Sitting outside the 10 by 20 foot makeshift tent that has served as my home for the last 34 days on Mauna Kea, I watch the tent poles shudder to the concussion of US Army howitzer cannons firing live shells at their training grounds below. When the wind blows just right, from the south, the rattle of automatic rifle fire reaches the occupation. There’s no denying it: A war rages in Hawai’i.
It’s a war on native peoples, a war on women, a war on the land, a war on life itself. The war did not start in Hawai’i. The war began thousands of years ago with the dawn of civilization when some humans chose to live in population densities high enough that they overshot the carrying capacity of their homelands and turned to dominating other peoples in other lands. Imperialism was born, and one-by-one land-based, truly sustainable human societies were either eradicated or forced into assimilation.
The war swept west across Turtle Island (so-called North America) – where it is still being fought – leaving whole peoples destroyed and now largely forgotten. The war is carving peaks from mountains, drying rivers so they no longer flow to their ocean homes, and boiling the planet’s temperature to levels dangerously close to being unbearable for all but a few lifeforms. The war decimates the numbers of our animal kin, too. Buffalo walk the ledge above total extinction. So do salmon. So do timber wolves. So do grizzly bear.
The war in Hawai’i began in the late 1770s when Captain Cook first appeared. By 1897, a million Hawaiians were killed in battle, by introduced diseases, and through Christian missionary efforts. Half of Hawai’i’s endemic species have been exterminated since European contact. The minds of Hawaiian children were attacked when the illegal Republic of Hawai’i outlawed the Hawaiian language in Hawaiian schools in 1896. The bodies of these Hawaiian children were attacked when they were beaten for speaking their native tongue.
A genocidal program of desecration was initiated as well. Hale O Pa’pa and the Kanaka burials there were paved over by highways while Kahoolawe was bombed to hell by the American military – and that’s just to name a very few of the sites desecrated. Now, the TMT project wants to dynamite an eight acre patch of Mauna Kea’s hallowed summit to clear the way for their telescope.
Rumors are swirling that the TMT project is poised to break its self-imposed moratorium on construction and send its equipment up the mountain with an armed escort. We have heard that David Ige is willing to send the national guard against the Mauna Kea protectors. In the midst of these rumors, it is not uncommon to hear people say they hope the situation on Mauna Kea will not turn violent. The problem with expressing this hope is the situation on Mauna Kea is violent, has been violent for a long time, and will remain violent so long as those in power remain in control of the land.
Before you object to this, consider the bombs and rifle fire I am listening to as I write this. Consider that the first time construction equipment tried to force a way over the objections of the Hawaiian people, it came with men carrying batons and pistols. These men carrying batons and pistols put 31 peaceful protectors in handcuffs, carried them to the Hilo jail, extracted 250 dollars from each one of them, and now forces them to appear at a series of of court dates under threat of jail time. Consider that David Ige, as I wrote earlier, has stated that he is willing to call in the national guard to clear the way for the TMT. Speaking of war, the national guard is an organization of soldiers. They will come with rifles instead of the police’s pistols.
This is violence.
I didn’t even mention the violence already done to Mauna Kea to build and maintain the 13 telescopes that already exist on the summit. These 13 telescopes required their own dynamite and 38 feet have been cut from the height of Mauna Kea’s summit already. There have been 7 reported mercury spills on the mountain that contains Hawai’i Island’s largest freshwater aquifer. Plants, animals, and insects that live on Mauna Kea are murdered by this mercury and its more than likely that humans – especially children and the elderly – are harmed by this mercury, too. Kanaka Maoli are genealogically related to Mauna Kea – it is literally a family member – so to do this kind of violence to the Mauna is to attack an older sibling.
Again, this is violence.
