The protesters at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus on Wednesday may have been few — about 20 — but they left a mark.

Waving signs and chanting “APEC sucks labor and resources,” the group marched through campus to a large sign erected by UH at the corner of Dole and University. It read, “E Komo Mai – Welcome APEC.” Then Gaye Chan, chair of the Art and Art History Department, stretched masking tape over the sign, adding the word “sucks” behind “APEC.” On the back of the sign she wrote “APEC kills.”

The march was the latest in a series of protests against what organizers called UH’s support for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. Hosted by President Barack Obama, APEC will bring delegates representing 21 Pacific Rim economies to Hawaii from Nov. 8-13.

As evidence for the university’s support for APEC, protesters listed UH President M.R.C. Greenwood’s membership on the Hawaii Host Committee, large “Welcome APEC” signs posted around campus and the upcoming “APEC Night” event — a school-sponsored event for students on Nov. 3. Protesters said they would picket that event, too.

“APEC is the antithesis of everything I know from my studies is required to bring about greater equality,” said UH sociology professor Nandita Sharma, who organized the protest and co-founded activist group Eating in Public with Chan.

To Sharma, APEC was the “1 percent,” the term used by Occupy Wall Street protesters to describe big business and government leaders. She called the UH signs “propaganda” and said the university was “doing a real disservice to the intellectual rigor of this campus.”

University spokesman Gregg Takayama said the signs had a more benign purpose. “These APEC signs are intended to welcome visitors,” he said.

Schools within the university have invited delegations to campus for events, Takayama said, but plans haven’t been finalized yet.

UH security guard followed closely behind the protesters and took photographs as Chan taped over the sign. Takayama said he didn’t see the protest as damaging or destructive.

Takayama said the university welcomed APEC opponents, as well as supporters, to express their views. He mentioned that UH had sponsored a talk the night before by Lori Wallach, an APEC critic and the director of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

The group stopped outside the campus administration building to present UH officials with a petition demanding that APEC welcome signs be taken down.

Protesters said a range of issues drove them to oppose APEC. Sharma, addressing the group, said APEC allows big corporations to influence government policy without input from the people.

Duyen Bui, a first year doctoral student in political science, said she joined the protest to represent Vietnamese farmers. She worries about the farmers’ fate as a Chinese company mines for bauxite in rural Vietnam.

Chan and Sharma said it was difficult to get more students involved. A handful of protesters looked to be college-age; others were middle-aged or older.

“The level of ambivalence around here is just depressing,” Chan said.

Takayama said students were focused on their studies, not on APEC. “I think the vast majority of students are either neutral or indifferent,” he said.

As the protesters marched along a busy campus path, they passed students holding a bake sale.

“Join us!” the protesters said. The students, in response, offered to sell them cookies and cupcakes.

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About the Author

  • Nick Castele
    Nick Castele is a Civil Beat intern and senior journalism student at Northwestern University's Medill School in Evanston, Ill. He is a former editor-in-chief of North by Northwestern, recently named by the Society of Professional Journalists as the nation's best independent online student publication. A native of Northeast Ohio, Nick has worked as a reporting intern at Cleveland Magazine and WCPN public radio, the city's NPR news station. Follow him on Twitter @NickCastele.

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