Social media postings about Mauna Kea may be trending on Twitter, but the protest movement against the Thirty Meter Telescope is anything but a fad, student protesters said during a rally at UH Manoa on Monday.
More than 200 students and faculty members attended the early afternoon rally outside the University of Hawaii’s Campus Center. The event was the second protest held on campus in the past four days, and followed a student walkout at noon called for by Pukoa, a Native Hawaiian advisory council with representatives from all 10 UH system campuses.
It was unclear how many students participated in the walkout, and most of the campus appeared to be operating as normal.
Kaleo O Hawaii Advertising representative Ashley Maria hands out a newspaper to students during the rally.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Speakers at the event said they were frustrated by being portrayed as being anti-science or “bandwagon jumpers” who are protesting because it’s popular. Native Hawaiians have been voicing opposition to the telescopes for more than four decades, UH Manoa alumna and KAHEA staff member Shelley Muneoka told rally attendees.
“I got really upset with a friend on Facebook who called the Mauna Kea protest the new ice bucket challenge,” Muneoka said, referencing a popular social media campaign aimed at raising awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Supporters of the telescope expect the protests to “stop being sexy” and for people to lose interest, Muneoka added. “That’s not going to happen.”
Dozens of students stood in line to have T-shirts silkscreened with protest messages and artwork, and took turns writing phrases like “#protectorsnotprotestors” and “I am Mauna Kea” in chalk on nearby steps.
Student and faculty protesters said they want a permanent halt to construction, and are also calling on the state Board of Land and Natural Resources not to renew UH’s lease on Mauna Kea, which expires in 2033.
“We are listening,” UH Manoa spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said of the student protests. “All of these voices are being heard, and discussions are taking place daily at the highest level of university leadership and county and state government. All stakeholders are being heard as we search for a path forward.”
In the meantime, Kealiʻi Gora, administrator for the Pukoa Council, said he expects to address the United Nations’ Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York next week to ask for support in opposing the telescope construction.
Doug Ing, an attorney for TMT issued a statement Monday afternoon in response to earlier comments by Pukoa saying TMT expected an appeals court to to find that TMT construction is “consistent with the purpose of the Conservation District Use Permit at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.”
Though not all students on campus were aware of the walkout or the rally, the protests are becoming an increasing topic of conversation among students, fueled mostly by social media, UH junior Kana Leia Veney said.
Veney said she wasn’t in favor of the telescope being built, but didn’t know enough about the specifics to really weigh in strongly. Mostly Veney said she was concerned about the lack of clear information coming from both sides about the issue.
The protests are a learning experience on the campus, political science major Ilima Long told fellow students at the rally.
Though perhaps not in lessons the university would hope to impart.
“What we are learning is what imperialism looks like in our school,” Long told the crowd.
Speakers in support of Mauna Kea hold a press conference at a Mauna Kea rally Monday.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
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