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History in the Making: A Fight for a Food Sovereign Hawai‘i

By: Ashley Lukens, PhD, Director, Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety

June 16, 2016
Center for Food Safety

I’ve been at a loss for words to describe the experience of yesterday's court proceedings - all of the work that went into that day - from community organizing, to political prowess, to tireless legal research and writing, culminating in that foreign-language theater we all trudged through (a.k.a. oral arguments in legalese).

As I looked across the courtroom, I was also reminded of how much has come before me, before us, before yesterday.

I was not around during those early years when Uncle Walter Ritte, Andy Kimbrell, Bill Freese, Auntie Jeri Di Pietro, Mary Lacques, Lynn Howe, Nancy Redfeather, and other visionaries met on a annual basis to discuss the threat that genetically engineered (GE) crops posed not just to Hawai‘i, but to the seed sovereignty of the entire world…their work brought us into that court room.

I was not there when Uncle Walter and a coalition of Kānakas and settlers forced the University of Hawai‘i to give up a patent on kalo, making Hawai‘i one of the first places in the world to successfully prevent the privatization and patenting of indigenous knowledge. Their victory laid the groundwork for our battles against agrochemical companies and the technologies that they’ve tested and deployed in Hawai‘i to increase their pesticide sales.

I was not there when Klayton Kubo decided he was no longer going to accept the practices of his “good neighbors” in Waimea on Kaua‘i, being one of the original warriors to organize impacted communities against the industry. This grit and perseverance in the face of real suffering is why we made it to court yesterday.

I was not around on that fateful day when Sol Kahn and Fern Rosenstiel met with Gary Hooser on Kauaʻi to discuss their concerns about the expanding agrochemical industry, concerns that culminated in the historical Bill 2491/Ordinance 960. I was not there when Dustin Barca leveraged his fame as an athlete to bring this message to the world.  The ingenuity and tenacity of all of the tireless warriors, too many to name, who slept outside of the County Council building, fought to pass the bill, and override a veto, brought us into that court room.

I was not there when Blake Watson, Chandell Asuncion, Merle Hayward, and others organized with Councilwoman Margaret Wille to miraculously pass Bill 113. It was this grassroots community organizing that united the entire island of Hawai‘i and put in place protections that would prevent the entrance of the agrochemical industry into that county, keeping their soils, their water, and their people healthy and safe. Their work brought us into that courtroom.

I was not there when Bruce Douglass and Joe Marshalla dreamed up a citizen's initiative that would demand the industry prove it was not impacting public health or the environment, enlisting Maui leaders like Beth Savitt, Dr. Lorrin Pang, Bonnie Marsh, Lei‘ohu Rider, and Mark Sheehan in their campaign. This work brought us to that courtroom.

I was there during the ground battle for Maui County and will never forget the tireless work of Lauryn Rego, Nomi Carmona, Deb Mader, Autumn Ness, and all the other volunteer grassroots canvassers who cut turf and walked to thousands of homes to educate voters.  I was there when Uncle Alika Atay did the math right and saw our path to victory. I was there when Wade Holmes printed all of the bumper stickers and magnets, paying for them out of pocket, helping to make it clear just how many people across Maui supported the cause. I was there when Piia Aarma and Amanda Corby fought to get us our fair share of prime time media coverage - fighting back the $9 million spin campaign. This work brought us to that courtroom.

I have been privileged to watch and work along side the attorneys at Center for Food Safety, Earth Justice, and Bays Lung as they fight to defend our hard work. I was there as countless mana wāhine from all the islands shared their stories with the court through their declarations, including Hoala Davis, Mercy Ritte, and Malia Kahale‘ina Chun, helping to communicate the human face of environmental injustice.

We laid all of this work, all of this history, all of our blood, sweat, and tears at the altar of the American judicial system yesterday... and many of us turned around and got right back to work. Win or lose in court, the future of our islands hangs in the balance.

I’ve learned what real political organizing and struggle looks like from the work of our movement, and I know that we will continue fighting for basic protections from chemical agriculture. I am inspired by all of you who are building a healthy food system that feeds our people. We are a movement that beats the odds, a movement that makes history. Together, for our keiki, for our kūpuna, for our ‘āina, we fight on.

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