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Human Rights, Oppression and Mauna Kea
The Mauna Kea conflict is like other civil rights struggles that have played out on the mainland and elsewhere. This writer asserts that liberation movements are an effect of oppression.

About the Author

It is not difficult to understand the Mauna Kea struggle if one understands the predictable patterns involved in any struggle between oppression and movements for freedom:

  • Step 1: Those in power target a minority to abuse, usually for financial gain.
  • Step 2: The powerful attempt to make the minority accept its lower status through force and/or through a process called internalized oppression.
  • Step 3: A liberation movement is undertaken.
  • Step 4: The powerful party tries to use a divide-and-conquer approach to isolate the liberators, to get the public to treat them as outcasts and troublesome.
  • Step 5: The powerful try to force or harass and bully the liberators into submission.
  • Step 6: Steps 3 – 5 escalate.

Does this pattern sound familiar? It plays out all over the world and is very close to home.

Liberation movements are not abnormal, nor are they the cause of a problem — they are an effect of oppression. Injustice by its very nature creates disharmony, and disharmony continues until justice is restored. It goes against human nature to submit to unfair treatment.

Young mother holds her child as Hawaii island Police officers move up the city and county portion of the access road.  Hawaii. 24 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A young mother holds her child as Hawaii Island police officers move up the city and county portion of the Mauna Kea access road.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The civil rights movement of the 1960s was one source of inspiration for people, especially indigenous people, to claim their freedom. When I was interviewed by a reporter for the Maui News on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in August 2013, I was asked about the unfinished business of the civil rights movement. I replied: “One of the biggest civil rights issues in Hawaii continues to be the status of Native Hawaiians.”

This civil rights issue plays out over land and water rights and religious freedom. It is in this context that the Mauna Kea struggle can be understood.

Following in the footsteps of the previous generation’s Protect Kahoolawe Ohana, the Protectors of Mauna Kea are saying no to the degradation of their land and disregard for their religious practices and way of life. They are courageous freedom fighters, in the company of Rosa Parks, Dr. King and Gandhi. These Hawaiian rights activists oppose construction of the massive Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on land that was forcibly taken (not “ceded”), that they consider sacred, and that has the island’s main aquifer. Profiteering and racism seem to drive the land grab to build ever larger telescopes here.

The protectors’ movement is not “anti-science;” that is a racist insult intended to silence them. If it is “anti-” anything, it is anti-oppression. It has continued to practice nonviolence in a form known as kapu aloha. But aloha does not mean submitting to wrongs.

To protect wealthy and powerful segments of society, the government has engaged in aggressive tactics familiar to activists in the civil rights movement: false accusations, victim-blaming, and persecution. The government tries to scapegoat the protectors, to isolate them and to manipulate the public into fearing and turning against them.

Now the state is trying to engineer ways to limit native Hawaiians’ access to their own land with so-called emergency rules for which there is no emergency. Such rules would increase racial and religious discrimination under the pretense of promoting “public safety.”

These proposed rules remind me of Jim Crow laws in the South — a pervasive form of discrimination.

Disharmony Will Continue Until Abuse of Power Ends

It is only the government that has created public safety issues. When will action be taken in response to reports that certain drivers, employees on the mauna, struck protectors with their vehicles? One case was reported as a hit-and-run. This safety issue is not the protectors’ fault. How does the government treat any drivers who hit pedestrians? Are some drivers immune? Are Hawaiian pedestrians less important than others?

Further contradicting itself about safety, the government has closed public restrooms, paid for by the public’s tax dollars, and the restrooms used by University of Hawaii personnel on the mauna, which are also paid for by the public’s tax dollars, are not made available. When protectors provided portable toilets for themselves as well as any other visitors to the mauna, the state swiftly retaliated in an arbitrary and capricious manner by threatening them with staggering fines, in the thousands of dollars. Thus the state has created not only a burden but also a health hazard, while denying the public the right to use public facilities that they are paying for.

Such tactics are typical of a powerful group that intends to maintain domination over another and bully them into submission. Predictably, disharmony will continue until abuse of power ends.

The government’s behavior against the protectors offends reason and moral sensibility. Native Hawaiians cannot be expected to participate in their own oppression.

What is sacred in all this? Strangely, some officials treat space exploration and telescopes as if they were sacred! However, telescopes and wealthy corporations that profit from them are not more sacred than Spaceship Earth and human rights. And questions remain about whether information was withheld from the public during the permitting process for this telescope project.

I have always loved space science. Yet environmental science and human rights cannot be relegated to the back of the astronomers’ bus.

It is illogical to claim that there is only one way to explore space — it has to be this telescope on this mountain. Space exploration should not necessitate harming land or depriving people of their rights. Space scientists and their corporate sponsors should use their ingenuity and resources to develop more powerful, smaller lenses and mirrors so telescopes can be sent into space. It is in this way that the International Astronomical Union, which will hold its convention in Honolulu Aug. 3-14, can make itself useful.

This haole (white person) stands with the native Hawaiians who have great courage to speak up for their rights and protect the earth. The injustices against them must end!