Monday, January 18, 2010

Buildup/Breakdown #6: Creativity

Chamorro activism on Guam has experienced a huge upsurge in recent weeks because of the fear, concern and anger over the military buildup and the DEIS. There are plenty of new faces out there, new voices, and most importantly plenty of new tactics and strategies being employed.

After the protests and very visible spectacles of Chamorro activists and groups such as Nasion Chamoru from the early and mid 1990’s, it was commonsensical for years to say that that sort of grassroots, nationalistic, progressive and inherently decolonial activism was dead. Although time passed, there were some very important victories, and a few big losses, it didn’t seem like the activists were changing as the island around them changed because of what they had done and accomplished. So for instance, the 1990’s was the decade for vibrant and shocking protests. They weren’t shocking because of any of the particular acts that the protestors conducted, but rather shocking simply because they existed. For an island which regularly prides itself on being laid back and being hospitable to the point of celebrating its own oppression and colonization sometimes, openly and aggressively protesting or confronting the United States was something which simply was not done. You could, as many did, say bad things about Americans or America in your backyard, gi oriyan i tanke’, or when relaxing at the beach with friends, but in public, no one was ever appear to say anything bad or even look badly at the hand which liberated us. It was something which simply wasn’t done.

But as, the years have passed, the tactics didn’t necessarily change. The crowds of protestors got smaller, but those who remained didn’t necessarily adapt. Plenty of old faces left the scene, a few new ones came in, but nowhere was there an infusion of energy, capacity and strategy like there was in the early 1990’s. Ya i humuyongna na gi i hinasson i taotao Guahan, kalang mangchenglong i activists. So now, it has become customary when dismissing the critiques that a Chamorro activist might make, that you equate the sole worth of their actions and thinking with standing by the side of the road with a sign and no plan or understanding of reality.

Perhaps the past ten years of activism on Guam have stalled because there wasn’t a real, visceral or dire issue which could effectively bring together a solid and committed coalition. Although there are always issues which could get someone like me pissed off and feel like we need to take to the streets and rebel, no large movement ever gets formed over something which is always an issue. If the unifying antagonism is old and been around for a long time, there has to be some new dimension of it, or some new twist which would make people relate to it in a different way, and see their new place in relation to it, as in the streets rather than matata’chong gi i gima’ gi me’nan i telebishon. While the buildup has been in everyone’s mind for four years now, it is only in the past few weeks that the impacts have really started to sink into the minds of people. In addition, although the 90 day comment period for the DEIS is frustrating, it ended up being a catalyst, like the ticking clock of a time bomb, something which forces everyone to rush and work together.

As a result of this, the past few weeks have seen a small but very real revolution in terms of tactics and strategy amongst decolonization activists. Things which myself and others regularly talk and dream about, have actually been implemented. The coalition We Are Guahan is at the epicenter of making this possible. For those of you who don't know what or who We Are Guahan is, here is a short description of the group:

Our islands and our people are bracing themselves for a massive change in tides. We Are Guåhan is a multi-ethnic collective of individuals, families and grassroots organizations concerned with the future of our islands. We Are Guåhan aims to inform and engage our community on the various issues concerning the impending military build up. We Are Guåhan aims to unite and mobilize our people to protect and defend our resources and our culture. We Are Guåhan promotes peaceful, positive and prosperous change for our island. We envision a sustainable future for all of Guåhan's people. All are welcome and necessary!

First there was the hike to Pagat to help bring awareness of the fact that some very beautiful and very historic sites which civilians on Guam may soon lose access to. Then there were the people who were doing outreach in public, collecting emails and passing out fliers. Not the most radical thing, but after just a few excursions We Are Guahan netted over a thousand email addresses of people who were concerned about the military buildup. During the hearings we not only heard an overwhelming number of comments which were critically about the buildup, but there were even those who got creative with their comments, incorporating spoken word poetry and even music.



Finally, there has been a real effort to finally make use of the internet in terms sharing information and getting out the word about events and activities. The We Are Guahan coalition has put together a very simple but effective website, with plenty of info about the buildup and info about ways people can get involved. Another way that people have at last harnessed the internet is through Youtube. Over the past few weeks, dozens of videos have appeared around the buildup, all together gathering thousands of views. These videos range from simple video of people giving testimonies, and other more advance efforts at creating mini-documentaries about the activities people are doing to resist the buildup, or providing info about it. Para bai hu sangan mas put este siha gi i otro na tinige'-hu gi este na blog.

This is all something to be taken very seriously, and should not be dismissed as something which is only here and happening because of this buildup comment period. It can and hopefully will represent a very real transition in activism on Guam. One which is a very positive step in helping ensure that the voices and the critiques that we represent start to acquire some power in the governing and conceiving of Guam. Regardless of what happens with the military buildup, the true test has to be seen with a much lengthier field of vision. The true test of how effective or how significant of a revolution this period represents, is whether or not these gains translate into something which will continue to be a force in shaping meaning and society long after February 17th passes. For those who don’t know, February 17th is the last day to submit a comment on the buildup.

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