I anticipate that some may accuse me of encouraging an atmosphere of violence by using words like war to describe the violent reality facing Mauna Kea, facing Kanaka Maoli, and facing the long, necessary road to Hawaiian independence. Describing reality, however, is not the same thing as encouraging violence. I want this violence to stop and the first step to a cure is the proper diagnosis. As a haole, I understand that when push comes to shove the State will crack down much harder on people of color than they will white people, and I do not want to provoke this crack down. I do think, though, that we need to be prepared to react when the State does not treat the protectors with the kapu aloha that the protectors will show those who come to destroy Mauna Kea.
Those who deny we are at war are wrong. Maybe, they cannot recognize the war because war has become so utterly pervasive. The wars of the past led to the rape of women. The war we’re fighting now causes one in six women to be raped in her lifetime worldwide. The wars of the past were fought to beat armies, to eradicate cultures, and to topple nations. The war we’re fighting now causes the extinction of whole species – 200 species a day, in fact, day after day after day.
Maybe, they cannot recognize the war because they are privileged enough not to confront the reality of this war. I think Palestinians understand this war. I think Catholics in Northern Ireland understand this war. I think Afghanis and Iraqis understand this war. I think hammerhead sharks, California condors, mamane trees, and ahinahina understand this war. They have to, because their survival depends on it.
Maybe, those who deny the war is happening think they can avoid the war’s dangers by ignoring it. It might be possible to avoid bullets, gas, and bombs by agreeing and cooperating with the cops as they place you in handcuffs, but you are just as susceptible to the environmental toxins the dominant culture unleashes on us every day. Denial saves no one from cancer.
Yes, Hawai’i with the rest of the world, is at war. This war – more than any other – is a war that we absolutely must win. If we lose, we lose life on this planet. To win a war, you must destroy your enemy’s ability to make war. The battle on Mauna Kea against the TMT is a mini-war in the larger war on life. The surest way to win this war is to undermine the TMT’s ability to build their telescope.
There are many strategies currently being employed to win this war – to undermine the TMT’s ability to build their telescope – but the weakness of most of these strategies is that they rely on our enemies to do the right thing. The countless sign-waving events conducted in support of Mauna Kea are designed to persuade the public of the justness of our movement. The incessant social media campaign we are waging is geared towards changing the hearts and minds of the world. The court cases challenging the TMT project, for example, rely on a judge to agree with the arguments made by our lawyers.
And why do we appeal to the courts to protect Mauna Kea? The answer is simple. If the judge rules in our favor, the decision will be backed with the full force of the State. The judge’s ruling and it’s enforcement will be backed with an organized group of men carrying guns – the police, or another organized group of men carrying bigger guns – the national guard. If we were to win in court and the TMT tried to build it’s telescope, it would be them and not us for once, who would be staring down the barrels of rifles. Of course, we do not trust the courts to do the right thing. That’s why we stand on the Mauna Kea Access Road at this occupation.
Another way to say all this is: the State can, will, and already has used violence against us and our relations in the natural world. We must understand this in order to be effective. We must understand that writing really clever essays might not stop them. We must understand that hugging cops when they come to arrest us might not stop them. We must understand that we may not have an opportunity to place leis around the necks of national guardsmen when they point their guns at us.
I hear many people within the movement state confidently, “We will stop the TMT project.” But, if we do not understand the violence the State is capable of I feel like what we are really saying is “We will stop the TMT project as long as the police or the national guard agree to what we think are the rules.” I am not writing these things to cause despair. Rather, I am writing these things to encourage the deepest levels of commitment to protecting Mauna Kea.
Of course, those who think I am calling for violence demonstrate their own belief that only violence will stop the destruction of Mauna Kea, the destruction of Hawai’i, and the destruction of what is left of the world. I do not claim to know what will stop the destruction of Mauna Kea, but I do know that we must understand the way the State frames our tactics for us before we even begin. Once we understand this, we must ask tough questions.
I’ll walk my talk and begin: If the police or national guard overwhelms the protectors on the Mauna Kea Access Road, what do we do next?