Monday, December 19, 2011

The Meaning of Pagat

“The Meaning of Pågat”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
The social and political meaning of the word “Pågat” has changed so dramatically over the past two years, it has been truly inspiring to behold. Before the military buildup Pågat was a place for select families to fish and to gather plants for natural remedies, and although it has always been a beautiful hike, it was known to most people as a dumpsite. The first few hundred yards of the hike was littered with all imaginable and some unimaginable forms of human refuse. At one point I remember seeing an entire set of front yard Christmas decorations dumped there.

When it first became apparent that Pågat was in the (pun intended) crosshairs of DOD as a site for them to put five live firing ranges, the meaning of Pågat started to change dramatically. When I first began teaching at UOG prior to the whole DEIS comment period, if I had told my students I was taking them on a hike to Pågat, I would have most likely gotten a lot of moaning and groaning. Since the DEIS comment period however, there has always been an interest in going to visit Pågat. Not just students, but people in general have come to see Pågat as being important and should be protected.

Proponents of the buildup used to try to argue against this newfound interest and desire to see Pågat or protect it. They argued that it was inauthentic, since it was new. For so long people hadn’t cared at all about Pågat they argued, and so it is disingenuous to think that somehow they should care now. This was something that die-hard buildup supporters could only mention in public at their peril however.

People wanting to protect the environment, preserve cultural heritage and becoming more active in their community are all things Guam needs more of. And those who argued that someone these things were bad simply because people hadn’t care before, missed the point that so many came to appreciate; namely, isn’t it wonderful that people care now?! Isn’t it good to see people of all ages and ethnicities on Guam care more about preserving precious resources and taking an interest in what is happening to their island?

This is one of the many reasons why public opinion with regards to the buildup has slowly soured or become more cautious. While supportive arguments for the buildup are filled with candy cane and sugar plum dreams of billions of potential more dollars coming into Guam’s economy and tens of thousands of possible new spenders on island, a lot of the ideological nuts and bolts of buildup support came from ideas not very flattering to Guam. Faith in the buildup meant putting faith in outside companies, in the Federal Government, in outside workers. Faith in the buildup meant putting your faith in everyone else and everywhere else except Guam. So many arguments for the buildup were tinged with ideas that Guam needs this since it would perish otherwise. Guam needs this because it can’t take care of things on its own. Supporting the buildup meant accepting a lot of negative assumptions about Guam. This was true even to the point where people felt that it was right that Guam not have a say in the process, since it would simply screw things up if it did.

Opponents or critics of the buildup were able to get their message out and give it consistency by focusing on empowering people. Not only did they highlight the potential damages of the buildup, but they also paid special attention to the lack of input Guam had in the entire process. They focused on the idea that Guam should not just have a say in what the buildup is, but what the buildup might cost or might take.

While supporters focused on the need to take things people offer you and giving up things in exchange, critics focused on the need for people on Guam to take care of themselves, whether it meant changing the buildup so that it would benefit Guam, or saying no to it completely. Despite what people might say on the surface, the argument against the buildup was fundamentally more positive for Guam and therefore resonated with people more effectively, giving them the idea that Guam is not simply a place where the US should be able to dictate policy unilaterally, but that it should be able to make its own decisions as well.

Last week, DOD implicitly admitted that they had not done enough research and therefore not followed Federal law when they placed Pågat as the only suitable location for their firing ranges. Because of the challenge by organizations such as We Are Guahan, the National Trust and the Guam Preservation Trust, they are starting over and will have to conduct a brand new, more rigorous study to make their case. This is a stirring vindication for everyone who protested publicly or privately that Pågat should be protected.

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