Field Notes: Occupy Movement in Hawai‘i
Field Notes explores Honolulu's vibrant and varied scenes and subcultures.
PHOTO: ELYSE BUTLER AND MATT MALLAMS
WHAT IT IS
Oahu’s contribution to the Occupy movement, situated at a sidewalk tent camp beside Thomas Square. Despite persistent efforts by the city to drive off the (de)Occupiers, they have held their ground since November 5, 2011, making theirs the movement’s longest continuously running encampment. When city workers tag their tents with notices warning they will be impounded if not removed within 24 hours, the (de)-Occupiers swap them out with backup tents of a different color. Originally called Occupy Honolulu, the (de) was added in solidarity with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, which maintains that Hawaii has been dealing with occupation since the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani, and doesn’t need any more of it.
People invigorated by the struggle against inequality and unchecked authority on all fronts. People intensely focused on single issues, particularly homelessness. Tent dwellers who refer to themselves as houseless, not homeless, since, as one put it, “Home is where the heart is.” Vegans. People with apartments, houses and dorm rooms. Disillusioned Obama voters. A 71-year-old chronically houseless man, who feels safer among the (de)Occupiers than on his own.
People who won’t put anything in their mouths they suspect contains GMOs. Omnivores. A labor organizer who works at Walmart, lives in a tent, and is trying to unionize his fellow Walmart associates. People who say things like, “Coke and Doritos are filled with GMOs, but everybody loves Coke and Doritos.” A veteran of Chicago’s raucous 2012 anti-NATO summit protest, who, as a trained “street medic,” knows about decontaminating people doused with tear gas or pepper spray. Hawaiian sovereignty activists who say things like, “Why is America even still here? Shut down Pearl Harbor!” The president of the Machinist and Aerospace Workers, Local 1998, who is also a submarine mechanic, and would like Pearl Harbor to remain open.
Young anarchists, who publish zines, hold Anarchist Reading Group meetings, dream of smashing the state, and routinely clash with reformist (de)Occupiers who believe the system can be changed from within. An electrician who works for the state. A gray-haired peace activist with a guitar, who plays protest songs from the 1960s. A cook for a well-known steakhouse who brings awesome leftovers back to camp after work. Artists who scavenge wood and cardboard to paint protest messages on.
UH students, especially—for some reason—art students.
Smartphone owners who livestream the city’s raids on the camp. Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a city ordinance that restricts the storage of belongings on public property and permit the city to impound them with 24 hours notice. A man who cut a hole in the floor of his tent, stood up inside of it and ran off dancing during a police raid, before the police led him away in handcuffs. A woman with a vision of houseless people marching in the streets behind their shopping carts; after acknowledging the houseless population isn’t particularly responsive to organizing, she sighs and says, “But wouldn’t it be great?”
There’s a potluck (with GMO and non-GMO foods) every Sunday at 4 p.m., often followed by a general assembly meeting (where Occupy’s famous hand signals, such as finger twinkles, are employed). Other than that, there’s no regular schedule.