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About two dozen protesters assembled peacefully outside the Hawaii Convention Center Saturday with a message to those meeting inside: The U.S. military is destroying the planet.
“World Can’t Wait-Hawaii thought it was important to have a presence at the World Conservation Congress to address the issue of militarization,” said organizer Liz Rees. “It’s kind of the elephant in the room, so to speak. If you want to talk about conservation and saving the planet, you have to address the issue of militarization — in Hawaii, the Pacific and worldwide.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress is in Honolulu this week and next to raise awareness of threats to the Earth and to find solutions to address the threats.
But to activists like Rees, the IUCN should be talking about the U.S. military.
The U.S. military is the single-largest consumer of fossil fuels,” she said. “We have over 1,000 military bases worldwide. We are wreaking environmental havoc.”
Inquiries to IUCN officials were not returned.
Security was on hand to make sure the protesters stayed in line. As long as they kept pathways clear, they were allowed to front the convention center for about 90 minutes.
Many IUCN attendees came outside to visit the protest, in part to learn more about what the group had to say but also because the protesters were standing next to the outdoor area reserved for smoking.
The protesters began their day at Old Stadium Park in Moiliili and later marched to the convention center to hold signs.
“People of the world, scream and shout, U.S military, get the hell out!” they chanted. “Occupation is not conservation!”
Individually, the protesters spoke of the U.S. military’s “trail of destruction” across the Pacific. They mentioned places like Bikini and Kwajalein atolls in the Marshall Islands, Pohakuloa and Makua in Hawaii, Pagan and Tinian in the Northern Marianas.
Hawaiian activist Healani Sonoda-Pale took part in the protest because she said Hawaii’s indigenous people had suffered significantly due to armed forces being based in the islands. But there were other points to be made as well.
“I am here today to bring to light issues concerning to Hawaiians — Kanaka Maoli,” she said. “The militarization, RIMPAC, TPP, the desecration of Mauna Kea. We also stand in solidarity with the North Dakota pipeline movement to stop it.”
The Rim of the Pacific Exercise is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, held in Hawaiian waters. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, supported by President Obama but opposed by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, is a proposed major trade deal.
Sonoda-Pale also objects to proposed rules about Native Hawaiian recognition, now before the U.S. Department of the Interior, that she fears will be approved by the Hawaii-born president, effectively circumventing efforts of some Native Hawaiians to restore the kingdom and chart independence.
Rees and Sonoda-Pale acknowledged that the IUCN is attempting to do many good things. Their concern is that some attendees are too closely tied to military interests and corporations.
At least one IUCN attendee welcomed the protest.
“The U.S. military has a terrible record of environmental damage, they are still bombing and dropping explosions on the Big Island, and what they are doing in the Pacific is building bases and mining reefs,” said Brian Bagnall of The Outdoor Circle of Hawaii, a group that works to keep the islands “green and clean.”
Bagnall continued: “I am a pacifist, I am against military expansion, and what we are doing in the Middle East is even worse. So I fully support these guys here. It’s good to have people speaking up — even though this island is dependent on the military. It is a subject that needs a lot more discussion.”
There were exhibitions for the military, such as one for the U.S. Air Force. A poster read, “Restoring Wetland Habitat for Waterbirds at Risk.”
The same poster depicted an F-22 Raptor, made by Lockheed Martin, next to a photo of a Hawaiian stilt, a bird.
As the F-22 manufacturer’s website explains, the fighter “provides a first-look, first-shot, first-kill capability through the use of stealth, advanced sensors and a lethal mix of advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons.”