Right to Democracy and Right to Self-Determine
In my life I have attended a number of events, whether in person or virtually, where representatives were gathered in solidarity from each of the current US territories. But in these spaces, there was usually just a single representative from different territories, owing to the distances or difficulties in physically bringing together people Guam, the CNMI, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and American Samoa.
One thing that made the recent Right to Democracy summit different for me, was the amount of people in attendance representing each of the territories, and how each community wasn’t reduced to a single voice, a single soundbite or a short presentation. The experiences of those in the current US territories was not on the fringes or the margins, which is the norm, but instead we were all centered. This summit focused on developing a network across the territories, with the aim of helping to dismantle US colonialism, created a lot more possibilities than usual and that was exciting to be a part of.
This is how real, genuine solidarity can be formed. By creating spaces for us to gather and find our common ground, but also find ways to respect differences. This is what can make work around the territories difficult. While there is a common cause of dismantling US colonialism and empowering the peoples of the territories, each territory is in a different place in terms of their conversation about their political future, or what in Guam I call the decolonization conversation. But this brings up an important point, not all islands use decolonization to discuss their future, and not all use it the same way.
This is why, having that space for real dialogue that can lead to constructive collaboration is key. One thing that I highlighted during my conversations at the summit is that the US military plays a role in each of our territories, but not the same role and not the same extent. All US territories have high rates of service in the armed forces. Not all have the same level of US military bases or strategic importance. Right to Democracy might not be able to take a position or engage on issues of the US military, in the old “one size fits all” approach. But there are approaches that can appeal to all territories, things such as the right to consent for use of land for military purposes. Regardless of where a particular territory is at in their decolonization conversation, they all deserve to be consented and have some control over how and if their lands or waters are being used for military bases or military training.
Creating solidarity and greater collaboration amongst the five US island territories is a difficult task, but I think that the network formed by this summit holds the potential to make a difference. One thing that is difficult for each of us, is that by colonial design, each island community is meant to look to the US at the center of our lives. This means that if we see the lives of our brethren in other island colonies at all, we see them filtered through the US, so that they appear farther away from us then they really are. We see and feel that there is less possibility in connecting to them.
This has to change. The dismantling of US colonialism requires change at multiple levels and one place that it must start is in our own communities, across the US insular empire, where we have to agree that each of us deserve more than what we have now, and together assert that our rights to self-determination, our rights to determine our own distinct paths be respected and supported. A group like Right to Democracy can help be that network to help us each elevate our own understanding of our situations, by continually looking to other colonized territories of the US. So that we see our own destiny linked to theirs and vice vera.
I look forward to the day when it becomes natural for people in Guam and the CNMI to wake up in the morning and wonder what people in Puerto Rico, the USVI and American Samoa are doing that day. And for those in other time zones, surrounded by other oceans to do the same for us in the Marianas. This is the foundation of genuine solidarity and it is also the wisdom of Maga’låhi Hurao, who opposed the Spanish colonization of our islands in 1671, “metgotña hit ki ta hongge,” we are stronger than we think. And the more we can come together, the stronger we can potentially be.