“It’s not a question of whether I support (the TMT) or don’t. It’s a question of could it even be built under that circumstance, and the answer is no. It couldn’t be built, and I heard that from everybody on the mountain, including law enforcement.” – Josh Green, Hawai’i Lt Governor
Today for the first time in a long time I feel hopeful and inspired by Hawai’i’s people and some of our leaders.
For many years, I have been a quiet supporter of building the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope). Like many in Hawai’i I have mixed feelings and ‘ohana and friends on both/all sides of the issue, hence the quiet part. Over the past several weeks, I have felt increasing inner conflict. I am aware of the decades of poor stewardship of Maunakea by the University of Hawaii and the State of Hawai’i, the years of building multiple observatories in a specially zoned “Astronomy Precinct” established in 1967 and located on land protected by the Historical Preservation Act for its significance to Hawaiian culture. I understand, but do not share, the deep spiritual significance Maunakea holds for many Hawaiians. I have fervently wished such passion could be mobilized to resist other serious land abuses in our state, for example in nearby Pohakuloa, where military training using live fire ammunition occurs daily in this majestic high plateau between Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Hualalai volcanic mountains.
As 2,000+ protesters flocked to the foot of Maunakea determined to stop TMT construction, I have been filled with admiration for the Kia’i or Protectors (as they wish to be called), for their brilliant, experienced and disciplined application of non-violent civil disobedience, their terrific organization of people and logistics, including the Kapu Aloha system of behavior on the mountain, their willingness to negotiate, their spiritual power and remarkable aloha. I have been angered and frustrated by serious failures of leadership, strategy and spirit made by the Governor and his administration’s since a decision was made (by whom?) to begin construction of TMT.
In the past week, as protests have spread throughout Hawaii and to other US cities, some state legislators, OHA trustees, Hawaiian leaders and journalists have called out some of these errors, and called for the state to step back the heavy handed law enforcement approach, suspend the State of Emergency, and seriously engage in dialogue, starting with achievable matters and those in need of immediate negotiation, such as allowing access for essential workers to maintain existing telescopes in exchange for allowing one truck of Hawaiian cultural practitioners to visit the summit for religious purposes. According to a Protector leader, this offer was on the table one week ago! On Monday, Hawaii Lt Governor Josh Green came to Maunakea and met with leaders and kupuna (elders). He offered a realistic assessment of the situation plus opportunities he saw for compromise. Then on Tuesday, the Governor came to Maunakea to meet with the Protectors. He was in turn met with aloha. He announced his appointment of Big Island Mayor Harry Kim to act as a negotiator, a move that seemed to be welcomed by leaders.
Tuesday: Gov Ige on Maunakea https://www.staradvertiser.com/2019/07/23/breaking-news/gov-ige-asks-mayor-kim-to-lead-effort-for-peaceful-resolution-on-mauna-kea/?fbclid=IwAR05jwvbHqf1u159QZjLv_hlqvaSzssCkMhUx1GuaxM9A62xcLzJ7oqWmqo
If these opportunities for dialogue are not to be wasted, it will be critical for all those involved, including the Governor, to acknowledge and learn from past mistakes in leadership, strategy and spirit. More thoughts on recent mistakes below.
No dialogue. Full steam ahead. TMT and State of Hawaii officials assumed that since the Supreme Court ruled construction could proceed in October 2018, that the Governor could simply announce TMT would begin construction in July, that the state would assure them access, and quickly roll it out. The state made little if any attempt at dialogue with Protectors before this announcement and before taking action #2.
Tearing down the 3 ahu (stone alters) constructed over the past several years by the Protectors for religious purposes and as symbols of their physical and spiritual presence and protection on Maunakea. 2 were located at the summit of Maunakea, and one at the foot of the mountain, in the parking lot of Pohakuloa State Park, across the highway from the entrance to the road up to the summit. Perhaps one or both at the summit were in a location where construction was set to begin, but what possible rationale was there for destroying the one at the base of Maunakea? Surely they had to know how hurtful and highly provocative such destruction would be.
