Nov 26, 2016 — A sliver of good Thanksgiving news from Hawaii: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/5838b1e0e4b050dfe6187bad?timestamp=1480115011725
As Native Americans protest to protect their ancestral waters in North Dakota and are met with tear gas and militaristic suppression, water protectors in Maui have taken to the ballot box to elect Alika Atay, the island’s leading Native Hawaiian earth justice advocate, to their County Council.
An organic farmer and the grassroots leader of the statewide Aina (earth) Protector’s United effort, Atay had no prior political experience. Yet on November 8, he scored a dramatic victory late in the vote-counting night. As Atay described in an email to supporters the following day, “The 4th printout showed that we had lost by 259 votes and I was ready to concede, so we pule (prayed) and sang Hawaii Aloha. Then we got call that they did not count the 2000 ballots from Haiku, which is my country. We gathered everybody again and pule and sang Hawaii Aloha & Doxology (liturgy). Then we got a phone call saying that we won by 808 votes. We said that Po’ohala (my late son) had a hand in it. He asked Akua to let his daddy win; and win by 808 votes.”
With a total of 23,320 votes, Atay won the election by exactly 808 votes. In one of the synchronistic coincidences that seem to accompany Atay’s earth based Native Hawaiian spiritualism, 808 is both the Maui’s area code, and a numeric symbol of infinity.
Atay’s victory was a stunning upset to Maui’s Monsanto boosting power establishment, which had run Dain Kane, a three term former Council member who one activist called “a polished corporate front man” to oppose him.
Maui and the other large Hawaiian islands are the epicenter for GMO testing by the world’s largest agrochemical companies. According to the Center for Food Safety, “In 2014 alone, 178 different GE field tests were conducted on over 1,381 sites in Hawai’i (vs. only 175 sites in California). Herbicide-resistance was the most frequently tested trait in GE crop field tests.” This means that Hawaii’s vibrant land is regularly sprayed by massive quantities of dozens of types of pesticides (sometimes in combinations never before tried) on experimental GMO seeds to see what survives.
During our post election interview, Atay explained, “I believe this is about water and the pesticides that affect water. I am concerned with the drenching of our land with pesticides and the effect this has on our water.
“I stand to protect our drinking water. We are very similar to my brothers and sisters in the Dakotas fighting to protect the Missouri River because Ola Ka Wai: Water is life.”
“We all have a responsibility to stand up for future generations. The importance of native water rights and the Aina Protectors movement is to allow those of us who are of the Aina to understand that this is our indigenous right that we are born with. We need to stand up and say enough of the oppression.”
Unlike the State of North Dakota, which is responding to Native American water protector demands by assisting a private army with armored vehicles, militarized troops, rubber bullets, vicious dogs, tear gas, and water cannons in sub-zero weather, the County of Maui is allowing democracy, and its native leaders, to transform the island’s plantation-era legacy of water theft and agrochemical devastation.
Atay was one of nine Council candidates who ran on the grassroots, Bernie Sanders-style Maui Ohana (family) slate of populist candidates that supported responsible environmental stewardship, organic, pesticide-free agriculture, attainably priced housing, and equitable water distribution.
Four of the Maui Ohana candidates won the election, increasing the number of GMO-resistant legislators by two, and coming close to a five person pro-environmentalist majority on the County Council. In terms of the island’s balance of power, equally important was that Ellie Cochran and Don Guzman, the top two vote getters for the Maui Ohana slate, won their races with 20% more votes than the top two vote getters from the island’s powerful political establishment. The number of citizens who voted for Cochran and Guzman was 20% (or 5,000 votes) greater than the number of people who voted for the two establishment incumbents who won reelection. In an outcome indicating a seismic shift for the county’s future, the Maui Ohana slate incumbents won the at-large election by a victory margin three to five times higher than the winning margin of the two establishment incumbents.