Why Some Will Protest APEC

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - November 09, 2011
| Del.icio.us

They’ve planted pretty trees along Nimitz Highway, painted over graffiti near the Convention Center, shipped Honolulu’s homeless out of sight, installed video cameras in Waikiki, and declared parts of Oahu’s south and west shores “security zones.”

Only permanent residents of Oahu’s cemeteries remain oblivious to the reasons for the planting, painting, shipping, installing and securing. APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit a “summit” no less is coming to town.

Indeed, if you’re reading this on Wednesday, APEC has already arrived. It runs from Nov. 9 through 13, and will bring the heads of state of 21 nations, their staff, their economic ministers, their nation’s business leaders, and sun-and-surf loving family members: an estimated 20,000 in all.

Add 2,000 media folk from throughout the region, and the city’s recent concern over beautification becomes even clearer.

Still others will attend, namely those who feel that economic cooperation, by any other name, benefits greater corporate profits to the detriment of working people and the global environment. In all likelihood, none who protest APEC’s goals will make it inside the Hawaii Convention Center, but they will demonstrate wherever police and federal and state officials allow.

But why? Shouldn’t we be proud that Honolulu was chosen to host APEC? Haven’t we been crowing about it for more than a year?

In fact, isn’t being a meeting place for Pacific Basin nations a proud part of our history?

In the late 19th century, King David Kalakaua led the movement for a Polynesian federation and attempted closer ties between Hawaii and Japan through a royal marriage.

And modern Hawaiian activists continue to reach out to their Polynesian brothers and sisters through voyaging, language and culture.

And at its founding, the East-West Center for Cultural Interchange enjoyed near-unanimous support from Island residents. It’s been bringing future leaders from throughout Asia and the Pacific to Manoa Valley to study for a half century.

And UH itself boasts an Asian and Pacific Studies Center with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Okinawan, Pacific Islands, Philippine, South Asian and Southeast Asian studies.

Add the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies and 400 faculty teaching Asian and Pacific subject matter across the university’s curriculum, and Manoa can claim an on-going dialogue on relationships throughout the region that goes farther and deeper than anything that can transpire at this week’s APEC conference.

So what’s the complaint?

Listen to what Nandita Sharma, a sociology professor at UH, told B.J. Reyes of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

“The main problem with APEC is that the interests that they serve are interests of big business. I really think that is contrary to the interest of most everyone else.”

Sharma dismissed the contention that the APEC conference’s 20,000 visitors and the media attention it draws to Hawaii benefits the state’s economy, arguing that APEC’s policies caused Island residents more harm than good.

Sharma has a point, and a telling one at a time when the United States knows a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, when Hawaii construction workers have been on the bench for 12 to 18 months, when American corporations claim record profits and record CEO salaries while out-sourcing job after job after job to Asian countries, and when globalization provides conservative American politicians with a rationale to destroy the labor movement.

So there will be protesters, but not as many as there might have been had APEC held its summit in Tokyo or San Francisco. They will be heard, but not by APEC conferees in the Convention Center or at Ko Olina.

And they’ll be visible, but just.

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