Archives For protests

There are many surviving ancient and sacred spaces around the world. Some are protected and used for spiritual practice; some have become popular tourist destinations; and some are left to the whims of a changing culture. These sacred spaces range from human constructions to natural lands built only by the elements. From the ancient Greek temples in Agrigento, Italy to the ruins in Arizona’s Wuptaki National Monument, these spaces resonate with many contemporary people in their work to honor, reconstruct, practice and celebrate time-honored religious traditions, the associated cultures and surrounding ecology.

Unfortunately, many of these unprotected spaces, whether purely natural or human-engineered, are open to threats posed by modern construction in the name of so-called “progress” and industrialization. One such place that has recently drawn international attention is the mountain of Mauna Kea on the “Big Island” in Hawai’i.

"Mauna Kea from the ocean"[Credit: Vadim Kurland, Lic. CC Wikimedia]

“Mauna Kea from the ocean”[Credit: Vadim Kurland, Lic. CC Wikimedia]

Mauna Kea rises over 13,000 feet above sea level and is a dormant volcano with surrounding lands that feature native species of plant and animal. The area has long been held sacred to the native Hawaiian people and is a definitive part of ancient religious beliefs and practices. At the same time, the mountaintop was discovered to be one of the best places on Earth to study astronomy. These two realities have to come into conflict.

Today, Mauna Kea has 13 observatories on its summit funded by over 11 countries. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists discovered Mauna Kea’s optimal conditions for telescope viewing. When it was finally possible to reach the mountain, the University of Hawai’i (UH) was granted a 65-year lease to develop the land for research. By the late 1970s, other organizations began to request authorization to sub-lease that property. Those agreements are what has led to the large number of telescopes on the mountain today.

Protests began almost immediately after the first UH telescope was completed. Locals were concerned not only about the destruction of a sacred religious space but also about disturbances to the indigenous wildlife, some of which is native only to that area. In the 1980s, the state published a development plan and environmental impact report. In 2000, the plan was updated “to include community involvement” and the Office of Mauna Kea Management was established.

However, it was only a few short years later that a new $1.4 billion Thirty-Meter Telescope was proposed for the summit of Mauna Kea. This colossal telescope, called TMT, would be the largest and most advanced in the world with an optical ability 10x greater than any working telescope. According to an AP report, “The telescope should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe.” Headed by Caltech and the University of California, the project is being funded jointly by interests from the United States, Japan, Canada, India and China.

Proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope [Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation  via Wikimedia]

Proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope [Courtesy TMT Observatory Corporation via Wikimedia]

In 2011, the Hawai’i Board of Land and Resources gave preliminary approval for the sub-lease and construction of the telescope. Despite legal actions and protests from locals, the Board gave its final approval in April 2013. The date for completion would be 2022.

Opponents filed an appeal in May 2013 in yet another attempt to stop the project. The appeal reads:

Mauna Kea advocates are seeking justice in Hawai‘i courts … It is unfortunate when public citizens are forced to go through court proceedings when developments such as the TMT Project are systematically granted permits by the BLNR despite these projects not meeting the criteria as outlined in Hawai`i State law … We must proceed ahead and be idle no more. Mauna a Wakea is still sacred.

One of the laws that is being broken is a building height code. The proposed TMT would become the tallest building on the island. Along with environmental concerns and a destruction of sacred space, opponents also point to a direct violation of state codes.

The first appeal was eventually denied when the courts upheld the Board’s decision to allow the sublease. According to reports, four individual opponents, Kealoha Pisciotta, Clarence Ching, Paul Neves and E. Kalani Flores, were not giving up and have since decided to take the issue back to court in four separate cases representing only themselves. Despite the threat of future court action, the TMT Observatory Corporation felt comfortable moving forward and set the groundbreaking ceremony for Oct. 7.

