Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mensåhi Ginen i Gehilo' #17: Tearing Up the Maps

A 2014 study by The Guardian/UK shows that in 50 different colonies/territories since 1860, 88% of the time they chose independence as their option. Very very few chose to become integrated into their colonizer, it was almost natural to seek their own fortune and destiny, even if it might lead to a time of difficulty. The study looked at places such as Samoa, East Timor, Mongolia, Iceland and Iraq. Given the way in which independence is often imagined in places such as Guam that remain colonies today, it is intrigued to see how normal seeking independence was in the past, but how today it feels so fearful.

Most people would argue that the resistance that people in Guam feel today is tied to the island being too political immature or the island being too small or too far away from the centers of power. All of these points make some sense, but not enough to really build up the type of fear that people experience when discussing the notion of Guam becoming independent. As the United Nations has long argued, so-called "political immaturity" is never an excuse for a place remaining colonized. There is always work to be done and things to improve, but that excuse was used for centuries by every shade of colonizer and while it may feel so terrifyingly real, it truly isn't. The other two points are tied to preconceived notions that independent countries are huge and massive like the United States and if you aren't as large or imposing as they are, then you should just shut up and be grateful that someone wants your island for military bases and is willing to give you food stamps and student loans in the process. But if we look at the world today, there are many countries that are small just like Guam is, some of them are poor, some of them are rich. There is no set calculus by which the size of a colony indicates how intrinsically prosperous it will be. Independence just means that hopefully, the people and the newly established nation will be able to leverage whatever geographic or resource advantages they have into something that best benefits themselves, rather than being siphoned off and improving the bottom line of a faraway ruler. This is of course the tragic trap of neocolonialism. Is that many former colonizer discovered that they could still extract the resources from faraway lands that they desired, even without colonizing them. All they would need to do is enslave them in crippling debt or support tough and terrible leaders who could ensure that industries and natural resources remain open to support foreign interests.

As mentioned, these points feel powerful, but only take us so far in terms of understanding things. The resistance to independence isn't logical, isn't rational. It is tied to feelings and fears that if the colonizer is crossed, all that which he has provided will disappear. It is tied to feelings that the very future and whether it is livable or prosperous has more to do with your loyalty and devotion to the colonizer and his rule, than your ability as a people and the level of sovereignty you have over your lands and resources.

For me, and this is something that I wrote an entire masters thesis over, at the University of Guam, the great feelings of resistance have to do with the simple, yet massive feeling that those questions are over with and there is no more room left in the world or the future for them to be addressed. In this mindset decolonization is done. History, as Francis Fukuyama famously argued is over and done with. As a result those who missed that train, those who still languish in the waiting room of History, are truly left behind politically. Those who were not caught up in the bloody or heady revolutions of the past, esta mantaisuete. They are not subjects, but just irritants. Therefore, when we who remain colonized, continue to pray for self-determination, think about what might be possible for ourselves, we feel the weight of that global consensus, which is sometimes referred to as the capitalist liberal-democratic deadlock, and we shrink away, never imagining that we might be capable of breaking it or more importantly, that we would be worthy of breaking it. If you imagine the maps of the world, people feel like the maps are all finished, there is nothing left to explore, nothing left to change. To seek decolonization and independence today, especially for those in small islands or small territories, seems akin to defying the maps that everyone has framed on their walls or currently use to hunt Pokemon. How could, we ever think of ourselves worthy or capable of redrawing the lines of the world?

It is here, where it is important to remind ourselves that movements for self-determination and independence persist, even if they are not recognized formally by the United Nations or by the countries that claim them as their own. There are hundreds of millions of others in the world, mainly indigenous people, who see themselves as not quite fitting in with the global arrangements. As they wait behind the Fourth World Wall, seeking restitution, redress, decolonization after so many of the nation-states of today were built upon their displacement and destruction. In every corner of the globe we find these movements, even within the United State itself in places such as Hawai'i, Alaska and Texas, although each movements has its own character, history and politics. A case in point is the one discussed below, that of Westralia or Western Australia, which is a place that voted for its independence in 1933 and included in The Guardian/UK study. As you'll read below, their efforts came to little in the previous century, although there remains rumblings up until today.


