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Essay

Aloha to Dana Rae Park, Hawaiʻi’s Musical Warrior of Peace

Services for Dana Rae Park will be held this Saturday, March 4, 2017, 1:30-4 pm at the Atherton YMCA (formerly YWCA) Auditorium, 1820 University Avenue, Honolulu Hawaiʻi, 96822. Call (808) 256-6637 for more information.

in Militarism

It can be said that the great unsung heroes of Hawaiʻi are so many that they, in themselves, are like an army of aloha ʻāina, peace and righteousness.  And amongst these great souls is a quiet, powerful, clear-voiced draft resister and lifelong musician named Dana Rae Park.

Dana was born on November 3, 1948, the youngest of three children of Richard Sondo Park and Madeline Louise (Peters) Park. The couple met while singing in church, and became known for their spiritual duets. Dana’s mother, Madeline, was energetic and musical, always with much to share.  Childhood friend Cindy Lance remembers Madeline, who was blind and “quite a character,” sitting in ʻAʻala Park, teaching her the first song she ever learned on the ʻukulele: “Manuela Boy.”

I once asked Dana if his father played an instrument. He paused, and then said, slowly, “Yes. The pitchpipe” (Note: Dana’s sister, Dicksie, corrects Dana on this: Richard Park also played the harmonica). He said little more, but it was always clear that his father was a strong, strict, very Christian influence in his musical upbringing. This showed in Dana’s playing (and activism), which was unwaveringly disciplined and precise. And although Dana broke from organized Christianity, his roots in church traditions, both in music and actions, never left him, either. 

The whole family sang together as an ensemble, “The Park Chorale Group.” Dana, his older sister Dicksie and his older brother Linton performed with their parents in church, at Lion’s Club functions and at other events around the community. This started when the children were small, and continued through high school—by which time all three had taken up first the ʻukulele, then the guitar. Eventually, the three siblings played on their own, in a completely different style. 

The McCarthy Era began early in Dana’s childhood, along with the visible yet often silent resistance that accompanied it in a Hawaiʻi that was still recovering from World War II and the era of internment camps, rising labor unions, martial law and fear of obliteration. Dana was just a youngster in Kalihi Kai Elementary School when the “Democratic Revolution,” led primarily by military-aligned descendants of immigrant plantation laborers, took hold, and Statehood was pushed through. At the same time, the Civil Rights struggles in the U.S. had begun in earnest. By the time he graduated from Kaimukī High School, resistance was brewing across the United States, and much of the world. Folk music had become popular, and Dana was good at it. Though he was not a showy performer, he was a passionate and skilled one. His guitar and strong, clear voice were hard to forget. 

Then, at age 19, Dana was drafted. 

He immediately let it be known that he did not believe in war, and would not go. He was not the first to be inducted into the Vietnam War out of Hawaiʻi, but it soon became clear that he was likely to be the first resister to be jailed. He refused to leave for another country, and would not sign up for school to be exempted. Dana was a conscientious objector, but the government would not recognize him as one; he refused to claim CO status on religious grounds, and said plainly that he did not belong to any church. He was prepared to stand for peace, for peace’s sake alone. 

In a July 23 letter from Hālawa Prison, Dana (still 19) would later write:

Why did I choose to go to prison? Let me answer by first stating my commitment in Conscience: (that being fully convinced that conscription is insensitive, inhuman, unjust, and immoral) I could not participate in, cooperate with, or support the SS System. …What about the remaining alternatives? In going “underground” you sacrifice much, if not all, of your effective public demonstrative power for fear of recognition and prosecution. For me, to live in fear, whether it be eminently threatening or far removed, is not to “live” very well. In seeking political exile, you sacrifice almost all your power to effectuate change through confrontation with the system. Often there is the sacrifice of close family relations along with those of your friends and loved ones. For me, this sacrifice seemed worse than prison. In facing and accepting incarceration, you confront the System of injustice at its pinnacle.

