Seeding Songs of Freedom
Politics / Veteran Molokai activist Walter Ritte couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he watched hundreds of people marching down Beretania Street toward the State Capitol, most of them chanting and waving signs. “This is unreal,” he said. “I couldn’t have expected this.”
As the Legislature opened on Jan. 16, a “We the People” rally filled the Capitol Rotunda with activists for Hawaiian rights, GMO labeling and Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) repeal. Ritte, a longtime community leader, emphasized the importance of laying a foundation of respect for Hawaiian rights and history, which would in turn lead into discussions of agriculture and land.
That the rally was held the day before the 120-year anniversary of Queen Liliuokalani’s overthrow gave extra poignancy to calls for the deoccupation and demilitarization of Hawaii.
Celebrated young slam poet Jamaica Osorio presented a work mourning the erasure of Hawaiians and calling for action. “In 1893 we promised to back our Queen until she was free, daring to call ourselves the famous flowers of the land we weren’t prepared to protect. So here I stand at the Palace or the Capitol screaming . . . but what is a voice when no one is listening? When you finally feel like joining me, I will be here . . . I will be singing,” said Osorio.
Others spoke out against the desecration of Hawaiian land and burial sites. “I will stand for what is right for our ‘aina according to our culture,” said Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, who serves on the Oahu Island Burial Council. “I’m waiting . . . for a Hawaiian government that is run for and by our culture.”
Poi boards were set out, and protesters brought 1,000 pounds of taro, which was pounded into poi.
Agriculture and GMOs
Two of the key issues presented were sustainable agriculture and genetically modified organism (GMO) labeling.
“While they’re in there [in the Legislature] trying to save face, we’re out here trying to save Hawaii,” said performer Makana Cameron. He encouraged the audience to begin growing food at home. “You don’t need poison to grow food,” he said, noting that he grows food without resorting to pesticides. Indian environmentalist and food justice activist Dr. Vandana Shiva echoed Cameron’s challenge. “In the making of your own food, you make freedom,” she said. Shiva emphasized the importance of biodiversity and crop diversity, which is threatened, she said, by GMO technology that encourages growing only a few monoculture crops. She expressed the hope that in the future, industries related to sustainable farming and biodiversity, rather than GMO seed companies, will support Hawaii. “Gardening is our future, not GMOs; freedom is our future, not seed slavery,” Shiva said. “I see a Hawaii where aloha is not just a reference to the past, but a condition for the future.”
Due to the expense of GMO seeds (which cannot be saved but must be bought anew each year due to Monsanto patents), Shiva said that 270,000 Indian farmers fell into debt and have committed suicide since Monsanto began to dominate the country’s cottonseed market 15 years ago. “We’ve got to reclaim our democracies. The only thing Monsanto can bring us is a suicide economy,” Shiva said.
A public relations representative for the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association quietly passed out packets aimed at refuting Shiva’s claims with statements such as, “If India had not embraced biotechnology, the country would be seeing millions of deaths every year . . . GMO isn’t killing people in India. Starvation is.”
Public and sacred lands
The protection of public lands was another hot topic. Protesters held signs declaring “PLDC is not the key to sustainability,” and Local 5 union representatives called Act 55, which established the PLDC, “The worst piece of legislation passed in recent years.”
Development of sacred sites was also discussed. Big Island musician Hawane Rios performed her song “Poliahu I Ke Kapu,” which celebrates Mauna Kea, to bring attention to the Thirty Meter Telescope that will be built on the mountain. She is donating all sales of the song on iTunes to the Mauna Kea Legal Defense Fund.
Even though participants attended in support of a variety of issues, several speakers emphasized the importance of mutual respect and coming together in order to make a difference in shaping policy.
Gary Hooser (former state senator and Kauai county councilmember), who has spoken out against the PLDC in the past, told the crowd to communicate with legislators and [use] the democratic process, saying the most important thing is to emphasize “putting people first. Corporations,” he added, “do not put people first.”
Hooser encouraged participants to think of legislators not as enemies, but as allies. “See them face to face, tell them what’s important to you,” he said. “We’re all in this together.”
The crowd was passionate, but several organizers reminded them to be mindful of the Legislature opening ceremonies taking place inside the Capitol. During a five-minute recess, however, Ritte led chants of “Label GMO” and “Repeal PLDC.”