Secession is still on our mind
The West Australian
April 7, 2013

"Westralia shall be free" they sang on the streets and in the town halls in 1933 as the people of WA prepared for a referendum that had been on the simmer since Federation in 1901.

Exactly 80 years ago come Monday, the issue came to the boil at the ballot box.

Australia and the world watched and waited, the word "secession" on everyone's lips, as WA voters pondered the question on the compulsory voting card: "Are you in favour of the State of Western Australia withdrawing from the Federal Commonwealth?"

Two-thirds of West Australians marked the box that said "yes", and the vote in favour of breaking away from the rest of the nation passed resoundingly.

Eight decades on, WA remains a State of Australia but, according to some, the undercurrent of discontent has never fully disappeared.

The chairman of the WA Parliament's history advisory committee, Professor David Black, said WA was from the outset a reluctant participant in federalism.

At the turn of the century, having only recently been granted self- governance, many in WA were wary of handing over power to a Federal government.

Professor Black said the belated referendum on whether West Australians would join the Commonwealth - held in 1900 after all the other States had decided to sign up - only passed because a high number of people from the Eastern States, working and living in places such as the Goldfields, tipped the balance with their votes.

But by 1902, the matter of secession was being discussed in the WA Parliament, and in 1906 a resolution for a referendum on secession was passed but never acted on.

World War I suppressed the breakaway movement for a time, and while it was back on the agenda in the 1920s, it took the economic strife of the early 1930s to bring it to the fore. "It probably wouldn't have got any further than that if it wasn't for the Great Depression," Professor Black said.

In the 1930s, the main agitators for secession, the Dominion League, enjoyed a groundswell of support from struggling West Australians whose economic woes were exacerbated by Federal tariffs that benefited Eastern States businesses to the detriment of WA.

The advent of continental free trade, which left WA's primary industries unprotected, was another strong motivator.

In 1930, Liberal premier James Mitchell declared his support for the secession movement, and the stage was set for the 1933 vote.

Locked away in the State Records Office of WA, correspondence to and from Sir Mitchell paints a picture of support for WA to strike out on its own.

Senior archivist Gerard Foley said the volume of records relating to secession had not been "examined in detail for some time".

Notes of support from regional towns inquiring what they could do to aid the movement are sandwiched between letters from the Perth Chamber of Commerce, which wanted the premier to form a working committee to investigate "the State's capacity to pay its way if it separated from the Federation".

While the people of WA voted for secession in 1933, in a strange contradiction on the same day, they also voted out Sir Mitchell's pro-secession government.

Professor Black said this was proof that people in WA were not really serious about seceding, but were merely lashing out in protest at both the Federal and State governments which had failed to improve the dire economic situation.

The issue of the 1933 secession referendum was put to bed in 1935, when a British Parliament joint select committee told a WA delegation it would not amend the Commonwealth Constitution without Canberra's consent.

Professor Black conceded secession had continued to rear its head, "whenever Western Australia thinks it's being pushed around".

Unlike in the 30s, when WA was struggling, modern flare-ups for independence have largely been based on the reasoning that the economic boom State gives much to the rest of Australia and receives too little in return.

Secessionist rumblings in the 1970s, backed by mining magnate Lang Hancock, were in this vein.
The Barnett Government's stoush with Canberra over the share of GST distributions has revived secessionist comments.

Liberal MP Norman Moore, one of the most outspoken supporters of secession in recent times, said he was concerned about the centralisation of power in the Eastern States and decisions being made there that were not in the best interests of WA.

"I personally want to get us back into a Federation which gives the States meaningful authority, and lets the States get on with doing the job they can do better than anybody else," he said.
But Mr Moore believed that was "never going to be achieved".

"The only ultimate solution is secession if we want to be serious about managing our own affairs," he said.

Wally Morris, 70, is the former secretary of the now defunct Western Australia Secession Association.

Formed in 1993, the association had about 3000 members and supporters at its peak but wound up in 2011 after attempts to gain a foothold in political office were unsuccessful.
Mr Morris said the 1933 referendum "still stands".

"It still remains in force, it hasn't been resolved; it needs to be taken to a conclusion," he said.
Premier Colin Barnett disagrees.

"It's been a topic everyone likes to talk about but at the end of the day, we are Australians first and proud Western Australians second," he said.

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