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A rally for the rest of us

Thursday's “People Not Profits” rally brought together grassroots organizations lobbying on a variety of issues, all unified by the message that our government should serve the people, not corporations and developers.

“People, not profits.” This is the slogan and unifying principle behind a coalition of groups that marched on the capitol yesterday and gave speeches inside the rotunda. The groups represent a diverse set of interests: from building Kaka‘ako better, to protecting ‘iwi kupuna from the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and other developments, to Hawaiian sovereignty to respecting the right of mothers to give birth at home—but all of them shared the message of making decisions in the government based on people and the community, not profits.

Walter Ritte of Molokai was the event organizer and, as a gentle rain blessed the crowd of around 300, he gestured to the capitol rotunda—the “people’s house”—and spoke about why this diverse coalition had showed up on a Wednesday morning.

“We have come today to begin the process of taking back this house,” he said. “We want the politicians that work here to know that we are tired of this house being controlled by the corporations that have come to Hawai‘i. We want control over this building and over our own futures. The politicians in this building should be serving you. They should be protecting you. Not the corporations. That’s what this rally is all about.”

“The same arguments—whether it’s regarding Kaka‘ako, or Turtle Bay, or windmills on Lāna‘i, or geothermal fracking on Hawai‘i island—it’s the same thing: It’s about money stepping on people and the environment,” said Kaua‘i County Councilman Gary Hooser.

Hooser led a chanting of “Shame On You,” directed toward the chemical and GMO seed companies suing Kaua‘i County over its recently passed Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491). “That’s not enough for them,” Hooser added. “Now they’ve introduced bills to the legislature to take away the power of the counties; to take away home rule; to take away our the hard work done by our community. This is not about GMOs, this is about people over profits.”

Representative Kaniela Ing was present and spoke to the crowd about what the GMO fight is really about and of the power grassroots movements actually have to influence the decisions concerning GMOs.

“No one has the right to strip control of the future of these islands from the people who live here,” he said. “No one knows the Aina better than the people who live on it and live from it. No matter what your stance is on GMOs, allowing the counties to determine the future of their own agriculture is simply the right thing to do. GMOs aren’t about feeding the world. No, it’s about chemical companies selling chemicals. This struggle is about returning the power to people like you. Last year, the notorious PLDC was repealed because of people like you. Hawai‘i’s House of Representatives became the first chamber in the nation to pass a GMO labeling bill because of people like you. And two years ago, a 23-year-old nobody who was outspent $40,000 to $5,000 in the primary election became the youngest elected official ever from Maui because of people like you. Anything is possible with the power of people like you.”

Perhaps the most inspiring speech came at the beginning. Maui Community College instructor and Hawaiian sovereignty activist Kaleikoa Ka‘eo delivered a powerful opening address he called “The Grassroots State of the State.” Introduced by event co-organizers from MANA (Movement for Aloha no Ka Aina) who were the major driving force behind assembling the various participating organizations, Ka‘eo eloquently tied the groups and their various iterations of the “People, Not Profits” message into a larger context centered around the Hawaiian right to self-determination.

“What was so astounding about the so-called State of the State address? Let me ask you, what did the governor say about Native Hawaiians in his address? He said nothing; did not mention one word,” began Ka‘eo. “We have been erased from the politics; thrown to the side; we have been ignored.

“And there are two reasons for that. The first, of course, is that they already see the situation and condition of we Hawaiians as settled. The governor looks at the Hawaiian registry; looks at the $200 million so-called settlement with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and believes that those things have ended the question of Hawaiian self-determination.

“The second, I believe, is true fear. He is fearful of addressing the Hawaiian concerns because he knows and the state knows and the power-wielders know that the core to the resistance to what is going on in Hawai‘i is the Hawaiian voice. This voice is the voice which will challenge—which is challenging—the powers that be in their efforts. Efforts not just to wipe out the so-called Hawaiian question, but to continue to profit from our so-called demise.

“So although they may think of us as something from antiquity; as artifacts of Hawai‘i’s history; that somehow they have moved on, we are here to remind them that we are here. We are giving them public notice that we are organizing; that we are reawakening; that we will fight; that we will struggle; that we will resist; and that we will be, in fact, victorious.”

The speakers from the various groups stood before a banner proclaiming “Aloha ‘Aina” on a stage that featured kalo plants around the edges. On the sides of the “Aloha ‘Aina” banner were two vertical flags; one read “Solidarity,” while the other read “Kuleana.”

Joshua Noga of the Ko‘olau Loa Hawaiian Civic Club spoke about the Mormon Church and Brigham Young University Hawai‘i’s planned expansion via the “Envision Lā‘ie” plan. Noga has organized a sister rally, “Aloha ‘Aina no Ko‘olau Loa,” for February 16 with the goal of stopping that development along with the Turtle Bay expansion, both of which go against the wishes of the majority of people living in the Ko‘olau Loa area and are major money-making projects for the developers.

Pua Case, who has been fighting a contested case with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, over the land-lease on Mauna Kea for the TMT spoke of the importance of respecting sacred sites and Hawaiian culture from development and science for the sake of money, followed by a protest song sung by Hāwane Rios of Hawai‘i Island.

Jon and his daughter, Jamaica Osorio, of the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, were also present and sang another protest song together after Jamaica slammed two poems she had written comparing the dangers Hawaiian people and Hawaii face today to other imperialist and neo-colonial issues around the world.

Representatives of AiKea Hawaii spoke about the closure of the Ilikai Hotel and its conversion in to a leisure condo for mainlanders at the expense of the local people who worked there. Ron Iwami and other members of Kaka‘ako United advocated for abolishing an HCDA that is allowing out-of-control development and about preserving Kaka‘ako Makai from developers who care more about making money than making healthy, sustainable, liveable communities for the people.

Hinaleimoana Kalu-Wong, chair of the Native Hawaiian Burial Council and running for OHA trustee at large, spoke about the importance of repealing Act 085 (formerly SB1171) which allows phased archaeological surveys and jeopardizes ‘iwi kupuna.

Former member of OHA, Moanikeala Akaka, and UH Law student Khara Jabola-Carolus criticized the state for letting the military industrial complex spiral out-of-control, using Pohakuloa and the planned drone test site, all in the name of securing federal defense dollars and at the expense of the environment and what’s best for communities.

A group of Hawaii midwives and mothers who gave birth at home spoke about current legislation (SB 2569) that would make giving birth in a hospital setting the only option for expectant mothers. Proposed as a health bill by Senator Josh Green, the midwives argue that it takes away a woman’s right to self-determine how she wants her child brought in to the world and renders illegitimate a traditional and wonderful method of giving birth that the midwives have successfully practiced since Hawaiians first came to the islands, and before. For them, hospitals are a money-making engine and this bill is another example of the government putting profits above people.

And Kat Brady, Executive Director of the Hawaii Alliance on Prisons, spoke about the importance of passing legislation to reform the prison system and change it from a punitive, money-making industry to a community-based, restorative justice-based service.

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