Lā 138: This writer argues that looking out for Mauna Kea’s best interests requires taking a moral stand. For some, that stand may come at significant professional sacrifice.

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Honoulu Civil Beat   by William Falk   August 10, 2015

I was on Mauna Kea in the tent at the occupation on Thursday, Aug. 6, talking story with the Mauna Kea Protectors. I became friends with many of them with after I spent 37 nights on the Mauna in May and June. DLNR Chairperson Suzanne Case and Deputy Kekoa Kaluhiwa stopped by the tent with garbage bags. Our first reaction was nervousness. The last time DLNR showed up at the tent, they came with media restrictions to arrest people at 2 a.m. under the new emergency rules.

Case and Kaluhiwa’s appearance seemed odd until Kaluhiwa told us they were picking up trash to show us they were “giving back to the Mauna.” He repeated that phrase two or three times during our five-minute conversation and I realized he was looking for some kind of recognition from us. Another purpose for the visit, I think, is that Case was presenting at the 23rd Annual Hawai’i Conservation Conference in Hilo and she wanted to see the occupation for herself.

Either way, I find it darkly humorous that DLNR employees think that the way to give back to the Mauna is by symbolically arriving at the Visitor Center with trash bags. There is, of course, very little trash up there because, I can tell you, the Protectors have little else to do most days other than keep the area tidy.

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There’s something deeper, more problematic going on, though. How can DLNR employees fail to recognize that the Thirty Meter Telescope project will cause more destruction of Mauna Kea than simple litter ever will?

The last few months have proven that DLNR does not have the best interest of Mauna Kea or Kanaka Maoli at heart. If they did, they would never let a construction project disturb eight acres of conservation land. If they did, they would never let a construction project excavate 64,000 cubic yards of Kanaka Maoli’s most sacred mountain. In short, they would never let the TMT project happen.

I want to give Kaluhiwa the benefit of the doubt, though. Maybe, he really does feel paralyzed caught between his profession and his conscience. Maybe, he really does want to give back to the Mauna. Maybe, he really is seeking some form of redemption. Regardless, if DLNR employees want to give back to Mauna Kea the next time they receive orders to escort the TMT’s construction equipment and to arrest non-violent Protectors, they should refuse the orders.

I already hear the objections. If we refuse orders, we will lose our jobs. Well, some things are more important than jobs. The respect of your community is more important than a job, for example. Participating in a grassroots movement to save one of the world’s most sacred places from destruction is another example. Knowing that you and your family’s drinking water is free from contamination by toxic materials that have and could spill during telescope construction is yet one more example.

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Recent history is full of examples of police, soldiers, and other governmental workers who refused to follow orders and in the process became heroes. Sharon Erickson Nepstad in her book, Nonviolent Revolutions: Civil Resistance in the Late 20th Century, reports that a full 80 percent of Marcos’ Filipino army deserted during his last days in power. These soldiers deserted under conditions far more threatening to their personal safety than those facing DLNR. Marcos, after all, had proven more than capable of murder. It was the bravery of these soldiers that lead to Marcos’ fall.

Or, consider, Harald Jager, the former Stasi Lieutenant Colonel in charge of border patrol in East Germany. He refused to obey orders and opened the Bornholmer Strasse border crossing. His actions were part of a series of events that led the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was one man, and his decision helped bring the fall of a world empire. And, you know what? He lost his job and become an international hero.

So, Suzanne Case, Kekoa Kaluhiwa, and DLNR employees if you truly want to give back to Mauna Kea, do the right thing. Refuse to follow orders. You just might become a hero.