It has been four months since a judge struck down the Maui County ordinance to pause the cultivation of genetically modified crops.

The passing of the ordinance by voters in Maui County had been a momentous occasion in my life and a moment I admittedly rejoiced in.

To me it had been a battle of David and Goliath. The gargantuan, bigger-than-the-government, behemoths of Monsanto and Dow Chemical had thrown everything they possibly could at defeating the measure.

Employees at Mycogen Seeds, an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences, lay irrigation lines in a field on Molokai in 2014..

Employees at Mycogen Seeds, an affiliate of Dow AgroSciences, lay irrigation lines in a field on Molokai in 2014.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission reported that the Super-PAC “Citizens Against The Maui County Farming Ban” had raised over $8 million dollars to fight the ordinance.

It used this money to relentlessly spread its message across television and radio stations, and multiple leaflets were sent to every home in the county. In contrast, the supporters only spent $83,000.

Despite the tremendous spending gap, the ordinance was passed by voters. In my opinion this moment highlighted the character of the people of Hawaii, as the vote for the ordinance showed that the people here held the health of the land and of its people to be more important than jobs and economics.

I believe this balancing act between economic prosperity and environmental protection is a central question in the landscape of Hawaiian politics. It is a battle that is very much a living entity, as the push for more industrial development in Hawaii is constantly being tempered by the people of these islands.

What caused me to be so distraught was the idea that we as the people had no actual influence, that we are helpless in a society that is totally and universally dominated by the largest companies in America.

It is also a battle that is deeply rooted in our culture, a fact that is symbolized by the monopolization of our public water by the sugar industry on Maui.

Since the beginning of the westernization of Hawaii, the promise of economic freedom through the use of commodity crops has been used to allow capitalists to gain power and control.

The jobs that these industries create are supposed to liberate the people by giving them ways of earning money. However, those who know the history of Hawaii well are fully aware of the poison that these industries can become, as these same jobs end up becoming the very things that enslave the people.

It is within this context that I found myself disillusioned and disgusted with the judge’s decision to overrule the moratorium on genetically modified crops.

In my mind the people of Maui county had spoken, the people of Kauai had spoken and the people of Hawaii Island had spoken. We together as a people had made a clear statement that we did not want the testing or the pesticide use associated with these agrochemical companies in our land. How then could a judge tell us that we were wrong and there was nothing we could do?

The frustration I felt reminded me of a moment that had forever changed my life. I was born in 1991 which means I was only 9 when the 2000 presidential election occurred. Still the 2000 election is one the clearest memories of my youth.

I remember being glued to the television as the final votes were being reported in. I remember learning that Al Gore had won the popular vote, and I also remember learning that George W. Bush had won the election.

I remember the confusion I felt as my parents tried to explain the electoral college to me. I remember the Supreme Court telling us that Bush was the president and I remember Judge Antonin Scalia telling us all to “get over it.”

Similarly to the 2000 election, the overturning of the Maui County ordinance convinced me that the system was broken and that we were in fact not democratic citizens.

People may try to excuse what happened by focusing on specifics of the legal system or explaining the realities of the economic system, but that’s not what dug into me.

What caused me to be so distraught was the idea that we as the people had no actual influence, that we are helpless in a society that is totally and universally dominated by the largest companies in America.

But I am not writing this article to wail about my sorrows or point a finger at the capitalist industry leaders who control our government. Instead I am returning from my destitute, self-enforced banishment from writing with words of encouragement.

I realize now that we must celebrate the incremental progress we the people make. For every step forward for progressive thinking there will be a greater step back for those who benefit from the world’s current systems, but change happens rapidly once it catches fire.

The labor movement in America was defined by decades of brutality and cruelty until the 1936 General Motors strike by the United Auto Workers in Flint, Michigan. The strike was an historic moment in the movement for unionization as the United Auto Workers won the right to negotiate with General Motors, thanks largely to the presence of newly elected Gov. Frank Murphy.

Before this strike many previous strikes had been physically stopped by the National Guard. However, Gov. Murphy was leftist-leaning and instead halted the National Guard and demanded that both parties settle the dispute through negotiations.

The result of this labor victory was a wildfire of unionization across multiple industries all over America.

I call on this moment in history because I see similarities between the National Guard in labor strikes and the judges in Hawaii.

Both were trump cards held by industry as both were capable of silencing the people. However the constant and unfaltering battle by workers in America eventually led to change.

I still believe we the people have the right to say what is done with the land here. In fact, I would go so far as to say we have a duty to steward the land. Imagine that.

The true victory of last year’s ballot initiative is that it proved the agrochemical companies can lose, at least in the court of public opinion.

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