What the TMT Observatory Corporation didn’t expect is what happened on that day. Protestors blocked the road leading up to ground-breaking ceremony site. They spoke out, chanted and held signs that read things like “Your Mother is Not a Commodity” or “Too Many Telescopes.” The vans carrying attendees were forced to slow down or stop entirely. Much of this was captured on video:

Later the same group of protestors interrupted the ceremony itself. Led by Pua Case and Joshua Lanakila Mangauil, they stood before the crowd of attendees and addressed investors. In a desperate emotional appeal, one woman says to a group of Japanese men, “You let Mount Fuji stand; Mount Fuji is sacred. Our Mauna Kea is just as sacred as Mount Fuji. Please hear us. Hear us … She protects us.”  This was also caught on video:

The protests were echoed in Palo Alto, California where a group of people stood outside of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation offices. The Foundation is one of the American investors backing the TMT project. The California protest was led by Kauʻi Peralto, a Hawaiian cultural educator at Stanford University, and was also supported by the Santa Cruz Indigenous Solidarity, the Wintun tribe of Northern California and many other concerned individuals.

In a blog post, Kealoha Pisciotta a native Hawai’in, local activist and president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, described best the meaning of the mountain and why all of these people have come together to stop a project that would otherwise seem beneficial to human understanding and scientific discovery. Pisciotta describes Mauna Kea as the “temple of the creators,” which is home to the deities that gave birth to the Hawaiian people. It is the meeting of Earth Mother and Earth Father. She writes, ” Mauna Kea in every respect represents the zenith of the Native Hawaiian people’s ancestral ties to Creation itself.”

The mountain is featured in many Polynesian myths and religious stories. It is considered a place of calm and a place of peace. She writes:

When we look to Mauna Kea, we look from Mauna Kea and we look within ourselves to find our responsibility to Mauna Kea and hence our place in the world. We move through time and space back to our beginning, to the time when the Pō (darkness of creation) gave birth to the Ao (light of creation) … We feel honored that we are allowed to be there, humbled by the majesty and greatness of Mauna Kea.

Another activist, one of the protest leaders, and a Hawaiian cultural educator, Pua Case regularly incorporates the mountain into her own personal spiritual practice. She told a San Francisco reporter:

Almost no matter where I look, there’s something foreign there. I can never just pray as you would in a forest where there are just trees — where no matter where you faced,  it would be just you and your forest, you and your gods, you and your spirit. I’m afraid if there’s one more thing, I can never really look at my mountain and pray without having to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ 

Case was unfortunately unavailable for interview but did briefly say that the spiritual practices of her native people are very complex and connect deeply to this mountain.

Last week’s protests did successfully halt the TMT groundbreaking. However, the project is still moving forward, if only delayed. Case, Pisciotta and many others pledge to continue the battle to save their mountain, their sacred space, their protector and, in doing so, preserve a specialized local ecology and a piece of native Hawaiian culture.

A few quick news notes to start your morning.

Pagan Japan Relief Project a Success: As of this writing, the Peter Dybing-initiated drive to raise money from within the Pagan community for Doctors Without Borders’ work in Japan has raised nearly $10,000 in three days. Here’s a message from Dybing about the drive that was posted yesterday.

“Pagans from all over the country have donated and stepped forward to endorse the project. We received donations from individuals as well as organizations. To all those who stepped forward THANK YOU. We still have been unable to generate significant numbers of small donations. It continues to be the goal of this project to engage the entire Pagan community in a unified effort. If you are concerned that you do not have the funds to donate consider just a few dollars. Each of us can only do so much in these tough economic times. What is important is participation not the donation amount.”

The Pagan Japan Relief Project is working towards a goal of $30,000, and it looks like this target may be reached sooner than anticipated. Major figures within modern Paganism like Selena Fox, Thorn Coyle, and Starhawk have already been spreading the word on Facebook, and Peter Dybing says that statements from well known Pagans about this effort will published today. This is a hugely positive cooperative effort, one that we can all take pride in. So continue to spread the word, and be sure to read about the work Doctors Without Borders is doing on the ground in Japan.

