Sunday, December 25, 2016

Decolonization in December

While most people were spending December with their family or shopping, I spent much of it conducting outreach on Guam's decolonization. The Commission on Decolonization held three public village meetings over the course of one week. Independent Guåhan held its monthly General Assembly, and we also launched our weekly podcast series. Here are some articles below detailing some of our activities.

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Decolonization Meetings Kick Off in Dededo
by Tihu Lujan
Guam Daily Post
December 15, 2016

The Commission on Decolonization held the first of a series of village meetings arranged to discuss Guam’s political status yesterday at the Dededo Community Center.

Revolving around the island’s long-delayed plebiscite that has been in discussions since 1998, the commission has finally launched the village meetings as an educational campaign on the three proposed political options - independence, free association and statehood.

The plebiscite, which would be a non-binding referendum, was supposed to be included in this November’s General Election, as intended by Gov. Eddie Calvo, but was pushed back yet again after the commission decided against the idea, failing to launch an aggressive educational campaign beforehand.

Earlier this year, the Commission on Decolonization put together high school debates, in which students presented arguments for each of the three political status options.

At yesterday’s meeting, representatives from the Commission on Decolonization presented information on self-determination, the importance of Guam’s political status and who in the community can vote, namely native inhabitants of Guam.

The three task forces representing the three statuses then presented short pitches on what their individual statuses are and what they could mean for Guam’s political future.

Afterward, representatives from each of the task forces were able to meet with northern residents one on one to further discuss the options in a more intimate setting.

'A footnote to the United States'

The Independence for Guahan Task Force has been holding monthly forums to educate residents on the independence status since August. Task Force Co-chair Michael Lujan Bevacqua says that he wanted his pitch to center around calming the fears and uncertainties of an independent Guam.

“Many people feel that independence means isolation and cutting ourselves off from the world, but in truth, an independent Guam would mean joining the world as a partner,” Bevaqcua said. “Right now we’re a part of the world as a footnote to the United States. Imagine what it would be like if instead of being an American footnote, we got to sit beside other nations, tackling big issues like climate change. Imagine that.”

Middle ground

Free Association for Guam Task Force Chairman Adrian Cruz says that free association would be the middle ground of the three options, presenting opportunities for Guam to be more self-governing while still maintaining a relationship with the United States, referencing example nations such as Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia.

“We’re sort of the middle of the road,” Cruz said. “We lack the ability to sit down with the federal government as partners, so free association would still give us a relationship with the United States and in the same token, free us up enough to manage our own internal affairs. We’re comfortable as Americans, but we’re not treated fairly in our relationship and that is unacceptable. We need to modernize our political relationship with the United States."

A complex process

Statehood for Guam Task Force Chairman Eddie Duenas spent his presentation discussing what Guam would need in order to become a state; a complex process altogether, and also mentioned the various advantages of Guam becoming a state.

All members of the Commission on Decolonization and the individual task forces encourage the community to register to vote, and to engage with their neighbors in meaningful conversation about Guam’s political future and the three political status options.

Two additional meetings are scheduled for Dec. 16 at the Merizo Senior Center and Dec. 19 at the Barrigada Community Center, both beginning at 6 p.m.

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The Future of Guam's Political Status
By Sandy Uslander
Guam PDN
December 17, 2016

With a new United States president, there is a lot of talk about change, including a change in Guam’s political status.

Ed Alvarez, executive director of Guam’s Commission on Decolonization, told me he has heard more talk, especially from young people, about the need to consider Guam’s political status now.
According to the U.S. agreement as a member of the United Nations, Guam’s status will change; there is just no specific time commitment for it to be done. Decolonization, or letting a people determine their own government, is something that the countries of the United Nations have agreed is a basic human right.

“It’s a raw deal,” says Alvarez of the current territorial status. “In trade, environment, taxation, military build-up, we are not having a say.”

It has been 66 years since the rights of Guamanians have been considered by the federal government. The current definitions established in the Organic Act in 1950 leave the island with its hands tied.
When the time comes for the citizens of Guam to vote on status, it will be the native inhabitants of the island and their descendants that make the decision. So, in 1997, Law 23-147 authored by Sen. Hope Cristobal and supported by Sen. Ben Pangelinan established a registry. A majority of native inhabitants of Guam would have to be registered in order for there to be a vote.

The decolonization effort lay dormant for many years until Gov. Eddie Calvo gave it new life in 2011. The movement has gained further strength with the award of a recent federal grant to the commission, the first of its kind. This is being used for registry efforts and education efforts.

