Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

In this month when we celebrated the extraordinarily courageous life of Martin Luther King Jr., it seems appropriate to reflect thoughtfully upon the challenges of nonviolent protest.

Injustice is a particularly heavy cross to bear. And it is impossible to carry the weights of injustice without emotion, usually emotions that are painful, even traumatizing. This is why nonviolent movements like those led by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are looked upon with such reverence. It takes superhuman levels of strength and divine amounts of grace to lift your voice when you’d much rather raise your fists.

Native Hawaiians, like many oppressed and disenfranchised groups throughout the world, continue to wait with great frustration for justice. The illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom took place well over 100 years ago. Many days, in fact most days, it feels like no progress is being made to right this wrong. Some days it even feels like we are losing ground.

Flag bearers prepare to participate in a march to observe the 125th anniversary of the Hawaiian Kingdom overthrow last year. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2018

On Jan. 17, members of a fringe extremist group of radical Hawaiians conducted a premeditated assault on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its staff. The choice of that specific date was particularly offensive, as it marked the 126th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, a day long reserved by leaders to observe the ongoing injustice with peaceful protest and prayer.

Posing as federal marshals, the group of 13 men stormed the building, physically assaulting numerous employees. One employee even sustained broken ribs from the attack.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is no church. Many Hawaiians, myself included, have long been frustrated by the lack of strong leadership, integrity, and efficiency coming from the institution. OHA fails on many levels, but it is nonetheless is comprised of employees, many of them Hawaiian, who genuinely do their best to serve the Hawaiian people. And whatever OHA’s shortcomings may be, under no circumstances do they justify such outrageous and brutal acts of violence.

If anything, these acts of violence show how the illegal U.S. occupation of Hawaii and its associated colonization continue to tighten its grip around the throat of Hawaiians. There is nothing courageous or intelligent about Hawaiians attacking one another. These is nothing admirable about Hawaiian-on-Hawaiian violence.

Ignorant Acts

The quest for Hawaiian independence is too important to be derailed by the ignorant acts of a few misguided men.

As we see inequity and violence increasing throughout the world, we should each be challenging ourselves to call upon the better angels of our nature. We must steel our faith in justice. We must, more than ever, project aloha in the face of offense. For it is not simply about achieving our political goals, but achieving our political goals while maintaining our own sense of honor.

“There is nothing admirable about Hawaiian-on-Hawaiian violence.”

Great battles remain ahead for the Hawaiian people: Mauna Kea, water rights, climate justice, independence. These are not battles we can afford to lose. So the time is now to commit to actions that are nonviolent, steadfast, and clear in their demands for justice.

History does not look fondly upon those who need violence to maintain authority. And a leader who uses fear and intimidation to gain power will always be more coward than king.

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About the Author

  • Trisha Kehaulani Watson
    Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.