H-3 deja-vu. I felt like I was watching a re-run of the building of the controversial H-3 freeway on O’ahu, and then Gov. George Ariyoshi’s determination to build it after years of protest and legal delays. Despite a contorted rationale and route (it was military defense funds and so had to run from one military base to another) and increasing community opposition to the original goal (development of a “second city” on the Windward side, which by the time H-3 was built no longer fit into O’ahu’s strategic plan nor had much popular support), once the last court of appeals ruled in favor of construction, Ariyoshi rammed H-3 through as though it had become a proxy for his ego, leadership, and legacy, with all reason and human impact lost in the storm. Anyway, back to the present…
Declaring a State of Emergency. Despite no violence or threats (or any history of such) by a growing, but highly organized group of Protectors, the state escalated the situation by declaring a State of Emergency. This is an action that in Hawai’i has, until this month, been reserved for volcanic eruption, hurricane, flood, tidal wave, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. That WWII state of emergency declared by then Gov. Poindexter paved the road for the shameful internment” of American citizens of Japanese ancestry. And it is eerily similar to recent abuse of powers by Trump in his attempts to build walls and demonize immigrants. These similarities should send chills down the spines of any child of immigrants, like say, all of us in Hawaii who are not Native Hawaiian. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1941/12/07/Japanese-attack-Pearl-Harbor-heavy-loss-of-life-US-fleet-steams-to-sea/4181357431808/
Militaristic escalation of the situation. The Ige administration brought in law enforcement from multiple islands with units not accustomed to working together, sent police to the front lines of the protest carrying batons and wearing masks, brought in tear gas and an LRAD sound system/weapon (while insisting it was not intended as a weapon) and called in National Guard troops (while announcing they would carry no guns). The rationale when provided was fear-based projection (“This could become another Standing Rock”) or based upon false information, rumors, or anecdotal occurrences (“safety concerns” including: drug and alcohol use, people dangerously crossing the highway, unsanitary conditions and environmental damage). None of these were confirmed by journalists or others on site to be ongoing issues. By all accounts the Kapu Aloha system is working well at present. Everyone who joins the area occupied by the Protectors signs in, gets a briefing and agrees to the rules which include no tobacco, alcohol or other drugs; strict non-violent disobedience behavior; and aloha ‘aina (love and stewardship of land).
Images of non-violent seated elders vs. armed police officers. On one of the first day of the protests, the Protectors had prepared for arrests. A small group of Kupuna sat at the front of the barricade and were slowly, gently, peacefully, and “ritualistically” arrested by Hawaii county police. While all knew this was a planned tactic, it was highly emotional, as some of the police officers and probably many others, were related to these elders. And even if not blood relatives, the kupuna may be seen as a symbol of the mountain as ancestor. The arrests had been proceeding slowly and quietly for hours when for some reason state police armed with batons and masks showed up on the front lines. In response, a large group of protectors surged forward to surround the kupuna. I am not sure what walked that moment back from a dangerous brink, but those images and sounds of kupuna being arrested punctuated by grief stricken cries of “auwe”, accompanied by the sight of armed and helmeted law enforcement stepping in, mobilized people around the state and the globe.
I have no illusions that coming to a resolution will be easy. There are some interesting ideas, such as accelerated decommission of existing telescopes (proposed by Lt Gov Green), that might find credence. I do believe continuing dialogue is critical to the fabric of our community, and that trust can be built by negotiating and coming to agreement upon small things first. It will be another error to have this negotiation come down to one person (Harry Kim) so I would hope that they are smart enough to bring in some of the other talented mediators in our community so this becomes a team effort. How Hawai’i comes to this decision matters more than what is decided. And if the outcome is that TMT is not built, so be it.
Beautiful and baroque, romantic and tragic, creative and crumbling, overcome by tourists by day and surprisingly still after dark drifting along her canals in a gondola. Yes, this is the one and only Venice! Known as Venezia in the musical Italian language (pronounced Veh-net’-zeeah), it is the largest of 118 small islands located in the Venetian lagoon, a system that is 8% land interlaced with 200 square miles of estuaries, marshes, salt flats and 150 canals and 400 bridges off the coast of northeastern Italy.
This Venetian lagoon is the largest wetland in the Mediterranean Basin. Venice was built upon huge wooden logs driven into layers of silt and down to the hard clay below. The lack of oxygen in the water has prevented decay over 500 years and the continual washing with sediment has petrified wood into stone. While these lagoon islands were inhabited from ancient times, the written history of Venice starts after the fall of the Roman empire (about 500 AD) when large numbers of people settled here as they fled from the mainland of what is now Italy to escape Germanic and Hun invasions.
The Venetians became expert ship builders and founded a city-state based upon shipping and trade. Venice traded extensively with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslin world and their art and architecture reflects those influences (see the mosaics at end of blog post). Venice at various times waged war with Greeks, Turks, and the Byzantine empire. By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe, dominating Mediterranean trade routes and commerce and controlling the price of spices.
The leading families of Venice competed to build the grandest palaces and support the work of talented artists. While the printing press was invented in Germany, by 1482 Venice had became the printing capital of the world, and it was a Venetian who invented the paperback book. This city-state began its long decline in the 15th century due to wars, loss of shipping dominance as other countries discovered trade routes to India and the America’s, and a succession of plagues that killed large numbers of Venetians.