You can find all The Wild Hunt’s coverage on this issue, here.

ADDENDUM: Please see this update on the Pagan Japan Relief Project from PNC-Minnesota.

More Pagan Voices From Madison: Nels Linde at PNC-Minnesota has posted more interviews with Pagans taking part in protests against anti-union initiatives enacted by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and state Republican lawmakers.

“I’m a teacher and I’m here because I am very passionate about what is wrong with our democracy today. I am a Druid, I have been practicing for about 12 years now, with a group out of the Twin cities. It is very powerful to be here today because the energy is just so intense. There is so much pride and hope. People are coming together, it brings tears. I have already signed my petition to recall my Senator, Sheila Harsdorf, and also for Walker. I am involved in some local community protests, next in Hudson on the bridge, Sunday. I have been through all the emotions, you know, shock, anger, and despair. I’ve cried. You start with one group and target, demonize them and once they are taken out, there is another group. Most Walker supporters do not like non-Christians, so it is very, very scary.”

Nels has been doing amazing and essential work covering Pagan involvement in these protests, and I urge everyone to head over to PNC-Minnesota and catch up on his reports. Here’s his installment on Saturday’s events. More is promised on Thursday.

You can find The Wild Hunt’s previous coverage on this issue, here.

Checking In With Treadwell’s: In a final note, the Guardian interviews Christina Oakley Harrington, proprietor of the well-regarded esoteric bookstore Treadwell’s, about her shop and the unique spirit of London that makes its success possible.

“London is a place for unusual people who need to find other unusual people. Cities are where misfits always go. If you can’t manage in the village with the curtain-twitchers – if you can’t live like that because you’re gay, or you’re massively artistic, or because you have to talk to angels and demons and spirits … Where else are you going to go to find others who might be like you? You go to London. Could Treadwell’s exist anywhere outside of London? No.”

Treadwell’s recently moved to a larger space, the very building where Mary Wollestonecraft wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women. Congratulations to Christina and Treadwell’s on their continued good press!

That’s all I have time for at the moment, have a great day!

For almost a month now protests have raged in Wisconsin over legislation proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker that would weaken collective bargaining rights for most public employee union members as part of a plan to address the state’s budget shortfall. Many have pointed to this being part of a larger initiative by Republican Governors across the country to weaken public sector unions in an effort to stymie a traditional Democratic fundraising stronghold. Now, in a procedural move that some are calling legally “murky,” and in the case of Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Lagley, “unconstitutional,” the collective bargaining measure was stripped from the budget bill (which requires a full quorum, denied due to a legislative walkout) and passed with simple majority.

This latest development has reignited already ongoing protests throughout the state, and PNC-Minnesota was able to conduct an interview with a Pagan Union Steward for his reactions and views of what’s happening in Wisconsin.

What is your reaction to tonight’s Republican action eliminating collective bargaining for State workers?

” The Republicans admitted tonight that was their goal. They clothed real intent in their budget repair bill, but it is pretty obvious what they were after from the beginning. I can’t say I am surprised. I am surprised it took them this long to do something. They were using the budget bill to provide themselves with cover, but it was pretty transparent. “

What do you think will happen going forward?

” There are 2000 (supporters, 200 tractors) tractors lined up to come to town. Family Farm Defenders is organizing that. They realize that there are a lot of farmers that are on Badgercare (Wisconsin Health Program),  and Walkers budget is going to decimate that. A lot of farmers are depending on this health care and don’t have anything else.  It is not just about the unions, its never been just about the unions. There was so much bad policy in that budget repair bill, you hate to even call it that. It is just a phrase. Koch industries, one of their biggest things is energy, and the Governor has the authority under that bill to accept a no bid contract from anyone. I am not saying it is going to be Koch… but ya know… We aren’t talking just big power plants, there are a lot of state facilities, like prisons, that generate their electricity. Some of the big UW campuses have their own power plants. Twenty or thirty of them, they are all small, but hey,  if you can tap a vein. The billionaire vampires have a clear path to suck more for themselves. Sucking off the body politic.”