In 1968, something big was ready to happen. Hawaiʻi had seen protests for all of the 20th century: from the anti-annexation protests that filled the years after armed sugar barons invaded ʻIolani Palace and then haphazardly deeded Hawaiʻi to the United States, to the strikes and rallies that marked the labor movement’s rise to a political force, signs of unrest—both live and semi-quashed—were everywhere, despite the dark repression that had blanketed them at every turn. But this was different.

Young people, many still in school or brooding upon the news of the world around them, were ready to stand up and take action in larger numbers than had ever been seen. They were ready to form a force for peace and human consciousness that would remain unstoppable for generations. One that would demand demilitarization, human rights and respect for the land and people of the earth. One that would go on, intact, to start other movements and create a whole new paradigm of resistance that could not be shut down by anyone.

Protests against the Vietnam War had already begun and people were beginning to pour into them. And then there was Dana. Quiet, serious and steadfast, he was not one for speeches or commanding from a podium. He did not hold a megaphone or entreat people to take action. As organizer John Witeck recalls, “He always had a wry smile. He was not a fiery speaker. He never said you should do this, they should do that. He just did what was right. By his example he inspired a lot of people.”

As his trial and the rallies surrounding it drew on, people began to pour from the colleges and high schools and everyday work to stand with Dana’s cause. This was risky: in those days, even supporting a draft resister was a crime, and subject to real prosecution. But when people emerged in the hundreds, armed with banners, signs and leis, there was little the government could do to stop them. Dana’s gentle, passionate, stubborn charisma had given a face to a young movement and Hawaiʻi’s stance against militarism and war. 

However, all of this support could not mitigate the damage of societal condemnation that Dana faced as he stood trial. The mainstream press was cold and war-leaning, and despite the prevalent image of widespread consciousness in the 1960s, there was also a lot of judgment, pro-war propaganda and lingering fear left over from World War II and the Vietnam War draft. Language that might be shocking today was commonplace at the time. For example, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye went on a speaking tour that same year to urge young Hawaiʻi men to participate in conscription. The following quote, from an interview about his tour, gives some idea of the mentality he may have been promoting:

...the U.S. Army converted me into a killing machine in World War II. (I experienced) a sense of great joy and elation when I shot and killed my first German soldier. After that I killed many, many more. (Star Bulletin, May 27, 1968, quoted in “The Roach”, v.1 no.2, June 4, 1968)

There was little defense attorney Brook Hart could do to defend Dana, who would not bend the truth even a little to escape conviction. Judge Martin Pence, clearly affronted by Dana’s stance, ruled that his actions were selfish and dangerously antisocial. John Witeck recalls the judge going on at length about how, “since the dawn of time,” war had been a natural state for humanity, and that going against this was simply disrespectful to social order. Summarizing his position, Judge Pence stated:

The law exists to protect society from anti-social behavior. The difference between the acts of robbers, murderers and draft refusers is only one of degree.

He was prepared to give the young man the maximum five-year penalty, but reduced this to two years, because:

Dana wears a cloak of martyrdom as if by his self-destruction he would destroy the system. Your head is not golng to roll in the dust today. We shall not provide the gasoline to burn yourself. You are a criminal because the national conscience, the will of the majority, does not sanction your act.

Dana was allowed to make a statement at sentencing. He said:

In conscience, I cannot and will not participate in, cooperate with or support the Selective Service System of the United States. The System is insensitive, inhuman, unjust and immoral. For the System that tells my brother he must kill or be killed is insensitive. And the System which offers my brother as a human sacrifice in an immoral war in Vietnam is inhuman. And the System which discriminates against my poor and uneducated brother is unjust. And the System which converts my brother into a killing machine is immoral.

In Conscience, I can no longer remain a helpless and bewildered spectator to this holocaust. In Conscience, I can no longer ignore the slaughter and sacrifice of thousands who have died needlessly and in vain in Vietnam. In Conscience, I cannot any longer erase from my mind the orphaned, homeless, napalmed victims of Vietnam. In Conscience, I can no longer believe our leaders, who say they are honorable men seeking an honorable peace. In Conscience, I can no longer be proud of my country.

