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Nearly 300 protesters walked a mile and a half, stopping traffic, holding signs and chanting slogans. They suddenly stopped at the closest point to a Waikiki hotel in the distance, and yelled:
Saturday’s march was the culmination of weeks of APEC protest rumblings. The two-hour walk started at Old Stadium Park in Moiliili and headed to the corner of Ena Road and Ala Moana Boulevard, as near as the public could get to Hale Koa hotel, where APEC leaders gathered Saturday night.
After a short sidewalk rally there, the protesters turned around, made a half-hour pit stop at King Kalakaua park, the small triangular patch of grass where Kuhio Avenue splits off from Kalakaua, and headed back to the starting point.
The group combined the anti-capitalist creed of Occupy Honolulu with the impassioned let-us-be pleas of Moana Nui’s indigenous Pacific peoples, as well as a collection Vietnamese criticizing their own government. Earlier in the day, Waikiki saw Falun Gong demonstrators call for justice from the Chinese government and bikini-clad youths take their anti-APEC message to the beach.
Perhaps more than any other person, Liz Rees of World Can’t Wait Hawaii was running the show Saturday afternoon. She brought along a megaphone that she used almost incessantly, mostly to criticize free trade policies and occasionally to taunt police.
“I think we had a good presence and a good turnout. A number of different organizations putting their message out there,” Rees told Civil Beat when the group returned to Old Stadium Park. “I have no doubt with the amount of international media that was there that people around the globe will know that people here in Hawaii were out protesting against APEC.
“I also have no doubt that at the leaders summit, although they were far away and through their war zone security perimeters, I have no doubt they knew there were protesters out there, making their message loud and clear,” she said. “Our number one goal was to have a presence out there opposing APEC. We certainly didn’t want APEC to come to Hawaii and there not be visible, loud, strong protests with different groups showing solidarity, so I thought it was a good success.”
Moana Nui organizer Jon Osorio, director of the Hawaiian Studies Department at the University of Hawaii, said he hoped to ask world leaders why they don’t listen to their own people.
“The goal is to see if we can’t somehow make a dent in that barrier of secrecy and distance that these governments and APEC create,” he said.
Before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit kicked off in Honolulu this week, there had been concerns about how protests would be received. The American Civil Liberties Union engaged the Honolulu Police Department in discussions about how to handle APEC security without trampling First Amendment rights.
There were arguments about permits, and Civil Beat revealed that the police had purchased more than $700,000 of crowd-control weaponry in apparent preparation for large-scale violent protests.
All of that seemed unnecessary Saturday night.
The police — more than a dozen Civil Affairs officers in aloha shirts and Panama hats and nearly 100 bicycle officers in bright yellow — provided a cordon between the marchers and vehicular traffic. The police even stopped traffic on Ala Wai and Kapiolani Boulevards to help the march go smoothly.
Officers were dispersed throughout the crowd, and a half-dozen held video cameras recording the action. Occasionally one would gently remind a protester (or reporter) to stay on the sidewalk — after all, this wasn’t a parade and couldn’t inhibit traffic.
Lt. Larry Lawson, who was running the Civil Affairs operation, said the goal was to keep traffic moving freely, both in the street and on the sidewalk. At the midway point at King Kalakaua park, Lawson said the event had gone smoothly, and that he hoped protest organizers felt they had an opportunity to express themselves.
Earlier, the area surrounding the Hale Koa was unusually quiet for a Saturday afternoon when it’s usually swarmed with bumper-to-bumper traffic and roaming tourists.
The maze of streets and alleyways leading to the Hale Koa were blocked off with Honolulu police officers, military personnel and the Secret Service.
Some areas were nearly vacant with men in dark suits standing near the curb and an occasional shirtless surfer, with surfboard in tow, trying to get through all the barricades to the beach.
Next door, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, hotel guests sprawled out on lawn chairs around a pool, seemingly oblivious to the circus that was taking place next door.
It was the calm before the storm at King Kalakaua park.
A few Native Hawaiians lounged on the lawn with signs demanding the restoration of the Native Hawaiian Kingdom, which was overthrown in 1893 by American businessmen. They were looking forward to the arrival of the protesters and the flock of media attention. While they weren’t there to protest APEC, they were hoping to attract the attention of state leaders and gain support for their independence movement, according to Henry Noa, the group’s prime minister.
When protesters arrived, their signs spanned a wide range of issues.
A few demanded justice for Kollin Elderts, the 23-year-old Kailua man who was shot to death in Waikiki last weekend, allegedly by a federal agent. One accused President Barack Obama of war crimes. Some complained about Native Hawaiian issues; some about the ills of capitalism run amok; and some about human rights.
“It’s the opposite of local self-sufficiency,” Elizabeth Dunne said of APEC. Dunne, an attorney working with the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter on its intervention into the proposed Hoopili development in Ewa, said local farming is inhibited by free trade. A lack of tariffs means local farmers can’t compete with imported produce, she said.
Although the Vietnamese group started at Old Stadium Park and followed the main protest down to Waikiki, the groups were all but completely segregated.
The Vietnamese protesters came together to oppose human rights violations and Chinese aggression in Vietnam, said organizer Trinity Pham, a 23-year-old from San Diego, Calif. APEC was an opportunity for national — and global — exposure. (Read a full story about the protest here.)
There was a language barrier, and of course the small matter that many protesters were there to criticize capitalism while the Vietnamese were railing against a communist regime.
There was only common denominator between all the various groups and disparate issues: criticism of world leaders from a diverse group of determined dissidents who wanted to make their voices heard.
Nick Castele and Diane Lee contributed to this report.
David Cannell, 59, joined the anti-APEC march in protest of income inequality. Homeless for the past seven years, he said that health-care costs were one of the major financial burdens for Americans. Diabetic and in a wheelchair, he struggles to cover the costs of his care and maintain a proper diet to control his disease.