The rain — big rain, hard rain, heavy rain — arrived in the wee hours of the night and lingered, pinging off the skylights, pounding on the roof, causing leaves, twigs and branches to fall and Koko to turn into a little vibrating machine of anxiety and fear. Which meant, of course, that sleep from then on came only in fragments.
But I didn’t mind. I love Koko and I love the rain.
I also love history, and last night I took a trip into the past when documentary photographer Ed Greevy stopped by to show me some of the photos he took here on Kauai back in the early 1970s. Most of the prints he brought were of the Niumalu Tenants Association, which organized to protest plans to evict mostly poor residents to make way for a resort development.
Ed told me of one old Filipino man, a retired plantation worker, who would be called to testify at the public hearings, which sometimes lasted hours. He’d show up in the clothes he used to wear cutting cane, turn to the developer, pull out his machete and say, “You come Kauai, I cut,” as the room erupted into a roar of support and approval.
Nowadays it’s more like, “You come Kauai, I cut you a very good deal.” And the old guy would be arrested for terroristic threatening.
Ed has been documenting movements for social and political change in Hawaii for the last 40 years, and he served up a fascinating account of government corruption, replete with payoffs from developers; organizers like John Kelly, who had his own printing press because a lot of print shops in those days wouldn’t produce environmental flyers; Communist Party recruiting; competing leftists newspapers, demonstrations at UH and some of the protests here over developments proposed for Niumalu, Nawiliwili, Mahaulepu and Nukolii.
In the course of our discussion, various names came up, like Jimmy Nishida, JoAnn Yukimura, Max Graham, and Ed wanted to know if they were still actively working against development. Ummmm, not so much, I replied diplomatically.
In perusing the photos, I was struck by how much the harbor area has been developed in the last 40 years and how much more lush the island has become — due in large part to the proliferation of invasive species like java plum, African tulip, albizia, etc. Plus no one sported tattoos, and not a single child had silver teeth. There were virtually no haoles, at least in that particular struggle. The demonstrators were predominantly middle-aged and older locals.
Ed talked about how he was called to document numerous events, and as the environmental-social justice movement grew through the 1970s, there were more actions than he could cover in a day, sometimes 15 or 20. Folks traveled within the islands and between the islands to support one another and build strength at demonstrations. You don’t see that much anymore. The last time activists came from another island, it was to protest Brescia’s house atop the burials at Naue. And it totally freaked out the cops, who started talking “conspiracy.”
Then Ed and I talked about how activists get worn out or worn down, but the developers, they just bide their time and keep pushing. They’ve also gotten smarter at overcoming opposition. Now they let people choose their poison: would you rather have an industrial park, a shopping mall or a miniature golf course? Once they get the community “buy in,” residents defend the projects so the developer doesn’t have to. So clever, dem.
As we parted, Ed pulling a carry-on bag filled with black and white photographs that reflected a time long past, I reflected on how, theoretically at least, it’s much easier today to mobilize and organize. Yet there’s so much less of it going on.
It seems I’m not the only looking to the past. Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s supposedly “interim” planning director, Mike Dahilig just announced Dee Crowell as the deputy planning director. It’s a post Dee held back in 1993 — before going on to serve as planning director for the next 10 years. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the mayor would choose someone like Mike, who appears to have neither the management experience nor education to serve as director, and then they’d bring in Dee as second-in-command?
Bernard also reached way into the past and brought back that old ILWU stalwart, Tommy Contrades, to serve as manager of Capital Improvement Projects. As I’ve reported here previously, Bernard’s warchest was fed heavily by the unions, especially those involved with the building industry, and picking a pro-growth type like Tommy is part of the payoff.
At least there’s a bright spot on the horizon in Gov. Abercrombie’s choice of William Aila as director of the Department (and Board) of Land and Natural Resources. The Star-Advertiser’s Derrick DePledge described Aila as “a progressive and a Hawaiian activist who has been critical of the militarization of the islands, including live-fire training by the Army in Makua Valley.”
But he’s so much more than that. Aila is a longtime foe of Wespac and its disastrous fishing “management” decisions, an advocate of community based resource management and a member of Hui Malama I Na Kupuna O Hawai'i Nei, which is strongly committed to burial preservation.
I’ve interviewed William for many stories and found him to be a straight-shooter and man of integrity and dedication. With someone like him in charge, there’s hope that State Historic Preservation Division might finally clean up its act and the state might make real strides in protecting its natural resources.
That is, if the Lege approves him and gives the department money.