In Conscience, I must RESIST.

I weep not for myself, but for my brother who has died, for my brother who will die because of the System. I weep for Peace. I pray for Peace. I hope for Peace—for Peace in Vietnam, for Peace in America, for Peace in the World ... for Peace in Man.

Before he was taken to prison, Dana shook hands with the 100+ supporters who crowded outside the courtroom. They cried and heaped leis on him,  as in a graduation. An anonymous supporter, who had never been part of any protest before, described the scene:

We lined up side by side in front of the court house ... It was a hot day. I shivered in the heat. There was a numbness, an internal questioning, a condemnation that such a vigil would have to be made because a man—a solitary individual—stood up for his conscience and was, in essence, being jeered by a society that has none.

...I could only think of the insane ironies in life and society. A man is sentenced to prison because he willfully takes the life of another. The same society condemns another man because he knowingly and willingly refuses to murder.

The injustice of this act immediately inspired more protest. The resistance to the war picked up velocity quickly. Draft cards were burned or soaked in blood in large numbers in sit-ins at Bachman Hall and Hemmenway Hall at the University of Hawaiʻi. New student organizations were formed. Most importantly, relationships were developed amongst a body of organizers that would give rise to other actions and movements throughout Hawaiʻi. 

Meanwhile, as stalwart as his spirit was, prison was hard on Dana. Much of the outside mainstream press and dialogue still condemned him, and all draft resisters, as selfish or cowardly. He was without access to a musical instrument for months, until he eventually successfully petitioned for a guitar.  This was a win for everyone in the prison, many of whom were then granted similar access. This made him very popular. 

Nonetheless, he became depressed. The battle had been hard, and the societal judgment was fierce. Despite his resolute stance, trial and imprisonment were traumatic. Despite his refusal to go to war, he would suffer post-traumatic effects of that hardship for the rest of his life. 

One very bright light in his incarceration was a personal visit by recording artist/songwriter Phil Ochs. Ochs was the author of several of Dana’s favorite songs, including “I Ainʻt Marching Anymore,” one of the central anthems of draft resistance to the Vietnam War. He was one of Dana’s musical heroes. For him to come all the way to the prison to thank him was a great honor, and lifted Dana’s spirits.

By the time Dana was released, the same movement that had supported him had grown into a powerful, diverse force that was ready to take on new fronts. Dana’s brother Linton, along with John Witeck and Lori Hayashi (then seven months pregnant) were soon arrested for trying to stop the bulldozing of old farms and homes by Bishop Estate and Kaiser, a development corporation that was also a major engineering contractor for the war.  This drew attention to the area, Kalama Valley, and sparked an occupation based in the home of pig farmer George Santos. While, many arrests later, the valley was bulldozed and decimated, it had set off a force that would come to be known as the Hawaiian Movement. 

Meanwhile, Dana stayed politically active, but quietly. For the most part, he worked and played his guitar, performing at venues such as the Off-Center Coffeehouse on Seaview Avenue. Claire Shimabukuro, a young activist at the time, remembers him inspiring youth through musical appearances, after which he would again quickly disappear. She also remembered him being quietly but strongly critical of publications that he felt were either too intellectual and “himakamaka,” or spoke “down” to people as though they were incapable of understanding matters of conscience. Dana respected the intellect in common people, and preferred language that was straightforward and informative, without what he saw as hype or condescension. This limited his participation in a lot of organizing efforts. Still, he appeared when he felt moved to, or when he simply could not turn away. 

In 1974, Dana was arrested again, along with Jim Albertini and several others, at the Korean Consulate in Nuʻuanu. South Korean President Park Chung Hee’s government was repressing and incarcerating students, sometimes executing them. Dana, whose father had come from Korea as a child, identified with the young people and was passionate about protecting their rights. He was intolerant of injustice that fell into his circle of kuleana, or purview. 