“We had to educate about misinformation that was put out there,” Alvarez says. “People thought they would lose their passports, or welfare benefits, or not be able to survive without the U.S.”

He says that all of that is simply not true.

Alvarez has long gone into the high schools, but has more recently cooperated with the Department of Education and the Independence for Guam Task Force to organize a high school debate on the subject.

The Commission on Decolonization, together with the Guam Election Commission, has registered about 13,000 so far. Alvarez would like to see a number closer to 18,000. He will be increasing efforts on the island and now will expand it to the mainland where there are large concentrations of Chamorros. He will target community organizations as well as the military population.

“We need to modernize the political relationship,” states Alvarez.

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Independent Guåhan Launches Weekly Podcast On Decolonization
by Tihu Lujan
Guam Sunday Post
December 25, 2016

A new podcast series put on by the Independence for Guam Task Force (Independent Guåhan) began earlier this month with the goal of educating listeners from the Guam community and beyond on issues relating to decolonization.

Titled “Fanachu!,” which translates to “stand tall” in Chamorro, the weekly podcasts will feature casual conversations and interviews with a variety of individuals who are either decolonization experts, have a hand in Guam’s three task forces, or who simply contribute to the movement in their profession.

“Fanachu!” is produced by the Independent Guåhan Media Committee, headed by Dr. Michael Lujan Bevacqua, and is spearheaded by Manny Cruz and Independent Guåhan partners Becca Garrison, Jesse Chargualaf, and Ed Leon Guerrero. The series host is Manny Cruz, a former reporter who had a short stint on radio and is pursuing a Master’s degree in English. Even as a volunteer host, he provides the audio equipment and guides the flow of the show, posing insightful questions on decolonization to featured guests.

Starting discussions

The inaugural episode was recorded at Java Junction in Hagåtña as part of their “Coffee Shop Convo” sessions, featuring Independent Guåhan members Dr. Bevaqcua and Victoria Leon Guerrero, and Free Association Task Force Chair Adrian Cruz.

At a glance, this first conversation covered topics including anti-American outlooks in pushing for independence, similarities between Guam and an independence push in Scotland, and the role of the United Nations in the process of decolonization.

Their second podcast focused on the connection of Guam’s struggle to that of the highly contested Dakota Access Pipeline and explored ways to see Guam’s decolonization as a normal part of history.
Their third podcast featured Jason Datuin of DFRNT, to talk about how, according to Cruz, colonization’s affects can be found in virtually very aspect of our daily lives, including food.

Their fourth podcast in the ongoing series, scheduled to be released this week, features Moneka Flores and Melvin Won Pat-Borja, members of Independent Guåhan topics. They discuss the role of media companies in sometimes distorting decolonization efforts and, as they argue, creating an unbalanced picture of the status options, namely independence.

Progressive ideas

A grassroots operation, the task force decided to engage the public through podcasts as their medium of education due to their constraints on funding. But Cruz says that through the democratization of media, having his own microphones, a laptop, and an internet connection, he had all he needed to be able to publish engaging content with ease and at minimal expense.

"Podcasting just seemed like a great way to include the world in the conversations taking place locally," Cruz said. "There’s always a lot of great, progressive ideas floating around at our different meetings. But not everyone can be there all the time, so it just made sense to capture it in a way that's convenient for practically anyone."

The young graduate student and journalist took it upon himself to use the minimal equipment he had to contribute to the task force and to the decolonization conversation by producing the show. Cruz conducts the interviews, edits the recordings, and promotes the shows through social media.

“My interest in activism on Guam goes back a long way,” Cruz said. “This is my way of contributing with a skill that I have.”

Fighting colonization

The larger goal of Independent Guåhan, and Cruz's personal goal, is to contribute toward educating a community on a topic that is both far-reaching and frightening to some.

“There’s a huge barrier in us trying to communicate to the public, to people who don’t think about decolonization on a day-to-day basis,” Cruz said. “Most people are like ‘why should I care’ or ‘I like what I have.’ Breaking through the status quo is what is challenging for all of the task forces; getting over the idea that decolonization isn’t crazy, and it’s not scary. This is a common obstacle between the status options, so we try to figure out ways, like podcasting, to get through to people.”

Cruz said the common goal between the three task forces representing the three status options of Free Association, Statehood, and Independence, is to move the island toward a decolonized Guam, with more power over its own resources, people, and political destiny.

“At the end of the day the common obstacle is colonization, and what we’re fighting for is sovereignty,” Cruz said. “Thanks to the educative efforts of some people, there’s a shift in consciousness and way of thinking about decolonization."

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