Category Archives: Events

US Social Forum 2010: A commentary on the challenges facing our movement toward social justice

By: Dr. Hope Cristobal

This year’s US Social Forum was held in downtown Detroit, Michigan from June 22 to June 26.  As one of the 10,000 progressive activists registered for the Forum, my experience that week was both captivating and disenchanting.

I was part of a small group of indigenous Chamorus representing a local non-governmental organization (NGO).  Our group – four from Guam, one from California, and one from Boston – was well organized.   Each was strategically packed with a schedule of mandatory workshops and People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs) in order to maximize our attendance at such an important forum.  Our goal was to bring home good solid knowledge and skills in addition to networking with strategic folks involved in issues of decolonization and self-determination.  I can tell you, in this respect, we certainly were NOT disappointed!

Our information table was also brimming with material for the American public about Guam, especially about the proposed hyper militarization of our island home by the Department of Defense.  The biggest draw to our table was this quote, spelled out in big bold white letters, “The indigenous Chamoru people of Guam who have already suffered near genocide and violent colonization for over 400 years will bear the burden of U.S. military buildup on Guam – and have been given no say in the process.”  Many people who passed by our table slowed to read the sign, shaking their heads in disbelief.  Manning the table was valuable experience for each of us.  We learned how fellow Americans knew little about what is happening in the westernmost U.S. territory of Guam.  Our efforts did not go unheeded; we received a few hundred signatures in support of our petition to stop the military buildup and to grant the Chamoru people the exercise of our legal and political Right of Self-Determination.  I do, however, wonder, “What does the American public understand about this Right and the struggles of colonized indigenous peoples in this world?”

I quickly realized through the week, that the terms “self-determination,” “anti-imperialism,” and “decolonization” appear to be the new ‘cool’ terms thrown into the political rhetoric.  I witnessed the term “self-determination” be reduced to anyone’s right to personal freedom. The truth of the matter is that self-determination in the case of the indigenous people of Guam is not just a “right,” but a “Right.”  Meaning, the Right of Self-Determination as recognized in the United Nations Charter of 1945 and other relevant United Nations documents—and further identified as “jus cogens” in the international sphere – is an inherent Right of indigenous peoples to simply exist independently from our colonial power.  This independent existence is made real through the expression of our right to freely choose our political status, or our Self-Determination.

On the third day, I was drawn toward a workshop strategizing a revolutionary movement from the left.  The workshop handout read, “building a more powerful movement and a stronger left that can defeat capitalism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, xenophobia, and gender oppression.”  What about political oppression?  The sad truth is even among revolutionaries, this struggle – familiar to many colonized indigenous people – goes unnoticed most of the time.  Colonized indigenous groups can’t yet deal with the struggles of racism, heterosexism, ableism, xenophobia, gender oppression, and other equality issues until they are allowed the basic Right to exist and have a voice.  Ultimately, an able-bodied, white, heterosexual, male can’t vote for the President of the United States or be protected under the U.S. Constitution as long as he is a resident of Guam!

There are two problems that I can see with our revolutionary movement so far.  First, when the term “self-determination” is loosely akin to anyone’s right to freely choose their future, it undermines the larger human rights struggle for indigenous people.  This struggle is a legitimate struggle for those living in colonies – indigenous or non-indigenous – especially the 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories around the world who go to the United Nations multiple times a year, demanding their right to exist independently from their administering power.  Secondly, discussions on social transformation will continue to fall short as long as the left continues to be blind to their own political-privilege, ignoring the fact that there are politically disenfranchised groups that truly have no political voice in their future or how they choose to live their life.  I will define political-privilege as the political advantage, benefit, or immunity enjoyed by people who can freely choose or express their governmental, civic, legal, and constitutional options and who are exempt from the burden or liabilities incurred by people who lack this privilege. Political-privilege results in laws, regulations, and political viewpoints favoring the desires, needs, and perspectives of those who have this privilege over those who do not.