The next 15 years were marked by moments of activism, surrounded by periods of isolation. Then, in 1990, the United States began to build up for war with Iraq. Hawaiʻi was to be a major launching point for the attack. Dana again re-emerged and quickly attracted and trained a small troupe of activist musicians (I was one of them) who played at demonstrations, meetings and radio shows. This grew into a regular venue at Coffeeline, a coffee shop which was then a major organizing hub operated by a radical activist student YWCA branch. At that time, the kitchen was run by Dana’s longtime friend, Karen Murray, and became the primary headquarters for resistance to the war. 

A regular volunteer at Coffeeline was young U.S. Marine Jeff Paterson, who had become conscientiously politicized during the buildup. On the day that the United States deployed its first troops into Operation Desert Storm in January of 1991, Jeff sat down on the tarmac at Mōkapu, and refused to move. He was arrested by military police and became the first resister to the United States’ War in the Persian Gulf. 

Dana, at that point in his 40s, flew into action. Jeff Paterson was a young man after Dana’s own heart: brave, quiet, eloquent and totally unyielding in his stance against war. The months of Jeff’s incarceration were marked by protests, rallies, a shantytown occupation of UH’s Campus Center Courtyard, and practically unceasing action. We played at all of it. Dana also wrote testimony and took whatever action he could on his own. 

Meanwhile, our activist musical venue at Coffeeline, now a biweekly show called “Our Back Porch,” had grown. It had become a regular open mic, bringing together conscious musicians from all over Hawaiʻi. Guests included Hawaiian activist leader Kawaipuna Prejean and a short visit by Odetta Holmes. Much musical resistance was developed here, and with Dana’s leadership, a new generation of conscious musicians flourished.

One of the regular participants at Our Back Porch, and at many rallies and events, was community organizer and music worker Chris Orrall. Chris was a sweet-voiced, dedicated protector of peace and land who also played excellent guitar, following her own family’s long folk musical traditions. After months of collaborative activism, Dana and Chris suddenly fell deeply in love on Christmas Eve, 1991 (I was there). Thus began a new era of some of the sweetest and most passionate protest duets ever heard, which took place at rallies and and hearings throughout Oʻahu. Dana also continued his own musical activism, writing parodies and original songs that fit the challenging format of the three-minute public hearing testimony time allotment.  One of these, a song about the beating of Rodney King, was registered in the Library of Congress and played often on local college radio. 

But Hawaiʻi was becoming harder to survive in. By the mid-1990s, the price of rent had exceeded many people’s means. This hit activists hard, who often worked to pay bills simply so that they could work even harder, unpaid. Dana’s computer network installation business, Cybernetic Solutions, was being quickly outpaced by new, expensive technology, and he could no longer afford his tiny apartment. The stress was great, and relationships were affected by this. Eventually, he had no choice but to move to California. Chris had also moved, to a different area. The two of them maintained a difficult, somewhat sporadic, but intense long-distance relationship, until Chris passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. 

After moving to Lake County, California, Dana organized a show there called “Backstage at the Odeum,” where he played regularly. He kept in touch with friends and family, and helped in the community. After Chris’ death, however, he mostly withdrew and lived quietly alone until he too passed away naturally on December 6, 2016, at the age of 68.

Dana has left us, but the movement that he helped to inspire continues to roll forward. Where will it go from here? As one of Dana’s often-played, classic Bob Dylan songs says:

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. 
The answer is blowing in the wind.


Other Links:

Dana and Chris Orrall Duet, “Windcalling

This recording was made during one of their brief visits, while they were both living in economic exile in different parts of the Continental U.S. I believe that this lullabye duet was recorded in the same timeframe.

Dana’s Soundcloud Account

Video of Dana accompanying Chris Orrall on guitar during a hearing on public initiative, circa 1992

“Days of rage, tears of fire (the Rodney King story).” Library of Congress record of audio recording

Mahalo especially to: Dicksie Park, Linton Park, John Witeck, Cindy Lance, Jim Albertini, Larry Kamakawiwoʻole, Gary Kubota, Gwen Kim, Claire Shimabukuro, Ron Oshiro, Oren Tsutsumi, Rich Rath, Koa Luke, Karen Murray and anyone else I may have forgotten to mention.

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