issued a report, “Personal Justice Denied,” and recommended redress for Japanese Americans as well as Aleutian and Pribiloff Islanders in Alaska who had been displaced during World War II. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was based on those recommendations.

“Commissions to study redress are not new,” Hayase said. “There was a commission to study claims made by Indigenous people and to study and make recommendations for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.”

If passed in the House, HR 40 would go to the Senate, where it faces Republic opposition.

Heath noted that the Senate bill currently has 21 co-sponsors, which is half of the Democratic caucus.

“All reparation committees in the past have been bipartisan. You are a part of history. We’ll continue to make history,” she said.

More information on HR 40 is available at:

On the Web:

Human Rights Watch Southern California

Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress

Nikkei Progressives

San Jose Nikkei Resisters

Tsuru for Solidarity

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