Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Musings: To the Victor

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.

Three times.

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.

Hoo boy. 

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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you once again Joan. You write with such clarity what many of us think but don't express, except among ourselves.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it when you talked about the desperation of people to belong. Reminds me of the Native American posers from the 70s

If these folks want to play dress up that's their business. But when they start pushing a goofy political agenda by rationalizing it as taking back the Aina or whatever, they're no different than gun nuts invoking the spirit of our Founding Fathers.

Anonymous said...

We came here for the surf . We wanted to stay. It was never easy because the locals were violent . When I got here you couldn't look at a local without being called out . It wasn't easy to be a f' haole in the early seventies. We paid our dues one way or the other . We were beaten robbed at the locals pleasure . Yet we stayed ....worked....saved....and bought property . Now we are bad people ?

Anonymous said...

Joan could you please make it easier to post a comment ? The word game is too hard for us Irish folks. It takes me about six tries to read those weird words .

Joan Conrow said...

That's the Blogger spam guard. We can try it without for a while, but if the spam starts I'll need to put it back on.

Anonymous said...

If you hit the refresh button on the spamguard, it gives all numbers which is way easier

Anonymous said...

"Now we are bad people?" A little rude. Guests know when it's polite to go home.

Anonymous said...

From what I have seen victory is defined as "we made a statement" which sets a pretty low bar for :suck-cess".

Anonymous said...

Joan, is this autobiographical ? You seem to like to pigeon hole everyone and make personal attacks on everyone that is trying to find more pono ways. Where is the attacks on the chemical companies? Where do you place yourself in this drama? I really miss all the attacks on the TVRs.

Anonymous said...

The solidarity present in the Anonymous Camp signifies the advancements made in assimilation of all races by using a progressing number for identification. The thoughts and opinions offered present possibilities for the future absent any connection to the past self.
Dean Little

Anonymous said...

Grandpa used to say"watch their mouth move, now watch what they actually do"

Anonymous said...

Kaiulani isn't Hawaiian herself. How can she be telling other people they the new Hawaiians?

Anonymous said...

Hawaiian at heart is NOT Hawaiian. This is getting ridiculous and poser-ish. It's actually the most "Ha'ole" and disrespectful to Hawaiian culture to fake like it's your own if it's not. Embrace it, perpetuate it, love it. But do not claim to be Hawaiian if your not. These people have no shame.

Anonymous said...

Draft administrative rules pertaining to a new law regulating pesticide use and the growth of genetically modified organisms by large-scale commercial agricultural operations on Kauai are posted on the county's website for review and public comment.

Anonymous said...

Dear 9:42. It may come as a surprise to you but very few White people want to be a Hawaiian . Your cultural paranoia is showing .

Anonymous said...


I'm pretty sure Kaiu is Hawaiian herself if she claims Kanaka Maoli iwi kupuna at Naue. She is a mix of ethnicities as most kanaka today are.

Anonymous said...

This entry made me laugh. I enjoy your writing style and second the sentiments of May 6, 2014 at 8:56 AM. I read the piece by Ms. Jeliazkova and was by turns amused and appalled. There is a metaphor here. As much as I respect and appreciate the efforts of that group to defend our public access rights via civil disobedience, the writing itself was naïve, childish, cloying, and embarrassing. Plus, I did not appreciate being screamed at in the second to last paragraph!!!!

On a more serious note, I think your blog has become something akin to therapy for the island in the aftermath of the 2491 debacle. Much like peeling an onion, including tears, each entry has brought us closer to the core issue: identity.

For most of us who grew up in Hawaii, identity is a very fluid concept. It is one that translates poorly to a western paradigm that seeks to systematically classify everyone: you are either white, or black, or „asian“ (whatever that means). In contrast, here you can be equally japanese and filipino – though perhaps the relative intensity of each vacillates over time - and are not forced to pick one over the other. You can have a christmas tree in a buddhist household or devout christians praying to hawaiian gods. In short, you are what/who you are.

In the context of this blog post and Ms. Jeliazkova’s essay, this means that Hawaii can be an integral part of your identity even if you are not Native Hawaiian. No chest pounding needed, no emotional catharsis involved. One example would the Hawaii Clubs at colleges and universities across the US where most of the members are not Native Hawaiian but identify as „being from Hawaii“ and celebrate that bond without pretending to be something or someone else or sacrificing other components of their identities.

It is thus with some bemusement that I regard the born-again Kauaians. Those who are „stepping into their kuleana“ by „malama-ing“ the `aina and enjoy „wala’au-ing“ on their path toward being pono. Smug in their purity, they come across as insecure by seeking to replace their old identity with a new one. Except they can’t. Their „old“ identity is part of the „new“. They have failed to acculturate to a fundamental part of the society they claim to revere. Similarly, the hard-core sovreigntists have ironically adopted a very western, and particularly American, concept of identity (racial). They have based their movement on a core principal of the very thing they claim to reject (American culture). Perhaps this is the tie that binds.

In this light, perhaps the recent upheavals on this island are due to people who feel like they are outsiders and are overcompensating. The sovereigntists, meanwhile, have rejected the dominant culture. This all leads us back to the core issue of identity: who are we? What are we? What is Hawaii or what should it be? A vision of our shared future is strongly influenced by the confidence with which we view ourselves now. After 50 years of breakneck change following statehood, we need to have that discussion. Thank you for providing one such forum.