When the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety opened up shop in Honolulu, its new director, Ashley Lukens, claimed: “The [anti-GMO] movement here is vibrant. It’s been able to achieve some victories here that elsewhere are impossible.”
With both the Kauai and Hawaii Island ordinances being challenged in court, and Monsanto vowing to wage a fight against the Maui ballot initiative, it's unclear whether any political changes will be achieved. Just as it's unclear exactly what CFS considers a victory, or how it defines vibrant, considering the movement has failed to gain traction on Oahu, the major population center.
But there is no doubt it has been able to do things here that would be impossible elsewhere, as it galvanized disaffected kama'aina youth looking for a scapegoat and newcomers desperate to belong.
First, the scapegoat. As a reader commented:
If you grew up on Kaua’i then it’s impossible to not feel the environmental decline of our island. And we all are frustrated. 2491 was the result of that frustration. For the first time people felt that they could make a difference. It was not a movement of big money. It was a movement of mostly Kaua’i youth crying out for a change in the status-quo. The details of the bill, to many involved, were irrelevant. It was standing up for the fight that mattered.
Of course, big money did enter the movement — as soon as Councilman Gary Hooser brought in the Center for Food Safety.
But what really struck me was how so many of the frustrated youth who grew up on Kauai are the offspring of mainlanders who moved here in the 1960s-80s and sold real estate to and built luxury homes for part-timers who drove up land prices and closed off accesses. They started businesses that catered to tourists; invited their friends and families to move here, too, and in other ways contributed to the environmental decline and created the status quo their kids are complaining about. But instead of going off on Mom and Dad, or, gasp, looking at their own complicity, they targeted an easy outside enemy: biotech.
From there it was a snap to find soldiers among the legions of young and old newbies who had also moved here believing they'd found paradise, and were anxious to fit into a community that is cliquish, provincial and often racist. With the community radio station pumping out non-stop propaganda on its “public affairs” talk show and the local newspaper asleep at the wheel, it was a cinch to mobilize an impassioned crowd behind the simplistic slogan, “defend what you love.”
The power of that dynamic became even more clear when I read a guest editorial in today's paper by Vesselina Jeliazkova. It was about a recent action at Kahili River to access waterfalls that have been blocked by a man who is building a lavish mansion on ag land — a practice that some of us have been fighting, and that others, including some of the aforementioned disaffected and their parents, have been abetting. Vesselina writes:
Getting to Kilauea Falls was the goal.
“By law at the end of the river, kanaka blood line decedents can continue up the river, to gather and practice their spiritual practices. This right is preserved for native people in our Hawaii state laws,” Fern [Rosenstiel] informed us.
Out of 15-20 of us, maybe two or three people fit the kanaka blood line requirements. However, we all secured our water transportation and went into the quest: To see what turned out to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.
Kaiulani Mahuka spoke before everyone went into the water and onto our mission with all kinds of boards and canoes.
“Because you are here to do the kuleana you are the new Hawaiians!” he [sic] said. “Repeat after me: I am the new Hawaiian.”
And we did.
It was the first time since I have been here that I was told to say out loud that “I am the new Hawaiian.” It was the first time for a lot of people. I liked it. It felt powerful. Made me stick my chest out proud. It sounded like we were all saying, “I ku mau mau! Stand up together!” from a famous Hawaiian chant shared by Pua Kanaka’ole from David Malo’s Hawaiian Antiquities.
“When you do the work to honor aina and ohana (family), even if you don’t have the Hawaiian blood, you are still thinking like a Hawaiian, where the land and stewardship of it comes first. When you step up to protect the aina that makes you Hawaiian,” Kaiulani passionately added on her farewell power speech.
Far be it from me to determine who is kanaka and who is not.
Still, I found it fascinating that Vesselina's piece followed one by James “Kimo” Rosen, who wrote about how much he hates the standard Hawaii question: How long have you lived here? He then goes on to make his case:
I was always under the impression that a person who actually moves on their own free will is actually where they want to be by choice, whereas a person born wherever and who never leaves is only there because their parents happened to live there the day they were born.
The newcomer has gone out of their way to be in Hawaii, which actually makes one a stronger Hawaiian. Like a convert to a religion, they are usually the strongest congregants because that religion is their choice, not just a religion into which they were born.
It is easy, in this strange milieu of deputized Hawaiians, self-declared Hawaiians, locals, local haole and actual kanaka, to galvanize, polarize and otherwise manipulate a community into political actions. It's continuing now, with the push to get that clearly illegal charter amendment on the ballot.
All of which allows Center for Food Safety to proclaim its victories. But as I noted, we don't yet know how CFS, with its very specific, big money-financed agenda, defines victory.