Do the unions workers have a specific response plan?

” I know that in southern Wi. the AFL-CIO has put out some word about a general strike. I don’t know what that means. My current contract says I cannot strike. We have is a contract extension that put all the existing contract terms, extended into the future. We signed that with Doyle. We bargained for a new contract. I was on the bargaining committee. I tell ya, you know which side has power, the side which looks at you and says, “I think your asking too much”, not interested at this time”. “not interested” to every proposal. We had 18 months of that shit. Anyone who says that unions are big powerful entities is just plain wrong. We have been without a contract since July of 2009, and working out of continuing contract extensions. Last month Walker sent notice the extensions would no longer be honored after March 13th. The unfortunate thing for him is there is provision in state and federal law, the ‘evergreen’ clause, that should apply here, mandating a continuing contract. Well unless he somehow abolished that in the budget repair bill, too.”

“There are sixteen recalls going on, for both Democrats and Republicans. In fact the ones for the Democrats started first. There is a lot of energy focusing on them, by those that want to recall Republican right now. A group out of Utah has started all the petitions against the democrats. They are a group that is against immigrant rights. (The group filed electronically with the GAB between Feb. 18 and 21, calling itself theAmerican Recall Coalition. It lists the founding organization as Americans Against Immigration Amnesty. )”

You can read the entire article at the PNC-Minnesota site. PNC-Minnesota reporter Nels Linde, who lives in Wisconsin near the Minnesota border, has also been traveling to the protests and has written a couple of editorials on the subject.

In addition, Wisconsin photographer Nataraj Hauser, who has worked quite a bit with Pagans, including shooting the cover image of Witches and Pagans #22, has been documenting (and participating in) the protests in Madison.

“Within a few minutes word came out that the vote had been rushed through, and passed. Collective bargaining rights had been stripped from workers – including the police department responsible for Capitol security by the way – undoing more than 50 years of progressive Wisconsin worker protections. A voice on the PA announced that Senate was no longer in session and the Assembly was not going to vote until Thursday, so we all had to leave the building. No one budged. No cop made an effort to ask us to leave. At this point no one believed that the Republican Assemblymen would not simply use that pretext to clear us out of the building, then vote. Hell no, we won’t go.

I left the building – which was still in lock down – to meet up with my partner. While I was in the building, additional protesters had climbed in through second floor bathroom windows, been let in in groups at doors that were not staffed by law enforcement (until reinforcements arrived) so the crowd was pretty large. Outside I found several thousand people had arrived in the hour or so that I was inside.”

You can see a slide show of his images from the protests, here.

Finally, Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox has been traveling to some of the protests, and offering short updates on her Facebook page. Here’s an update from March 5th.

“Powerful outpouring of support for public workers’ rights & unions today at Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. I joined the thousands in the streets & at the rally on the steps of the Capitol where filmmaker Michael Moore spoke as did US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin & others.”

I’ve previously mentioned Fox’s participation in the protests back in February.

I make this report not to push a particular political stance, but to reinforce the idea that the headlines often do involve and affect the lives of modern Pagans. I’m always looking to amplify the Pagan voice in a variety of situations that may not seem, at first, to be “Pagan issues.” But there are, as you can see, Pagan union stewards, and Pagans at these protests, and Pagans are a part of the fabric of life in Wisconsin. No doubt there are several Pagan public employees wondering what the fallout of these events will mean for their lives. If you are a Wisconsin resident, I invite you to share your perspective in the comments, and The Wild Hunt, The Pagan Newswire Collective, and the wider Pagan media will endeavor to continue looking for the Pagan voice within larger stories going on in the world.

ADDENDUM: PNC-Minnesota has just posted more Pagan voices from Madison, Wisconsin.