Mazie Hirono visits TMT protesters at Mauna Kea
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono visited the site of the protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope and toured the tent encampment at the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road for several hours Monday morning, speaking with protest leaders and Hawaiian elders who assured her the demonstrations are organized and peaceful.
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MAUNA KEA, Hawaii >> U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono visited the site of the protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope and toured the tent encampment at the base of the Mauna Kea Access Road for several hours Monday morning, speaking with protest leaders and Hawaiian elders who assured her the demonstrations are organized and peaceful.
“They’re very committed,” Hirono said in an interview after she met with the activists. “They view the mountain as a spiritual and real fountainhead for their culture and their heritage, and it is critical for them to take a position now.”
During her college years Hirono herself joined in protests against the Vietnam War, and she said that “I believe in the rule of law and that there has been an appropriate process, but I also believe that people have a right to civil disobedience.”
The protests over the
$1.4 billion TMT project have now entered their fifth week, and at times thousands of opponents of the project have gathered at the intersection of Daniel K.
Inouye Highway and Mauna Kea Access Road. The access road has been closed since July 15, and police arrested 38 people for blocking the road July 17.
Sponsors of the TMT project spent a decade navigating the state and county permitting processes and fending off legal challenges to the project, and TMT supporters say TMT now has the legal right to proceed. But the protesters consider the project to be a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider sacred, and say they will not allow it to be built.
Hirono spoke briefly to law enforcement officers
before she met with protest leaders and kupuna, or
elders, and she mostly
listened during her visit, according to the activists.
“We wanted her to see for herself that it’s a peaceful place, a nonviolent place, that how some of the media or some of the government officials have tried to spin it is not true,” said protest leader Andre Perez. “All you have to do is come down here, take a walk around, take a look for yourself. It’s friendly, it’s welcoming.”
Perez said the activists stressed they are committed to blocking construction of TMT, and “we’re coming from the analysis of the history of the Hawaiian movement, that we know that we don’t get progress from friendly legislators or from friendly governors.
“It’s this understanding that we can make our own power, that we can’t always depend on the structural power of the government to protect us and our interests,” he said. “If you look at Kahoolawe, it was a 25-year struggle of activism. It
resulted in two lives being lost, and it was through
25 years of struggle and
resistance that the island was finally returned.”
Hirono said she also met Monday with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim. Kim has been tasked by Gov. David Ige with leading the discussions to try to resolve the impasse over TMT and Mauna Kea.
“There is a hope that things will move forward, but I think Harry knows that this is a very deeply, deeply held position that the protectors have … but he is very committed to the rightness of going forward, also,” she said. “So, I wish him the best. I really hope that this situation can be
“How can you not respond to the depth of their sense of the rightness, for them, of what they’re doing?” Hirono said of the protesters. “I hope that there’s a resolution that will be pono. I don’t have an answer or that path forward, but having spoken to Harry, he has a commitment to that kind of an outcome.”