What should the left do?  First of all, acknowledge that political-privilege exists in this country and the fact that there are people who are not politically recognized as legitimate entities, is an equity issue and a human rights issue.  Secondly, be aware, understand, and make distinction between the Right of Self-Determination and the right of the politically-privileged to make personal choices in their lives.  Political-privilege will continue as long as those who have it remain ignorant to the true political meaning of “Self-Determination.”  Lastly, any revolutionary strategy needs to be inclusive of the politically-underprivileged and disenfranchised.  By this inclusion, privileged folks discourage the reenactment of colonial marginalization already committed by administering Powers of colonial territories and peoples.

Ultimately, until indigenous people living in this country can be afforded our right to political equity, there can be no legitimate fight for equality.

About the author:  As an indigenous Chamoru and active member of Famoksaiyan, Dr. Hope Cristobal was born and raised on the island-territory of Guahan.  She is a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment and assessment of indigenous and marginalized populations, focusing on the unique situation for colonized Chamorus from Guahan. She is a community advocate at the local, national, and international levels. She has presented at a number of workshops and conferences regarding the psychosocial problems currently facing the Chamoru people in Guahan and abroad.  Her testimonies to the United Nations’ Committee on Decolonization is highlighted in a documentary film, The Insular Empire: America in the Marianas Islands. You can contact Dr. Cristobal at hope.cristobal@gmail.com.
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May 15th Insular Empire Screening

Join us on May 15th, after the NPIEN conference, for a Hayward screening of Vanessa Warheit’s documentary The Insular Empire: America in the Mariana Islands. The Insular Empire takes a critical eye to the US military and colonial legacy in Guam and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, adding an often ignored, but vital, perspective to conversations on the US’s role in Guam and the CNMI.

A synopsis of the film:

“6000 miles west of California, the Mariana Islands include the US Territory of Guam and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). For generations, these islands’ indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian people have been second-class Americans – fighting and dying under the stars and stripes, with no voting representation in Congress, and no vote for their commander-in-chief. Today the US military is planning a massive buildup of these small, strategic islands, with no input from the people of the Marianas. Yet the Chamorros and Carolinians remain steadfastly patriotic – more loyal, in fact, than many mainland communities.”

 

Where

Cal State University, East Bay Diversity Center

 New University Union (across from parking lot B on West Loop Road. Take the stairs or the elevator to the second floor and the Diversity Center is located to the right of the walk way.)

25800 Carlos Bee Blvd, Hayward, CA

When

May 15th  4:30pm to 6pm (After the NPIEN Conf. which is 8- 4pm.)
 
Click here for directions

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Clean up not build up!: Earth Day Press Conference 4.22.2010

Contributed by Erica Benton

On April 22, Earth Day, several groups gathered outside St. Patrick’s Church in San Francisco demanding a halt to US military expansion on the Pacific island of Guam. Their voices join recent EPA concerns that the Department of Defense’s plan will have devastating impacts on 71 acres of coral reef and fails to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The plan will threaten the habitat of thousands of species of marine life, including endangered species such as green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle and spinner dolphin. At a time of economic recession and mounting national debt, the US base expansion on Guam will be one of the largest buildups in recent history, costing US taxpayers an estimated $9 Billion. On Earth Day, San Franciscans witnessed the release of a letter signed by 100 environmentalists, scholars, community and religious leaders who are calling on the White House and the Council on Environmental Quality to halt the build-up.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in its evaluation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), gave the plan the worst possible rating, calling it “inadequate” and “insufficient,” and stating that the impacts of dredging on the high quality coral reefs of Apra Harbor “are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed.” The proposed build up, would bring 79,000 more people to Guam, increasing the population of 173,456 by 47%. According to the EPA, the plan fails to adequately address the impact of this population increase on the water supply and wastewater treatment on Guam, creating adverse public health impacts.

Environmental research organizations, such as the Center for Biological Diversity stated in their public comment: “The Navy has failed to meet the statutory requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and regulations of the Council on Environmental Quality…. because it improperly limited the scope of the DEIS and failed to include sufficient information on alternatives, impacts to cultural resources and social justice issues, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

“Our communities in Guam are counting on us to be a voice for them in Washington,” says Erica Benton, a local bay area resident with family ties to Guam and a member of Famoksaiyan, a group which voices concerns for Guam and Chamorros in the diaspora. “The island is an unincorporated territory of the US, which basically means they cannot vote for US presidents and only have a non-voting delegate in Congress. We hope our leaders here in California take a stand with us, and for the environment.”

“This Earth Day, we have to address that the military is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, and the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. The massive build up on Guam directly contradicts efforts to protect our environment from global warming,” says Reverend Deborah Lee, a member of Women for Genuine Security, the local chapter of a global women’s network that works to protect the health and safety of communities around US military bases. “The US military has an enormous carbon footprint which must be addressed for the health of local communities and the security of our entire planet.”

As the largest Chamorro population outside of Guam resides in California, groups are calling on California Congressional Representatives and President Obama to:

1) Halt the current plans for the build up;

2) Before the DOD goes forward, require a rewrite of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, with an appropriate public comment period of at least 6 months. The new DEIS should address socioeconomic and cultural impacts on local communities, clearly outlined mitigation of environmental impacts and greenhouse gases, and impacts to self-determination. The process of writing the DEIS should be transparent and include participation of community and environmental watchdog groups.

3) Require the DOD to clean up existing contamination and toxic sites, on and off-base, caused by military operations on Guam, before any base expansion projects are considered;

The San Francisco Earth Day action took place across the street from the EPA’s Earth Day Festival at Yerba Buena Garden. The action was also in solidarity with rallies that will be held in Washington DC and Okinawa, Japan on Sunday, April 25th in protest of a new US base in Okinawa which already holds 30 bases. 100,000 people are expected to rally in Okinawa this Sunday. The Guam build-up plan includes the proposed transfer of 8,000 Marines from Futenma Air Station in Okinawa after decades of local protests.

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Earth Day 4/22/2010 – Bay Area Groups Demand Halt of Military Build-up on Guam: Environmentally Destructive & Costly

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact Person:  Erica Benton (510)-928-8247, Rev. Deborah Lee (415) 297-8222

Press Conference & Earth Day Action:
Bay Area Organizations, Scholars and Environmentalists

Demand Halt of Military Build-up in Guam:
Environmentally Destructive and Costly

Date:  Thursday, April 22, 2010
Time:  10:30 am
Location:  St. Patrick’s Church, 756 Mission Street, San Francisco
Features:  Music, Visuals, expert and community speakers:

Speakers and Press Contacts:

Rima Miles, Refaluwasch Carolinian from Saipan, member of One Love Oceania
Erica Benton, musician & member of Famoksaiyan, a Chamorro and Guam advocacy group
Yoko Fukumura, Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence
Rev. Deborah Lee , Women for Genuine Security
Aileen Suzara, Filipino American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity
Spokesperson from POWER
Center for Biological Diversity, Miyo Sakashita

Supporting Groups:  Women for Genuine Security, Famoksaiyan (Chamorro and Guam/Marianas Advocacy Group), One Love Oceania, American Friends Service Committee, POWER, Movement Generation, Sonoma County Peace Crane Project, Center for Biological Diversity.

April 5, 2010, SAN FRANCISCO, CA* – On April 22,  Earth Day, several groups will gather outside St. Patrick’s Church in San Francisco demanding a halt to US military expansion on the Pacific island of Guam. Their voices join recent EPA concerns that the Department of Defense’s plan will have devastating impacts on 71 acres of coral reef and fails to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The plan will threaten the habitat of thousands of species of marine life, including endangered species such as green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle and spinner dolphin.  At a time of economic recession and mounting national debt, the US base expansion on Guam will be one of the largest buildups in recent history, costing US taxpayers an estimated $9 Billion. On Earth Day, San Franciscans will witness the release of a letter signed by 70 environmentalists, scholars, community and religious leaders who are calling on the White House and the Council on Environmental Quality to halt the build-up.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in its evaluation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), gave the plan the worst possible rating, calling it “inadequate” and “insufficient,” and stating that the impacts  of dredging on the high quality coral reefs of Apra Harbor “are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed.”  The proposed build up, would bring 79,000 more people to Guam, increasing the population of 173,456 by 47%.  According to the EPA, the plan fails to adequately address the impact of this population increase on the water supply and wastewater treatment on Guam, creating adverse public health impacts.

Environmental research organizations, such as the Center for Biological Diversity stated in their public comment:  “The Navy has failed to meet the statutory requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and regulations of the Council on Environmental Quality…. because it improperly limited the scope of the DEIS and failed to include sufficient information on alternatives, impacts to cultural resources and social justice issues, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

“Our communities in Guam are counting on us to be a voice for them in Washington,” says Erica Benton, a local bay area resident with family ties to Guam and a member of Famoksaiyan, a group which voices concerns for Guam and Chamorros in the diaspora. “The island is an unincorporated territory of the US, which basically means they cannot vote for US presidents and only have a non-voting delegate in Congress. We hope our leaders here in California take a stand with us, and for the environment.”

“This Earth Day, we have to address that the military is one of the biggest polluters on the planet, and the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. The massive build up on Guam directly contradicts efforts to protect our environment from global warming,” says Reverend Deborah Lee, a member of Women for Genuine Security, the local chapter of a global women’s network that works to protect the health and safety of communities around US military bases. The US military has an enormous carbon footprint which must be addressed for the health of local communities and the security of our entire planet.”

As the largest Chamorro population outside of Guam resides in California, groups are calling on California Congressional Representatives and President Obama to:

1) Halt of the current plans for the build up;

2) Before the DOD goes forward, require a rewrite of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, with an appropriate public comment period of at least 6 months. The new DEIS should address socioeconomic and cultural impacts on local communities, clearly outlined mitigation of environmental impacts and greenhouse gases, and impacts to self-determination.  The process of writing the DEIS should be transparent and include participation of community and environmental watchdog groups.

3) Require the DOD to clean up existing contamination and toxic sites, on and off-base, caused by military operations on Guam, before any base expansion projects are considered;

The San Francisco Earth Day action takes place across the street from the EPA’s Earth Day Festival 11-3 pm at Yerba Buena Garden.  The action is also in solidarity with rallies that will be held in Washington DC and Okinawa, Japan this Sunday, April 25th in protest of a new US base in Okinawa which already holds 30 bases.  100,000 people are expected to rally in Okinawa this Sunday.  The Guam build-up plan includes the proposed transfer of 8,000 Marines from Futenma Air Station in Okinawa after decades of local protests.

Background:

At 30 miles long and around 8 miles wide, Guam is currently home to over 100 toxic sites. The island and surrounding regions use as a military dumping ground since World War II is evidenced today in the record high cancer rates among the population. The military currently occupies 1/3 of the island and now proposes additional land takings. Guam has lived under US administration since 1898 and remains a US colony, one of 16 non-self-governing territories listed by the United Nations.

The proposed Defense Department plan involves moving 8,600 Marines and their 7,000 dependents from Futenma Marine Air Station (Okinawa, Japan) to Guam by 2014; the acquisition of 2,200 additional acres for military use, including live fire training, the expansion of Andersen Air Force Base, and the dredging of 71 acres of vibrant coral reef in Apra Harbor.

Large numbers of contracted workers would also be sent to actualize the Guam buildup, boosting the U.S. territory’s population by 45 percent — adding another 79,000 people to its current 180,000 residents.  (Greenwire Feb 25).

Since the release of the DEIS on November 30, 2009, community groups in Guam have been organizing to have their concerns be heard. One such organization, the We Are Guåhan coalition, recently collected over 10,000 signatures to petition President Obama to step off the base and hear the concerns of the local people when he visits there in June. We have not been able to say yes or no to this (buildup),” says Jon Blas, resident of Guam and member of We Are Guåhan. “Hawaii said no. California said no. But we were never given the opportunity. It’s not fair, especially because it is looking like this is going to hurt us more than help us.” We Are Guåhan’s growing membership felt that a strong message must be sent to Washington DC. The petition states: “The military buildup will permanently change our island and our lives. The needs of all Guam’s people must come first, for this island is our home. It is critical that President Obama hear our concerns.”

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