During what has been called its “decadent decline”, in the 18th century Venetians invented casinos, masked balls and Carnevale, where the wealthy of the world could engage in debauchery from behind the anonymity of a mask.
Art remains integral to the commerce and identity of Venice. The Venice Biennale was established in 1895, and today hosts over 500,000 visitors at international exhibitions of art, music, theatre, dance and architecture. La Biennale is held every other year and spans 6 months. The 2019 Biennale was beginning to ramp up during our stay. We must have just missed mysterious performance artist Banksy, who I later read may have been seen in May, sitting in Piazza San Marco, dressed as an shabby vendor, next to his uninvited contribution to the Biennale called “Venice in Oil”, a critique of the cruise line fiasco (see more in video below).
However, we did stop by a mask shop for a mask-making demonstration. Mask-making has a long and vibrant tradition in Venice -and Italy- as part of Commedia dell’arte, a form of professional theatre which began in Italy and became popular throughout Europe during the 16th to the 18th century. Peter was chosen to wear the mask of Harlequin, a character our local guide Corina described as “a nice guy, humble, a little slow”😏. Elsewhere descriptions of Harlequin describe him as clown, acrobat and trickster, at times brilliant and at others idiotic, but always the comic relief in a show.
Venice is struggling under the weight of centuries of “decadent decline”, the explosion of mass tourism, rising sea levels, and the literal weight of millions of visitors and environmental damage from the huge cruise ships that bring many of them. As we walked the streets with our Venetian born guide, she pointed to an elegant building where, she added, her children were born. Once a monastery, it is the island’s main hospital. She now lives with her family in Mestre on the Italian mainland. The price of housing and the volume of tourists have made Venice too expensive and unlivable for most who work there. The fabled “Queen of the Adriatic” has lost more than half her population in the past 50 years, from 122,000 residents in 1965 to an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 today; this on an island that hosted 26 million tourists in 2017. The narrow labyrinthine streets are filled with upscale shops and restaurants catering to tourists. In our forays – in an admittedly limited area – we saw no bakers, butchers, grocers, dressmakers, or stores selling other daily necessities as one sees in most cities. We heard “Chinese new money” is buying up homes, shops, and restaurants as locals depart; that celebrities are buying the elegant old houses built by Venetian nobility along the Grand Canal, but that many remain boarded up with water regularly flooding the first floors, since stringent regulations limit how these historic beauties can be renovated. We were told that the Acqua-alta, or “high water” used to cause flooding in Venice once or twice/year during a rainy season, but now with global warming and rising sea levels it happens “all the time”.
In Italy, birthplace is second only to family as the source of identity and loyalty. Venetians have tried valiantly to fight for their homeland, holding regular protests calling for reform, especially a ban on cruise ships entering the Venetian lagoon. In 2013, a law passed banning cruise liners over a certain size, only to be later overturned. Opponents like No Grandi Navy (No Big Ships) charge these huge cruise ships disgorge not only large numbers of people but also pollutants in lagoon waters, cause damage to the tiny docks and fragile historic buildings. Three days after we departed Venice along the picturesque Grand Canal, a cruise ship collided with a dock and a small boat. injuring 4 people. A BBC article below shows video of the crash along with the protests and promises that followed. Scroll down to the clip showing thoughtful comments from Venetians and protests by a flotilla of small boats alongside a huge cruise liner, reminiscent of David and Goliath. Those in Hawaii may be reminded of the canoe flotilla that successfully sank the success of the environmentally sketchy and culturally objectionable Hawaii Superferry in the 2000’s. https://youtu.be/nMYm0V6sQy4https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-45835906/the
We traveled into Venice with a small tour group via vaporetto, small commuter boats that traverse the canals. Because day visitors spend little money and therefore contribute less the local economy, Rick Steves tours make a point of staying at least 2 nights in a small family-run hotel. A new tax is “planned” only for tourists who visit for the day to discourage day trippers, but it is hard to imagine the proposed amount (from 3 Euro to 10 Euro per person) will do much to discourage visitors from coming to this iconic destination.
As Venetian Matthew Secchi says in the BBC video, “If we don’t find a solution, it could be like Machu Pichu, a city of beautiful marble, but without a real life, without citizens”
Piazza San Marco is the main destination for tourists in Venice and if you can roll with the crowds, it does not disappoint. St Mark’s Basilica with its over-the-top baroque elegance and grandeur, reflects the influence of Byzantine and Islamic architecture and art, and houses sculpture and religious relics looted in wars with those empires. Gorgeous mosaics created from colored glass the size of a fingernail fill the chapel inside St Mark’s (where no photos are allowed) and cover much of the outside walls where they must weather the elements. Similar mosaics can be seen on some buildings along the Grand Canal, with green algae and opihi (limpets) silently lining their lower edges as the salty lagoon tides gives them their daily bath.
