Despite forecasts of heavy rains and wind, about 25 determined demonstrators gathered at Old Stadium Park for a short rally and march to the Hawai`i Convention Center to demand that the IUCN take meaningful action against U.S. military crimes in the Pacific and related issues. Our numbers were relatively small, but the concerns were many. Liz Rees, World Can't Wait's spokesperson, began the rally with a call to oppose the military's crimes in the Pacific and around the world. Healani Sonoda Pale (Protest Na`i Aupuni) spoke out against the desecration of Hawai`i's land and the oppression of the Hawaiian people. Joshua Noga, speaking as an individual and as Sierra Club, gave a powerful statement against military presence in Hawai`i and Ann Wright praised the activism of the people of Jeju, Okinawa, and in other struggles. Then the walk to the Convention Center together.
World Can't Wait-Hawai`i has held many actions at the Hawai`i Convention Center but has always been prohibited from standing in front, and have instead been forced to stand on a narrow sidewalk across the street. However, we decided to try again and stood inf front of the imposing glass facade with our signs and banners where we were visible to people on the escalators and on the 1st floor.
Many convention attendees immediately rushed outside, and we were suddenly talking with people from Iran, Thailand, India, Saudi Arabia, Nepal and other parts of the world. Many were taking photos. International journalists conducted interviews. Many people related their own experiences. A group of people who had come from Okinawa and are fighting against the U.S. military's plan for a base in Henoko came out to join us. A man from Puerto Rico talked about their struggle against the base at Vieques and the toxic mess left by the military. A man from India encouraged us to "walk right in," and then added that the U.S. officials wouldn't let it happen. A group from Thailand spoke out against the U.S. military training exercises in their country. Several representatives from South Asian countries talked about their fear of a U.S. war with China, and a Vietnamese representative added "my country is still contaminated," and talked about the legacy of Agent Orange.
For more than an hour we held our signs and talked with people. Many thanked us. Some asked questions about the signs: "Where's Pagan?" "Why aren't we hearing more about this at the meeting?" Others wanted to ask questions about Hawai`i: "Why are there so many homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks. Isn't there a lot of welfare in the U.S.?" "What does 'Navy Sonar Kills Whales' mean?" "What's happening in Kwajelein?" and on and on.
Throughout the action, we were met by curiosity, questions, and an eagerness to share experiences about the U.S. military. Only a few expressed disapproval, and it turned out that they were from the "U.S. Host Committee" and were not from Hawai`i.
As our action ended two IUCN delegates shared information explaining their understanding of why we had been allowed to stand in front of the Convention Center. When the IUCN met on Jeju Island several years go, activists who were struggling against a military base in Jeju attempted to talk with IUCN delegates and put forward a just demand that the IUCN take a position against the destruction of their harbor and the building of the base. The IUCN did not take action, and would not allow them to be heard. The police were called in and protesters were arrested. Many IUCN attendees were outraged and wanted to hear what the people of Jeju had to say. Their complaints to the IUCN forced the Hawai`i conference organizers to provide a "free speech area." We later spoke with several Hawai`i IUCN delegates who said they hadn't been able to find out where the promised "free speeh area" was, but our action provided the answer. While we haven't received any official confirmation of this, it appears it is in the open area in front of the Convention Center! We have activists in Jeju to thank for being visible and accessible to IUCN delegates.
About 50 people participated in Saturday's action, representing many organizations and agendas but united in their effort to speak out against never -eding war and the U.S. military's wanton destruction of the environment and the lives of the people of Hawai`i, the Pacific, and the world.
The IUCN runs through August 10th. A huge exhibit area on the first floor is free and open to the public from 11-5 on September 5, 6, 7, and 9 (closed the 8th). It's well worth a visit! Take a minute to thank the people of Okinawa who are fighting the base at Henoko (look for the booth wth the Dugong quilts), Check out the many gorgeous photos. Warning: the Army, Navy, and Air Force each has a booth boasting of their conservation efforts! The Navy even has the audacity to call themselves "Stewards to the Sea" and the AFB compares their "raptor" drone to the Hawaiian Stilt! They must be confronted about their lies!