From Overthrow to President in Four Days

march was organized to protest Gov. Linda Lingle’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court of a Hawai’i Supreme Court ruling barring the state from selling or transferring the “ceded” or what many are calling the “seized” crown lands.  Although the daily newspapers estimated about 5,000 protestors (here and here), my guesstimate puts the crowd closer to 8,000 after examining the video I shot from the balcony of the Moana Hotel on Kalakaua Ave, documenting the event. [youtube width=”320″ height=”240″][/youtube] Jan 18th.  On Sunday, there was a confrontation on ‘Iolani Palace grounds between police and activists practicing their annual observance in an event called “Sovereignty Sunday,” in which participants honor the Queen and the Hawaiian Kingdom with songs and speeches. Practitioners also clean the burial mound and care for the ahu, the monument dedicated to the ancestors. Over the past few months the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has created stricter guidelines over permits and events, ostensibly as a means to “protect” the Palace from those whose actions might damage the historic monument. [youtube width=”320″ height=”240″][/youtube] Jan 19th.  On Monday, the Martin Luther King parade honored the birthday of one of our most visionary citizens.  The parade celebrates the struggle for equal rights among minorities in the United States and on this day, many anticipated the inauguration of Barack Obama as the realization of MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech. The parade was led by a Native Hawaiian Civic Club and was followed by local unions and Hawai’i ethnic groups, including the local chapter of the NAACP. [youtube width=”320″ height=”240″][/youtube] Jan 20th.  Finally on Tuesday, the inauguration of President Barack Obama put a spotlight on Hawai’i. As the mainstream media is beginning to pickup– or at least is beginning to suspect– being born and raised primarily in Hawai’i was an important factor in the development of Obama’s core values.  This is certainly true in regard to race and ethnicity, where interaction among the various cosmopolitan groups here have created a unique and very different paradigm from the segregation politics on “mainland” race relations. Read together, the metaphor of these four substantial events is not unlike the history of Hawai’i statehood. As we locate the beginnings of Hawai’i statehood, we cannot simply look at 1959, since the condition of Hawai’i territorial status cannot be separated from the events of “annexation” in 1898 or the overthrow in 1893.  The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of statehood historically rests on the overthrow, and the fact that thousands of native Hawaiians came out this week to protest yet another land grab by the haole oligarchy is a revisitation of the events that played out in 1893. At the memorial service called “Sovereignty Sunday,” police officers confronted the group observing the overthrow or the Queen and warned participants with arrest if the new rules recently defined by DLNR were broken. The rules, although clearly aimed to protect the palace has also been used to legitimize efforts of suppressing the traditional use of palace grounds by Hawaiian independence and sovereignty groups. Could these new rules be complicit in an effort to further marginalize those who have not benefited or have resisted the state, or have sworn their allegiance to the Hawaiian Kingdom? The Martin Luther King parade is generally embraced by both the state as well as well as by activists.  It is a celebration of the struggle against segregation and for liberation.  When the United Nations began to meet in New York in the 1950s, the issue of US segregation was an national security issue.  In the United States effort to lead the moral high ground in the United Nations, many countries, particularly the Soviet-led countries continually lambasted and humiliated U.S. policy by pointing to the headlines in the newspapers regarding segregation and race-riots. The effort to end segregation for the United States was important because the role the United States plays in the United Nations on questions regarding colonialism, is greatly determined by the way newly admitted countries would vote in the General Assembly.  The United States and the old colonial powers had become a minority in the United Nations General Assembly, and there was a fear that if the United States could not win the support of some of these new countries, the Soviet bloc would become too dominant and thus threaten to break-up the UN. It is ironic that the inclusion of Hawaii and Alaska to be on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories, was very much a part of the strategy for asserting US influence in the UN. For example, this taken from a State Department letter from John Foster Dulles written in 1956:

The grant of statehood to Alaska and Hawaii would provide the best means of convincing other United Nations Members that the two territories have achieved “a full measure of self-government.”  Such a step would be generally welcomed as a further indication of the traditional attachment of the American people to the principle of self-determination.

The combination of “self-determination” and “civil rights” were two principles that the United States focused on during these early years as Hawai’i was lobbying for statehood, and the question of race also played an issue in the U.S. Congress as there were many senators and legislators who opposed Hawaii’s inclusion into the American Union on grounds that Hawaii was primarily a mixed-race place, a place where whites were not the majority. Many congressmen went on record voicing their concerns of an election whereby a non-white senator or legislator would serve in Congress. The labor unions, also well represented in the MLK parade, particularly the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), played a very important role in organizing the statehood vote. In 1954, ILWU leadership promoted the commonwealth option on the grounds that Hawaii would not become a state on issues of race, and shortly after recommitted support to statehood on the grounds that statehood would offer better wages than commonwealth. Having the largest and strongest rank-and-file in Hawaii, the ILWU helped to step up lobbying efforts on the homefront. On Tuesday during the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, Obama flashed the “shaka” sign to the Punahou Marching Band.  Much has already been written about Obama being from Hawai’i, his family and his upbringing. We should note that his birthday, August 4, 1961, is two weeks short of the 2nd anniversary of Hawai’i statehood, concluding that the status of Hawai’i statehood in 1959 allowed for Obama to become the 44th President of the United States.   When in the above linked article, Richard Sommery-Gade in his interview with AP reporter Herbert A. Sample declares that Obama’s presidency is “the completion of a circle,” I cannot help but wonder why his circle was drawn so small. The journey towards statehood– at one time manifest in the history of Hawai’i– has now with President Obama, become more realized than most of us have proverbiably dreamed. However, in light of what historically appeared manifest and incontestable exists a movement that is still struggling for the recognition of self-determination and justice. Day four of this weekend might signify for some the end, or the completion of a circle, but I would suggest that these four events portends that we’re smack-dab in the middle of a very interesting story.]]>

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