We shared a gondola ride with two others, our tour guide and bus driver, both talented and fun world travelers who obviously never tired of the experience. We were surprised how still and magical it felt to drift along the canals in the dark and watch night time Venice from the water. The gondola trade and profession is controlled by a guild of 400 gondolieri, with licenses passing mostly from father to son after training, apprenticeship and exam. In 2010 Venice got its first fully licensed female gondolier when a license passed from father to daughter. A gondolier can earn the equivalent of up to US$150,000 per year. The character on the right was our gondolier. He had two daughters named Petra and Agatha of whom he was very proud.
At night Piazza San Marco becomes a happening night spot for music, song and dance, a place to stop by after ones’ quiet romantic gondola ride for some music or an aperol spritz.
Four weeks ago we walked the streets of Munich, Germany, and stood in the famous beer hall where Hitler and the Nazi Party got their start, bringing in big crowds for speeches using beer and fear. On the way to Munich, we stopped for a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial on the site of one of the most notorious of the Nazi killing fields. It was gut-wrenching and the experience of a lifetime. I felt the presence of my ancestors and a field of ghosts; heard the happy sounds of birdsong and children playing soccer nearby, and cried.
We could easily spend days arguing about whether one should or should not use the words “concentration camps” to describe the ad hoc mess of migrant detention facilities on the US southern border . And that would be a win for the people who cynically believe them to be a necessary evil – because it is a welcome distraction from the shameful and embarrassing facts. We are holding children and adults under conditions that violate longstanding US laws and recent court orders that are not ambiguous.
A brief definition of “concentration camp” (Miriam Webster online) reads: “A place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard —used especially in reference to camps created by the Nazis in World War II for the internment and persecution of Jews and other prisoners”. Encyclopedia Britannica provides a more encyclopedic definition and history, including in their examples not only the Nazi camps, but also the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans, and prison camps run by the British in South Africa and by the Soviet Union. Within these definitions both sides of the terminology war are given fodder and can take refuge.
In the mind of most Americans, however, these words are synonymous with the Nazi death camps, the largest and most efficient human genocide in human history – and for some Americans this is not abstract history, but trauma that happened to their family, a painful heritage that must not be minimized by angry rhetorical employment of the term.
Just four weeks ago we walked the streets of Munich, Germany, and stood in the famous beer hall where Hitler and the Nazi Party got their start, bringing in big crowds for shouty speeches using beer and fear. We visited The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial on the site of one of the most notorious of the Nazi killing fields. It was gut-wrenching and the experience of a lifetime. I felt the presence of my ancestors and a field of ghosts, heard the happy cries of new life as children played soccer nearby, and cried. And I can tell you that while the the parallels between the rise of the Nazis and Trump tactics are chilling, we are not there… yet. And what is happening on our southern border, as shameful as it is, DOES NOT COME CLOSE to the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.
So, what is the purpose in using such inflammatory and painful language? If the intention is to shock Americans into conscience and action, then let us leave that to a simple recitation of the specific findings released this week by lawyers who visited a Texas detention center for children, some as young as the infants held in their teen mothers’ arms: 300 children living in one windowless room. Children sleeping on cement floor with one or two blankets. Blankets removed as punishment for losing a lice comb. Lice and flu outbreaks. Older children assigned to take care of toddlers. Toddlers wearing filthy clothes and no diapers. “I just got back from this facility where laws were being broken right and left. There is a judgment in this case that says that children are supposed to be treated a certain way when they are in government custody. All of these children are in government custody, and those very basic standards are being violated.” said Warren Binford, a law professor at Willamette University and the director of its clinical-law program. https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/inside-a-texas-building-where-the-government-is-holding-immigrant-children?fbclid=IwAR3srODVxwcL2-bhNxEfDRgcsLQBcbw8uJ3nlzSonxPVuQ_gWyb5d0DOE9Y
I will not waste time defending or excoriating those who use that extraordinarily painful and highly charged terminology because there is important work to be done to try and stop this. And the facts, though they are denied by the person in charge of the whole mess, will come to light and will win. “The arc of history is long but it bends towards justice”-Martin Luther King
Note 6.24.19. Less than a week after the story of the Texas facility broke, most of those children have been moved. Where and whether it is somewhere better is not known . https://www.npr.org/2019/06/24/735552011/migrant-children-moved-from-border-patrol-center-after-outcry
Photos from Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial