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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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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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Sign Petition – Halt the Guam Build Up

CLICK HERE TO SIGN PETITION!

It looks like this:

Targeting:
The President of the United States,
Michael Block (White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs ),
Cecilia Munoz (Director of White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs),
Nancy Sutley (Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality)

Greetings,

On Earth Day, April 22, 2010, we – the undersigned environmentalists, scholars, clergy, community leaders, and concerned citizens — call attention to the severe long-term impacts of preparations for war on the physical environment and, in turn, on human health.

We are extremely concerned about the environmental impacts of the proposed military expansion and build-up in the U.S. territory of Guam, noting the following points:

History of US Militarism in Guam:

* The people of Guam have lived under U.S. administration since 1898. Guam remains a U.S. colony, one of 16 non-self-governing territories listed by the United Nations, and represented by one non-voting delegate in the U.S. Congress. Local communities are highly constrained in their ability to influence the political process and were not consulted when the expansion plans were drawn up.

* For the indigenous Chamorro people, the long legacy of U.S. and Navy military control includes major land takings beginning in the early 20th century; radiation exposure; poor health; and the restriction of traditional practices such as fishing.

* In 1954, the entire island was affected by toxic contamination following the “Bravo” hydrogen bomb test in the Marshall Islands. In the 1970s, Guam’s Cocos Island lagoon was used to wash down ships contaminated with radiation en route from the Marshall Islands where they were part of an attempted clean up. From 1968 to 1974, Guam had higher yearly rainfall measures of strontium 90 than Majuro (Marshall Islands).

* As a corollary, the incidence of cancer in Guam is high. Cancer mortality rates from 1998 to 2002 showed that nasopharyngeal cancer was 48 times higher for Chamorros than among the general U.S. population. Cervical and uterine cancer mortality rates were 3 times higher. Chamorro deaths from cancer of the mouth and pharynx, the lungs, stomach, prostate, liver, breast, and thyroid were all higher than overall U.S. rates.

* Andersen AFB is a continuing source of toxic contamination through dumpsites and possible leaching of chemicals into the underground aquifer beneath the base. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency found antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, manganese, dioxin, deteriorated ordnance and explosives, and PCBs at two dumpsites just outside the base at Urunao, Guam. Other areas have been affected by Vietnam-war era use of the defoliants Agent Orange and Agent Purple, as planes used for aerial spraying were cleaned in Guam. While there are some clean-up efforts currently underway, it has not resulted in the cumulative clean-up of the island. Instead, multiple toxic sites continue to exist, thereby impacting the health status of the island’s people.

Current Build-up Plans:

* Currently, Guam’s military significance is being redefined as part of a major realignment and restructuring of U.S. forces and operations in the Asia-Pacific region. Thirty miles long and eight miles wide, Guam houses the largest Air Force fuel supply in the United States and the largest supply of weapons in the Pacific. The military controls one-third of the island and intends for Guam to become a power projection hub.

* The proposed military build-up of Guam involves the transfer of 8,600 Marines currently based at Futenma Marine Air Station (Okinawa, Japan); the acquisition of 2,200 additional acres for military use, including additional live-fire ranges; and the dredging of 71 acres of vibrant coral reef in Apra Harbor to create berthing for a nuclear aircraft carrier for just 64 days a year. Also planned: a missile defense system and expansion of Andersen AFB. This proposal will increase the population of 173,456 by nearly 47% — or nearly 80,000 people, including U.S. Marines, support staff, military contractors, family members, and construction workers.

Inadequacies and Objections to the Current Plan:

* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has given its worst rating to the DOD Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding the proposed build-up. The EPA emphasizes the lack of a specific plan to address the wastewater treatment and water supply needs of the increased population, which will overstretch the already inadequate infrastructure and may result in “significant adverse public health impacts.” Low water pressure could lead to increased exposure to water borne disease from sewage stormwater infiltration into drinking water. Also, it could result in saltwater intrusion into Guam’s aquifer. The planned expansion will result in an increase in spills of raw sewage, exposing people to raw sewage in their drinking water supply, through the shellfish they eat, and during ocean recreation. Moreover, the EPA report argues that the build-up “will result in unacceptable impacts to 71 acres of high quality coral reef ecosystem in Apra harbor” and concludes that, “These impacts are of sufficient magnitude that EPA believes the action should not proceed as proposed.”

* Despite its inordinate length (9 volumes totaling 11,000 pages), the DEIS is vague in places, contains significant contradictions, and scarcely addresses social and cultural impacts to the island.

* Even though the public comment period was far too short — a mere 90 days to absorb the implications of the 11,000 page report — there has been an outpouring of pubic testimony, concern, and opposition to the build up expressed at town hall meetings, public hearings, community events, on the internet, and in media reports.

Many public comments on the DEIS focused on unequal amenities and opportunities inside and outside the military fencelines. As proposed, the build-up plan will exacerbate the reality of two Guams: one inside and one outside the bases.

Several Guam Senators, including Speaker Judith Won Pat, have questioned the build-up. Congressional Representative Bordallo and Governor Felix Camacho have greatly moderated their earlier support after seeing the detailed proposals and hearing the strength of community concern.

* The planned military expansion has serious implications for the Chamorro people’s right to self-determination: military-related personnel could outnumber the Chamorro population, who currently make up 37% of the total. Chamorro leaders have taken this issue to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization and urged this committee to send representatives to Guam to conduct an assessment of the current situation on the island’s people.

We urge you to:

1) Halt the current plans for the military build up in Guam;

2) Demand the DOD rewrite the DEIS to include socio-economic and cultural impacts and mitigation, clearly outlined environmental impacts and mitigation, address the impacts to self-determination, complete cost-benefit analysis, and federal accountability for impacts on local communities;

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;

4) Limit the military’s use of land on Guam to its current “footprint”;

5) Recommend federal funding to strengthen Guam’s inadequate infrastructure.
The White House press statement, issued mid-March 2010, emphasizing the administration’s commitment to “One Guam, Green Guam,” balancing the military’s needs with local concerns, promoting renewable energy, and reducing fuel and energy costs on the island does not address people’s core concerns. These goals cannot be achieved without addressing the inadequacies and concerns raised about the current build-up proposal.

We look forward to working with you on these matters.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

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